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Cattle Raisers Advocate a Practical Approach to Fever Tick Eradication

By J.D. Cage, TSCRA Fever Tick Committee chair

There was a time when fever ticks — the vector for babesiosis, or cattle fever — were found across the southern half of the U.S., from the eastern seaboard states, across Kentucky, southern Missouri, Arkansas, down to the Gulf Coast and into all but the most arid parts of Texas. It seems as if the desert Southwest served as a natural barrier for fever ticks.

Today, fever ticks have generally been contained in a thin strip along the Texas/Mexico border, thanks to a systematic effort of USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and ranchers. However, due to some changes in the ticks’ environment in South Texas, and due to existing regulations that make it more economically and logistically feasible for ranchers to remove cattle from infested pastures than to treat for ticks, fever ticks appear to be moving north.

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) is working with TAHC to develop practical regulations that make it possible for ranchers to continue to use cattle as a tool to keep fever ticks contained within a relatively small geographic area.

For more than 100 years, fever ticks in the U.S. have been the target of a systematic control program. Since 1943, cattle fever ticks have been considered eradicated from the U.S., with the exception of a permanent, systematic quarantine zone along extending from Del Rio to the Gulf of Mexico. This “buffer zone” is maintained by the cooperative efforts of TAHC and USDA APHIS.

Click to EnlargeHowever, there has been a change in South Texas that is making life easier for the fever tick and harder for ranchers to fight it under existing TAHC regulations. Fever ticks’ preferred host is cattle, but white-tailed deer and nilgai antelope serve as secondary hosts.

The ticks seem to survive on all 3 species equally well, but show a preference for cattle. They can also be found on horses.

USDA and TAHC have worked hard with landowners to eradicate fever ticks, but the economic toll and burden of risk remain on the landowners. When an area becomes infested with fever ticks, under the current TAHC regulations landowners have 2 choices — round up and treat 100 percent of the cattle in an infested pasture every 7 to 14 days for a minimum of 6 to 10 months or until the premises has been released from a hold order, or vacate the premises.

Any rancher can agree that getting 100 percent of the cattle out of a pasture with any amount of brush is unattainable and is an expensive use of labor and time resources even one time around. Consider the costs and logistical challenges in repeating this process for weeks and months.

Under these regulations, many times ranchers find it easier to remove the cattle from the infested pasture. This worked in the early- to mid-1900s, when wildlife populations were depleted by screwworm infestations and unmanaged hunting. The ticks died off because there were no secondary host species to support them.

Today, thanks to a very effective screwworm eradication program and wildlife management, white-tailed deer and nilgai antelope populations flourish in South Texas. Taking the cattle off the land only pushes the ticks onto the backs of wildlife that can easily jump a fence from an infested pasture to a neighboring clean pasture.

It’s an odd twist, but without cattle on the land, it seems to have become easier for fever ticks to spread because they find homes on more mobile secondary hosts. Moreover, there is no efficient way to treat wildlife species for fever ticks.

TSCRA is working with USDA APHIS and TAHC to develop a gathering and treatment regimen that is more achievable and conducive to normal operations. Those potential methodologies include longer-acting acaracides and vaccines. The most effective way to eradicate fever ticks is by treating the cattle on that premises, so it is paramount that regulations are not so burdensome that they make vacating the property the best alternative.

TSCRA is also working with Congressional leaders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address the spread of fever ticks, from heavily infested wildlife refuges to private property, via deer and nilgai populations. In addition, TSCRA continues to support the inspection of Mexican-origin cattle on the Mexican side of the border.

Read the comments TSCRA President Richard Thorpe submitted on behalf of TSCRA members at tscra.org. The rest of the U.S. has forgotten the losses fever ticks caused to the national herd.

Ranchers in and near the permanent systematic quarantine zone are willing to keep it that way and work with TAHC and USDA to keep fever ticks controlled under workable regulations.

TSCRA Submits Comments on Fever Tick Proposal

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) submitted comments in early April to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), regarding the TAHC’s proposal to amend §41.8 of the Texas Administrative Code relating to the dipping, treatment and vaccination of animals for fever ticks.

“The fever tick issue is very important to TSCRA members, especially in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” said TSCRA President Richard Thorpe. “Ranchers need flexibility when dealing with federal and state fever tick regulations and TSCRA is asking for the TAHC to address this concern in their rule proposal.

The TAHC’s proposed rule includes a 100 percent gather requisite and frequency at which TAHC requires livestock operators to gather, treat, and inspect their entire herd. TSCRA believes this is unattainable and, therefore, it is impossible for operators to comply with the current proposed rule.

“We appreciate the continued efforts of the TAHC to help eradicate the fever tick and we look forward to working with them to come up with practical solutions that allow cattle production to continue to thrive in the area. TSCRA will continue monitoring this issue and addressing members’ concerns,” Thorpe concluded.

Click here to read the comments sent to the TAHC by TSCRA President Richard Thorpe.


"Issues and Policy: Where We Stand" is from the June 2016 issue of The Cattleman magazine.