What you need to know:
- There is disconcerting fear as livestock farmers grapple with the rise in ticks’ population in the country.
- Many farmers are losing their cattle and the diverse effects directly spilling over to the beef and dairy production sector, Denis Bbosa sought out for the best tendencies to mitigate the impasse before it rolls out into a full brown scourge.
For ages, ticks have negatively impacted many Ugandan livestock farmers by carrying and spreading one of the most frequent bacterial diseases – the Tick-Borne Relapsing fever (TBRF).
Available research indicates that Uganda is one of the countries hardest hit by the tick-borne diseases (TBD), with more than 30 per cent of the livestock lost to TBDs such as theileriosis, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. Never willing to back down, farmers have resorted to using acaricides, pesticides that target ticks and mites, as a tool to combat the diseases they carry.
But recently many farmers have been reporting more instances of acaricide failure and the possibility that certain ticks are becoming resistant to them.
How ticks breed
According to veterinary expert Thomas Ssemakula of agribusiness consultancy company Brave East Africa Ltd, the ticks’ resistance to multiple acaricides increases the danger of cattle being infected with TBD, because these ticks can survive even a combination of tick-attacking techniques. Most agribusiness farmers have also been found guilty of misusing their acaricides. When a mixture of acaricides is applied, surviving ticks carry a gene that allow them to resist all of the acaricides in that mixture. After they reproduce, future generations of ticks, harbouring the resistance genes, will be resistant to multiple acaricides.
Without doubt, tick-borne diseases are the number one limitation of cattle production and the worrying climate change pattern continues to make an increasing amount of habitats suitable for tick growth and reproduction globally. Understanding ticks behaviours Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that survive by feeding off both human and animal hosts.
Ticks are responsible for causing and contributing to an assortment of different ailments and failure to control the tick population among your cattle can lead to health consequences for your cows. Ticks can cause skin irritation and fur loss in individual animals.
They can also cause bovine anaemia, Lyme disease, heart water, gall sickness and an assortment of other diseases. Cows that are infested with ticks may be in poor physical condition, lethargic or even develop infections as a result of the damage to their skin. Ticks are relatively easy to identify; they are small, round bugs that attach to the cow’s skin. Ticks bodies swell as they feed off their hosts, becoming rounder and rounder until they fill up and fall off the host.
Taming the ticks nightmare
Ssemakula, a trained animal production officer from Makerere University advises; “First of all, vaccination of cattle using anti tick vaccines (recently developed by experts from Makerere University). There should be regular spraying of cattle using genuine acaricides acquired from veterinary pharmacies. Spray once a week using a spray pump if one is a small scale farmer. For large scale farmers, dip the cattle into a cattle dip or use a spray race,” says Semakula. He also urges farmers to deny ticks their ideal breeding ground by slashing bushy areas at your farm and also avoid mixing your cattle with other cattle from the neighbourhood whose medical condition they are not certain of.
Other methods available include; physically inspecting your animals on a regular basis and removing ticks that you observe on your cows. You can remove ticks by grasping them with a pair of tweezers directly behind their heads and pulling them off of the animal. Veterinary doctors say you must make sure to get the tick’s head out of the skin or you risk infection developing. Impeccable pasture management is key because cows will pick up ticks as they walk through pasture. Ticks, it has been noted, are more likely to thrive in tall grasses and brush-filled areas; keep your pastures mowed down to help control your tick population. At best, the pastures should be treated with a pesticide that kills ticks such as permethrin.
Ssemakula recommends that steady fences should be built to put off wildlife animals from entering the pastures.
New cows joining the herd ought to be treated for ticks before releasing them into your livestock.
Common ticks, control measures
Ticks are the most common external parasite of livestock and are vectors for a number of serious diseases. We list and describe some of the more common ticks.
The blue tick gets its name from the blue tinge to the body and yellow legs, although may also take on a darker tinge.
The cattle tick (Rhipicephalus microplus) adapts quickly to areas where it has been ‘introduced’. Larvae gather on the soft skin of an animal, such as the inner thighs, flanks, forelegs and abdomen.
Habitat: Savannah; wooded grassland.
Hosts: Primarily cattle, though it will also utilise horses, donkeys, sheep, pigs and occasionally sheep and buffalo.
Diseases: Asiatic redwater, bovine babesiosis and anaplasmosis (Anaplasma marginale) gall fever. The animal shows reduced weight, and a decrease in milk yield.
Control: R. microplus can build up acaricide resistance more rapidly than most other tick species, so avoid prolonged treatment with a single acaricide.
If there is resistance to both organophosphate and chlorinated hydrocarbon acaricides, carbamate acaricide can be effective. After two more dips, send the animals to a tick-free pasture.
Amblomma hebraeum (Bont tick)
Bont (Afrikaans for ‘colourful’) ticks are typically found in short pasture.
They collect on the lower legs of animals, or between their hooves, and crawl from there to their chosen feeding site, usually around the hairless regions of the body such as the genitalia and underbelly.
The egret is one of the tick’s main hosts; this makes it the most widely distributed tick on the continent.
It has been recorded in at least 30 countries, including Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Angola.
Hosts: Cattle, goats, sheep, horses and dogs, as well as antelope and birds are all targeted by the bont tick.
Diseases: One of the main diseases spread by the tick is heartwater (Ehrlichia ruminantium), where fluid develops around the heart and lungs.
Mortalities can be as high as 80 per cent in infected animals. An additional problem is potential blood loss. Before dropping off to lay its eggs, a female can consume up to 20ml of blood.
A heavy infestation can lead to weight loss, reduced appetite and a predisposition to other diseases.
Signs include nervousness (more obvious in cattle than sheep or goats), difficulty in walking, respiratory distress, convulsions and death.
It has been suggested that livestock should not be reintroduced into pasture where measures have been in place to eradicate the tick for at least four years.
A heartwater vaccine is available, and animals respond well to treatment with tetracycline.
Control: Control can include movement restrictions, pre-export inspection, quarantine and treatment with acaricides while the tick is on the host animal.
Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) decoloratus (Blue tick)
Diseases: Redwater disease, gall sickness, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, anaemia, and cattle tick ‘worry’.
Heavily infected livestock may lose weight and show significant reduction in milk yield. Babesiosis manifests as a rise in body temperature, red urine, emaciation and death.
Control: A three-weekly dipping cycle with acaricide.
Beware of resistance, however. A cost-effective alternative that is friendlier to both animals and the environment, is to immunise livestock with Rhipicephalus microplus Bm86 protective antigen.
Produced in the 1990s, Bm86 is effective in controlling a number of tick species of the genus Rhipicephalus. Vaccination has a number of benefits: reducing the number of engorged ticks on the animal as well as the number of larvae on the animal over successive generations may disrupt the tick’s breeding cycle.
Females are likely to drop off before they are ready to breed. In addition, it reduces the chances of resistance build-up.