In the upcoming vector seasons of spring, summer and early fall, it is recommended that ranchers prepare for tick control and know their options for protecting cattle.
Two main types of ticks are the concern for cattle producers – the Gulf Coast tick and the American dog tick. Both are vectors in the spread of anaplasmosis, a blood cell parasite that can cause cattle to become weak, go off feed, run a fever, and can cause death.
The Gulf Coast tick is typically found on the ears of cattle, while the dog tick usually attaches to the undersides of cattle (the lower neck, arm pits and udder region). Anaplasmosis can also spread through infected vaccination needs and any infected tools are used with cattle.
When it comes to controlling ticks, managing their habitat can be a doubly good option.
“Brush and eastern red cedar control is an excellent control method that not only improves grazing opportunities, but also reduces the environments that ticks are found in abundance,” said AJ Tarpoff, Beef extension veterinarian at Kansas State University.
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For on-animal control, producers are usually reliant on insecticides. Insecticide ear tags, pour-ons and sprays are the most common products to use.
Ear tags work well during the grazing season for Gulf Coast ticks, but they are not as effective against the dog tick. The undersides of the animals seldom come in contact with the ear tags, and the animals can still be susceptible to the dog tick that likes the space.
Ranchers should monitor their animals closely, and if infestations appear the best way to treat these animals is with a spray or pour-on.
How they applied is important, Tarpoff said.
“These products work by having contact with the parasite and are not systemic,” he said. “Reading the labels and administering as directed is important.”
These urges ranchers work with their local veterinarian to identify specific products and choose the best one.
Another veterinarian recommends rubbing with mineral oil or vegetable oil and an insecticide concentrate – either mixed at home or commercially made.
According to Dr. Tony Hawkins, technical service veterinary at Valley Vet Supply in Marysville, Kansas, applied it with a length of canvas or absorbent material that is saturated with the oil mixture. The material is wrapped around a rope and hung in a walkway in a corral or watering area where the cattle walk under it.
That still leaves the problem of ticks attached to the underside of cattle. For an effective spray, Hawkins prefers the Organophosphate.
Tick vaccine in the works
Two Kansas State University researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine are working on a vaccine to help against the battle against ticks.
This new single-dose vaccine, administered in the back of the ear, has been shown to protect against clinical anaplasmosis for up to two years. Researchers hope to eventually use it for controlling ticks from anaplasmosis, said Andrew Curtis, clinical assistant professor.
Curtis was a doctoral research assistant in the laboratory of Hans Coetzee. Now he’s working on the vaccine with Coetzee – a professor and head of the anatomy and physiology department – collaborating with Iowa State University researchers.
The work they’ve done so far is focused on anaplasmosis, but the technology could be used to deliver vaccines for other diseases in cattle.
“We got a good candidate for vaccine and a good strategy for delivering it, but we either need a good partner or funding from the federal government,” Coetzee told Midwest Messenger.
They plan to submit a proposal to the US Department of Agriculture later this year to support continued research and apply for grant funding.
“Andrew and I will continue to collaborate,” Coetzee said.
It takes a long time to research, he said, because anaplasmosis is a slow, progressing disease. It can take up to two months before the animal shows any signs.
Another challenge has been COVID, which disrupted the continuity of working with partners on the project. Doug Jones at Iowa State helps put the implants together, and then Coetzee and Curtis conduct the animal phase at K-State.
“We’ve worked with a dozen cattle, and hope to see better efficacy and prevent animals from getting infected at all,” Curtis said.
The vaccine is administered in the ears because it does not pose a risk to the consumer there. After the animal is harvested, the ears are not used at all, Coetzee said.
There is at least one current vaccine for anaplasmosis on the market made by University Products in Louisiana, though it is not formally approved by the US Department of Agriculture.
A Louisiana veterinarian says most states, including Nebraska and Kansas, are approved to use his vaccine against ticks. It’s approved for use as an experimental vaccine, veterinarian Gene Luther said.
On Luther’s website (www.anaplasmosis.com) he notes, USDA licensed vaccines are produced in a USDA licensed facility and go through the USDA licensing procedure, but there are no USDA licensed facilities in Louisiana.
“It’s been very effective for 26 years now,” he said. “We used the vaccine on herd at Louisiana State University, and at that time there was never a cow that died of anaplasmosis in herd.”
Luther emphasized that instructions for the vaccine should be followed “to the letter.”
The vaccine is considered a “simple release.”
Meanwhile, work on the K-State vaccine is continuing. According to Curtis, it is important that inoculation proves very effectively
“This disease can be transmitted from an asymptomatic or symptomatic animal to another ‘naïve’ animal,” Curtis said. “It’s good that the animals got less sick in our study, and they didn’t require as many antibiotics, but even if the animals became infected at all, that’s a failure of the vaccine.”
The project was supported in part by the Iowa Livestock Health Advisory Council, and the faculty start-up funding was provided by Kansas State University. The study, “Rapid Communication: Development of a subcutaneous ear implant to deliver an anaplasmosis vaccine to dairy steers,” was published in the Journal of Animal Science in June 2020.
Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award-winning meteorologist and a storm chaser who earned her approval of the NWA and AMS Broadcast Meteorology Seals. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. Reach her at email@example.com.
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