Ticks on cattle

This tick is an adult female, easily recognizable from the white spot.

Livestock producers are keeping a watchful eye to protect cattle against ticks, which if not treated in a timely manner could cause cattle health issues.

Ticks can cause significant blood loss, which translates to production losses. As they damage the hide, cattle can develop bacterial infections and myiasis where fly larva develop in wounds made by the tick-feeding lesion.

Ticks also spread disease. The biggest concern for tick-borne pathogens in this region is anaplasmosis. It’s widespread throughout Kansas, said Cassandra Olds, Ph.D. Olds is the new veterinary entomologist at Kansas State University.

Anaplasmosis destroys red blood cells, causing severe anemia. Older cattle with the disease typically die without treatment. Younger cattle might not show signs, but they can transfer the disease to the herd – typically through flies and ticks.

There are two major tick species cattle producers should be concerned about in the central U.S. – the American dog tick and the Gulf Coast tick. Ranchers combat them yearly with topical insecticides or ear tags.

The dog tick is the one that spreads anaplasmosis, so it’s more economically devastating for ranchers.

Dog ticks typically attach to the underside of cattle – at the tailhead, udder region, arm pits or the neck. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast tick is primarily found on the ears of cattle.

There are several 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.

Whichever product you use, it’s important to follow the label instructions, she said. Alternating between products with different active ingredients is a good idea, too.

“Ticks are developing resistance to these products and we want to slow that down as much as possible,” Olds said.

Timing of tick treatment is vital. Using insecticide sprays or pour-ons early in the season can reduce the number of gulf coast ticks by 83% over a four-week span, according to field research from Oklahoma State University. Using a spray or pour-on followed by insecticide impregnated ear tags can keep cattle covered for nearly the whole grazing season, Olds said.

American dog ticks are more difficult to treat. They may require direct spraying during the grazing season, according to K-State Extension beef veterinarian A.J. Tarpoff.

Because dog ticks like to hang out on the underside of cattle, ear tags might not control them as well. Tarpoff encourages producers to work with their veterinarian to choose a product that’s right for their location and treatment timeframe.

Self-treat options such as insecticide-treated back rubbers can also be effective, Olds said. She suggests placing them in an area where animals pass through often on the way to get water.

Tick populations are strongly influenced by climate conditions; which fluctuate yearly.

“Warm, wet conditions favor tick survival, as do wooded areas with a lot of wildlife,” Olds said.

The pests typically lie in wait for a host. They 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 tick grabs on. If it gets too warm, or it starts getting dark, they will move back down the vegetation.

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

Grab the tick body firmly but not too tightly at the base, close to your skin, she advises. With constant pressure, pull away from the body. Oaks advises wearing gloves to do this.

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Amy Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in North Central Kansas. She's also a meteorologist and storm chaser. Amy can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.