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Ticks

Amy Hadachek
for The Fence Post
Tick populations are strongly influenced by climate conditions. Warm, wet conditions favor tick survival whereas cold or very hot and dry conditions don’t.
Photo by Amy Hadachek

Along with the joy of re-emerging outside, and also with warmer weather, livestock management has come upon the yearly seasonal precarious challenge of ticks that have come out of dormancy. Livestock experts say if not treated timely, ticks can cause cattle health issues including deaths and economic issues.

Currently, it’s a different scenario in the Plains states than in the Rocky Mountain states.

Two of the major tick species of concern with grazing beef cattle in the central U.S. are the American dog tick and the Gulf Coast tick. These are external parasites that ranchers combat on a yearly basis. That is why they use topical insecticides or ear tags.

The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is also a common tick in the eastern plains area of Colorado, as well as the Rocky Mountain wood tick (medium elevation) according to Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

“You see some ticks here in Colorado, but we don’t have tick incidences like some of the Midwest and Plains states. The ticks get worse the further east you go where you have higher humidity and taller grasses,” Fankhauser told The Fence Post just before Memorial Day weekend. “We’re very dry in the Colorado plains and the western slopes of Colorado in general, we’re a high mountain desert, and this year we’re drier than years past which contributes to a lack of tick presence.”

Regarding cattle in Colorado, “There may be some ticks on livestock, but you don’t see ears hanging on livestock now like when you have that significant infestation of ticks. Even last year wasn’t as bad as the year before,” Fankhauser said. Many livestock producers in the Plains and in Colorado have already put cattle out on pasture.

“It’s variable across the different ecosystems in Colorado. Some folks are calving in winter and early spring and most have already put cattle out. But others calve later, like now. Some folks send animals to the high country and grass is only now starting to grow in those parts of Colorado, while grass on the eastern Plains is always earlier,” said Frank Garry, DVM, MS, Extension specialist in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Meanwhile, the American dog tick and the Gulf Coast tick have been troubling lately in Kansas and parts of the Midwest.

The American dog tick does not come from dogs, but can be found on dogs as well as livestock.

“While both ticks are common, that affect our livestock, the biologic vector of Anaplasmosis (the American dog tick) is a more economically devastating tick, because that disease can cause acute cattle death in native cattle. The American dog tick is considered a biologic vector of the blood borne cattle disease called Anaplasmosis, meaning the Anaplasma organism can replicate in the tick before being transmitted in a much larger number to the next host. These ticks typically attach to the underside of cattle including the tailhead, udder region, arm pits or even the neck. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast tick is primarily found on the ears of cattle,” said A.J. Tarpoff, DVM, MS, assistant professor/Extension beef veterinarian in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University.

Another veterinary specialist said the biggest concern for tick borne pathogens in Kansas/central Plains region is the Anaplasmosis; which is widespread throughout Kansas.

“Large numbers of ticks can also cause significant blood loss resulting in production losses and damage the hide resulting in secondary bacterial infections and myiasis where fly larva develop in wounds made by the tick-feeding lesion,” said Cassandra Olds, Ph.D., and veterinary entomologist at Kansas State University.

This time of year, in spring, these ticks become active and can be seen throughout the grazing season. Veterinarians say anyone who has frequented a fishing pond, or walked through tall grass or woods may have found ticks crawling on them.

“Ticks move up vegetation like grass stems in a process called questing. When they reach the top of the vegetation, they use different sense receptors to detect the presence of a host. When a suitable host brushes past the vegetation, the tick grabs onto the host. If it gets too warm, or it starts getting dark, they will move back down the vegetation; where it is safer,” Olds said.

“In Colorado, you get up in the mountains and it hasn’t warmed up much, so the ticks here would be more frequent in mid-June when it warms up,” Fankhauser said.

“While neither the Gulf Coast tick nor American Dog tick is endemic to Colorado that we know of, they do enter on cattle brought in from other states where it is found,” said Lora Ballweber, DVM, MS, and professor of parasitology at Colorado State University in Fort Colllins.

Tick populations are strongly influenced by climate conditions. Warm, wet conditions favor tick survival whereas cold or very hot and dry conditions don’t.

The timing of tick treatment is vital.

“From field research out of Oklahoma State (University) usage of approved livestock insecticide sprays or pour-ons in the early season can achieve 83 percent reduction of Gulf Coast ticks for up to four weeks,” Tarpoff said. “Using this spray in the early season followed by insecticide impregnated ear tags can achieve near-season long control for most external parasites. However, infestation of the American dog tick may require direct spraying during the grazing season. Due to the location of attachment, ear tags may not be able to achieve total control. Work with your local veterinarian for product selection and location dependent upon application time-frame.”

In addition to treating cattle early in spring with acaricide and ear tags, Olds said for producers who have turned cattle out to pasture, self-treat options such as insecticide treated back rubbers can also be effective. “Placing these in an area where animals pass through often on the way to get water, will make the product more successful.”

Olds said there are a lot of effective acaricide (tick killing) products on the market with different application styles ranging from sprays, whole-body dipping, acaricide impregnated ear tags, pour on treatments and injectables.

“The choice depends on the number of your animals and how often you use the product,” Olds said. “No matter which product you use, please follow the instructions. Ticks are developing resistance to these products and we want to slow that down as much as possible. Alternating between products with different active ingredients (see label) also slows the development of resistance.”

To remove a tick, Olds recommends using your fingernails or tweezers.

“Grab the tick body firmly but not too tightly at the base, close to your skin,” Olds said. “With constant pressure pull away from the body. Sometimes you see a little clear plug over the mouthparts, that isn’t your skin, that’s a cement cone made by the tick to anchor it into the feeding site, Get that out. Use the same procedure for ticks on animals.”

Since people can pick up ticks while brushing against low vegetation, it’s recommended to pull socks over the bottom of your pant legs. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts can also keep ticks from attaching to your arms and legs.

For more information, go to https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/colorado-ticks-and-tick-borne-diseases-5-593. ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.


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