Let’s talk Ticks: Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases
Ticks and tick-borne diseases are an enormous threat to cattle, and to the men and women who farm them. Tick-borne diseases can really test your ability to perform the balancing act, and keep the focus on problem solving
It’s tough, but if you farm cattle every effort is geared towards improving production. High mortalities in your herd will take you down. The smaller your herd, the less you can afford to have animal deaths, so keep your animals alive. Keep working towards that
Manage for Production
Dr Pete Oberem of Afrivet shines a bright light in a murky field when he advises cattle farmers to take a step back and ask this basic question: “Why do I keep cattle?” Keep going back to that question
Oberem knows, as we all do, that you are not keeping cattle as pets and that, as a stock owner, you are dependent on your animals for your livelihood. In this case, the cost of dips and vaccines, the amount of time and energy you spend dedicated to checking and re-checking your animals, and planning and implementing is all part of good management
The better your strategy and your will to carry it out, the more affordable things become. For example, the fact that you can’t afford to dip every fortnight should tighten up other aspects of your management
Your eyes-on-the-herd practice is rigourous, counting the ticks on animals is an essential practice, not a desirable one, and discussing strategies with fellow grazers is critical
If you are not able to meet basic management requirements, farming cattle isn’t for you
Ticks as Agents of Injury
Apart from disease transmission, ticks themselves are ectoparasites (parasites that live on the outside of their hosts)
While they attach to the hide so that they can take in blood, they injure animals at attachment sites. Untreated, these wounds can form abscesses and cause tissue death
This, in turn, leads to problems like the loss of a cow’s quarter, or the destruction of the testes of a bull. Early treatment always pays off. When you see the problem, remove the ticks and treat the wound
Constant pain and irritation can depress the immune system, making the animal more vulnerable to other diseases, reducing production and causing loss of profit. Damage is inevitable where ticks cluster, so watch out for these clusters. Your tick load is too high, dip or spot treat
The amount of blood taken up by a heavy tick load can cause a 25 kg loss in one season.
“If you’re in production you have to take the economic loss into account,” says Oberem. This puts the cost of dipping and/or vaccinating squarely into perspective.
Ticks as Vectors of Parasitic Disease
In rural areas where stockmen graze their cattle on jointly accessed communal lands, the animals must be treated as one unit.
Ticks and tick-borne parasites do not differentiate between individual herds, therefore the challenge is, a joint one and the stockmen should get together, and decide on how they will manage the disease threat as a group
As a group, stock farmers can pool money to pay for dips and vaccines and rotate daily checking of animals.
Managing cattle movement on the veld is another tool in managing tick infestations. You move the herd out of one area into another within the grazing lands, and so on, until you get back to the original grazing area where tick populations, should be reduced because they have had no access to host animals for a while
Tick Loads – Control, Don't Eradicate
And it’s still not simple. Ticks have become resistant to certain dips, and it is now generally accepted that dips will never offer a total solution to tick infestations
The trick, says Geoff Gordon, experienced stockman and vet technician, is to dip strategically while keeping a light load of ticks on the animal
There is no hard rule for this, but five ticks is probably too few, while more than 50 may be too many. Constant practice and observation will sharpen your ability to judge the loads correctlyCattle, more so the indigenous types, acquire immunity to the parasite challenges in their range areas by surviving parasitic infection in the first six months of life. Rule number one – don’t dip animals under six months
A high rate of infection, which will come from a high load of infected ticks, is likely to kill the animal, but moderate to light infections give natural immunity.
It’s something like being vaccinated by the parasites. Once the animal has been exposed and has survived the infection, it acquires immunity.
It’s also important to recognise the dips that work in your area, and to stay away from those to which ticks have built up a resistance. For example, organophosphate-based dips are said to be less effective due to increased levels of resistance in tick populations
Dips with growth inhibitory mechanisms could be worth looking into, especially with some anecdotal evidence, of a real reduction in the number of times the herd needs dipping on an annual basis
Every time you are tempted to let something slide, or to use a lack of funds as an excuse, remember Pete Oberem’s question…Why am I farming cattle?
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