How to tackle ticks
You may think there’s a wee way to go before tick season starts but in warmers areas tick nymphs, just 2mm long, will already be creeping through the pasture and up the legs of your horses, cattle, goats and deer as early as this month.
Words: Nadene Hall
Controlling tick infestations is messy, will involve using some sort of chemical spray or a lot of hands-on-skin plucking, so having a good plan in place this early in the year will help you come spring and summer.
An adult tick has eight legs and before it sucks the blood of its host (which can include humans, although you should notice an itch), it is about 3mm long, 2mm wide and is red-brown in colour. Once its meal is finished, it will be 9mm long and 7mm wide and have turned blue-black, usually over a period of a couple of days.
It spends 80% of its life in the grass, so you only have a limited time to hit it with chemicals. If you don’t have ticks on your property, quarantine new entrants and check them for ticks. Once they’re on your property, it’s almost impossible to eradicate them.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Apart from it being somewhat gruesome to remove a fully engorged, blood-filled insect from the face, neck, mane, tail or soft underside of your dog, horse, cattle, sheep or goats, a tick infestation can cause serious blood-loss to animal and deaths do occur especially in puppies, kittens, lambs, kids and calves. It also causes anaemia and skin irritations.
A good control plan includes:
• pasture management
• good animal husbandry
Ticks can live without a blood meal for over a year, so leaving pasture un-grazed and hoping the ticks will die from lack of food isn’t a very practical option.
If you have poorly-drained pasture, your animals are more at risk from picking up ticks, as this is a good habitat for them. It may be best to fence off those areas.
Even on well-drained pasture, ticks can hide in the long grass, so topping can help remove their preferred habitat of damp pasture and moist soil. However, while that takes care of the live adult, even burning off rushes won’t affect the eggs.
Heavy grazing by adult cattle and sheep, pugging up the ground, can help destroy eggs but can’t be used farm-wide all at once unless you then destock for a time to allow regrowth.
You can pick ticks off your animals, but it’s messy and often when you pull a tick off, its mouthparts are left inside the skin of the animal, which may cause irritation or even an infection.
You can daub them with methylated spirits or tea-tree oil and they will eventually release, but they may still scatter their eggs when they hit the ground.
Chemical products include insecticides like Ripcord and Permoxin for horses, and specialist pour-ons and dips for sheep and cattle. In cats and dogs, Frontline will kill ticks.
There are insecticides for animals like goats that can be used “off-label” – this might mean a chemical approved for a sheep may work on a goat but it hasn’t been tested. Check with your vet for their advice and guidance on how best to help an affected animal.
GOOD ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Ticks are most noticeable and most prevalent from October to December, and while chemical products will remove ticks, to bring the population down will require extra effort.
Large-scale farmers sometimes use ‘vacuum cleaning’ to reduce numbers. This is where older stock are grazed on known infested areas for up to three days to give adult ticks a chance to attach but not enough time to feed and then drop off. The stock are then treated in a dip and put back onto the same pasture, this time with animals that are undipped. By doing this several times in the same paddock, tick numbers will be depleted. The paddock is then left for up to a month before ‘clean’ animals are put on it to see what tick numbers remain.
Hares, rabbits and wild goats and deer are all implicated in the spread of ticks, so if they are a problem in a known tick-area, they will help continue the spread.