There are a number of tick species found in Australia, but cattle tick (Rhipicephalus [Boophilus] microplus) is the one that has the most significant economic impact on the cattle industry. Also known as southern cattle tick or Asian blue tick, this external parasite lives on cattle and other animals such as deer, horses, sheep, goats, camels, and alpacas.
Cattle ticks carry sizeable risks for both the health of your animals and the economic state of the farming industry as a whole. If not managed properly, cattle ticks can lead to poor outcomes for your herd and your business. So, it’s crucial that you know how to identify, prevent, and treat cattle ticks among your herd.
What are cattle ticks?
Cattle ticks are a pest found in northern parts of Australia, including Queensland, the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and northern Western Australia. Cattle ticks thrive in warmer, wetter, and more humid weather, which is why they have become endemic to these regions. Spring and summer are when the highest infestations of cattle tick occur, however, ticks lay eggs all year round, which means that infestations can essentially happen at any time – proving it pays to be vigilant.
The cattle tick will spend its entire life, which spans approximately 21 days, on one host. During this time, it evolves from larva to nymph to adult. Once grown, adult females feed slowly for about a week before quickly filling with blood, detaching from their host, and dropping onto the pasture. Here, they lay up to 3,000 eggs before they die. These eggs hatch in the pasture and the resulting larvae are left to climb the pasture grasses until they are picked up by a suitable host. Unlike the female ticks, male ticks feed occasionally, but do not fill with blood – instead they live on the livestock for a longer period of time that enables them to mate with the female ticks.
Within an untreated herd, the cattle tick parasite can significantly reduce cattle live-weight gain and milk production. It can also transmit blood-borne tick fever organisms, which cause sickness and death. Additionally, European breeds of cattle are particularly susceptible to cattle ticks. With these serious risks in mind, it’s clear that knowing how to quickly identify cattle ticks and treat your herd is paramount.
How to identify cattle ticks
To implement an effective cattle tick treatment strategy, you need to identify what type of tick you are dealing with. The best approach is to examine a tick carefully to determine whether it is in fact a cattle tick or a different species. Cattle ticks have pale, cream-coloured legs and an oval to rectangular-shaped body, making them quite distinctive. The Queensland Government offers a great pests and diseases resource for properly identifying cattle tick throughout its various life stages, from larva to nymph to adult.
Spotting a cattle tick infestation
There are a number of telltale signs when your herd is infested by cattle tick. Fully grown and engorged ticks will be visible mainly around the animal’s neck, brisket, flanks, and hind legs. Cattle and other species may also be seen licking and rubbing at the affected areas due to tick bites, which causes them to stress.
Animals may also develop sores, and at times, ulceration, as well as pale gums and pale membranes around the eyes due to anaemia. Anaemia can be very dangerous amongst cattle, as it can lead to a lack of energy, weight loss, muscle loss, and as a worst-case scenario, death.
The best treatments for ticks on cattle
The recommended way to eradicate cattle ticks from your herd is by using a chemical treatment. There are a number of products available, which means you can tailor your choice to the needs of your herd and your property’s cattle tick management strategy.
It is important that, when chemically treating your herd for cattle ticks, you have a clear plan, as research has identified that unplanned or sporadic treatments do not effectively reduce tick numbers. Before you even select a chemical treatment, it’s valuable to understand the life cycle of the female tick, so that you can ensure you take action before the female lays her eggs and produces many more cattle ticks.
In terms of timing, try to plan your treatment so it suppresses four to five female tick cycles. The lifespan of a female tick is approximately 21 days, and it is best practice to treat your herd every 18 to 21 days. The chemical treatment plan you create should ensure around 100 days of protection. Some chemical treatments last 21 days, whereas others can provide up to three months of protection – so choose wisely.
Here are a few of the most common and effective chemical treatments used to eradicate the cattle tick parasite.
Short-term, knockdown, pour-on macrocyclic lactone (ML) chemicals
Macrocyclic lactone (ML) pour-on chemicals and injectables are products used for the treatment and control of gastrointestinal roundworms, lungworm, eyeworm, sucking and biting lice, mange mites, buffalo fly, and best of all, cattle tick. The two most commonly used types of ML are ivermectin and moxidectin. There are a number of excellent tick control products, both branded and generic, that use one of these active ingredients. They can be administered as a backline pour-on, or as an injection. Regardless of how they are administered, they are reliably effective in reaching the skin, gastrointestinal system, and lungs of animals affected by cattle tick.
Short-term, knockdown products such as these are effective for between 21 and 28 days against cattle tick, and will simultaneously treat other internal and external parasites. Be sure that as part of your management strategy, you balance the frequency of these products by rotating the active ingredient between ivermectin and moxidectin to avoid chemical resistance.
Short-term dips and sprays
Dips and sprays are also very effective in treating cattle tick for a short time; usually up to 21 days. Dips and sprays like Amitik, Bayticol, Tixafly, and Barricade S, are used for the control of ticks, including organophosphate and synthetic pyrethroid-resistant strains, on cattle.
Long-acting moxidectin injections
Moxidectin injections can be used for the treatment and control of moxidectin-sensitive internal and external parasites in cattle, including cattle tick. Long-acting injections, such as Cydectin LA for Cattle, Neovemox Long-Acting Injection for Cattle and Moxistar Long Acting for Cattle, are specially formulated to provide a prolonged release of moxidectin, which offers long-term protection. Both of these highly-rated products provide up to 51 days of protection against cattle tick, including strains resistant to organophosphates, synthetic pyrethroids, and amidines, as well as preventing egg production for at least 65 days after treatment. Some engorged female ticks containing viable eggs may continue to drop for up to four days after treatment, which should be taken into account when planning a strategic treatment program.
Tick inhibitor chemicals
Tick development inhibitors are pesticides that provide long-lasting protection against cattle tick for up to 12 weeks. These products contain the powerful insect growth regulator, fluazuron, and control susceptible strains of cattle tick and inhibit further development within three days. There are a number of fluazuron products on the market.
Various products are also available that combine fluazuron and ivermectin for more effective prevention. These tick development inhibitors and broad-spectrum pour-ons are used for the strategic control of cattle tick, and for dual-benefit treatment and control of ivermectin-sensitive internal and external parasites, in cattle in particular.
Managing chemical resistance
Unfortunately, chemical resistance to cattle tick is widespread in Australia, in part due to the endemic nature of this particular parasite. Resistance has been reported across all chemical classes used to control ticks, so at this point, there is no one foolproof way to prevent and protect against cattle tick. Where resistance is suspected, it is advised to test a sample of the ticks to determine the resistance profile of that particular population. Once the resistance is identified, that chemical class should no longer be used. To best equip yourself and your property for potential chemical resistance, learn more about developing a rotation plan, or reach out to us for advice and support.
How to prevent ticks in cattle
Above all, prevention is the best medicine, so it’s also crucial to know how to avoid cattle ticks entirely. To prevent cattle tick from occurring in your herd, it’s important to employ an integrated approach.
One thing to consider is the breed of the cattle in your herd – Bos indicus breeds tend to have a higher tick resistance, so these kinds of cattle may be favourable in the long run. Genetics are important in cattle breeding, so actively incorporating tick-resistant cattle into your herd can consequently reduce the overall impact on the condition and performance of your cattle on the whole.
Another key thing to keep in mind is the chemical treatments that you use in your pastures. Employing a combination of treatments, pasture sweepers, and pasture spelling programs can collectively assist with bringing ticks under control in your herd.
While cattle ticks and parasites can present a serious challenge in the cattle industry, good planning and management are paramount to reducing numbers on your property, and ensuring the health and longevity of your herd. Part of this strategy will involve using chemical treatments in rotation to avoid resistance and control varying strains of cattle tick throughout your herd.
Here at Specialist Sales, we offer a broad range of cattle tick treatments that are effective in eradicating and reducing tick numbers. If you need expert advice on treating cattle tick or other parasites affecting your herd, please get in touch with our experienced customer service team.