Skip Navigation

Money to Fight Fever Ticks

USDA offers cost-sharing dollars for land management techniques that could deliver a blow to fever ticks.

story by Robert Fears
Courtesy of The Cattleman magazine

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided more than $2.4 million dollars in technical and financial assistance to South Texas landowners to help fight the spread of the fever ticks. This initiative is a partnership effort with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), as well as other local, state and federal agencies.

Don Gohmert, Texas state conservationist, announced the initiative in early 2009 after meetings with APHIS and TAHC. The technical and financial assistance are available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to landowners in 17 counties: Brooks, Cameron, Dimmit, Duval, Frio, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, La Salle, Kinney, Maverick, Starr, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Zapata, and Zavala. This initiative focuses on conservation practices that can positively affect fever tick control.

The two fever tick species of concern are Boophilus annulatus and B. microplus. These ticks by themselves do not cause tick fever. However, they are capable of carrying a protozoan called Babesia bovis or B. bigemina.

When infected fever ticks feed on cattle, they inject protozoa into the bloodstream. These protozoa attack the animal's red corpuscles, causing acute anemia and an enlarged liver and spleen. The protozoa cause a fast and brutal death in as many as 90 percent of infected cattle. Fortunately, this microbial blood parasite is not harmful to humans.

Horses, white-tailed deer and exotics such as nilgai, elk and red deer can also act as hosts for the ticks. But according to TAHC, Babesia-infected ticks are unlikely to cause death in animals other than cattle.

"Babesia has not been found in South Texas fever ticks to date," reports Dr. Bob Hillman, former Texas state veterinarian and immediate past executive director of TAHC. Hillman retired from TAHC at the end of December 2009. "However, I feel we are sitting on a time bomb. Approximately 80 percent of the imported Mexican steers have Babesia in their blood streams and, although they have not been contagious, it is only a matter of time until our own cattle become infected.

"Through a cooperative agreement, APHIS and TAHC identify and treat tick-infested animals, and attempt to prevent migration of stray cattle and wildlife across the Rio Grande River from Mexico. Although these efforts continue, the NRCS program provides opportunity for ranchers to strengthen the fever tick fight through land conservation.

"EQIP money designated to the fever tick concern provides an opportunity for ranchers to holistically manage the problem," explains Dusty Crowe, NRCS rangeland management specialist in Carrizo Springs. "One of the primary focuses of the NRCS program is the redesign of pasture systems so cattle become easier to pen and work."

Quarantine procedures and common treatment options

If cattle on a ranch are found to be infested with fever ticks, the ranch is quarantined. If tick-infested animals are found at a livestock market or other facility, they are returned to their premises of origin and that ranch is quarantined. The market or facility where the ticks were found must be cleaned and disinfected.

Cattle and horses on quarantined premises and on adjacent pastures are subject to inspections and treatment, and their movement from the quarantined ranch is restricted. Livestock must be dipped or sprayed with Co-Ral immediately after fever tick detection. Then the rancher is presented two options.

Option 1 is to dip or spray every animal in the infested pastures every 14 days for six to nine months. Cattle are marked with a colored paint in a different spot before each dipping to show when they were treated. Animals new to the herd or missed during previous treatments are easy to spot because they are not properly marked.

A USDA tick inspector must certify that l00 percent of the herd is treated. If all cattle in the herd are not accounted for, or if fever ticks are found on cattle during any of the treatments, the quarantine period is reinitiated.

Once the cattle are found to be tick-free, injections of doramectin (Dectomax®) every 28 days can be substituted for the spray and dip treatments. The advantage of this substitution is the cattle are penned less frequently.

With Option 2, cattle are dipped or sprayed at 14-day intervals and must undergo two tick-free inspections by USDA personnel prior to being moved from the premises. When the cattle are tick-free, they can be moved to a new, tick-free pasture. The tick-infested pasture is left empty for nine months so the ticks will die from the lack of a food source and failure to complete their life cycle. Free-ranging deer and exotics are considered livestock and must be treated by approved methods during the period the pasture is left vacant.

"Gathering cattle every 14 days for fever tick treatment is very expensive for the rancher," says Ed Bowers, director of field operations for APHIS in Laredo. "Pastures in South Texas are very large with many of them being a thousand acres or more. Most pastures are densely covered with brush and there is a shortage of cowhands. These three situations make gathering cattle very difficult.

"The most popular way to gather cattle in this country is with a helicopter at $300 per hour," continues Bowers. "When you are required to pen your cattle every 14 days for nine months, your profit for the year is gone."

"This is where NRCS can help," offers Crowe. "We provide financial and technical assistance with construction of cross fences, ponds, water wells, watering facilities and pipelines. These installations allow a rancher to use smaller pastures, which improves the ability to pen cattle. They also provide a system for pasture rotation that helps conserve grass because of more efficient forage utilization."

<  1 2  Next