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The pain of tick control

I am a dairy farmer based in Ndenderu and I know the dangers of ticks on my dairy farm. I have been spraying my animals at least once a week, but I do not seem to get it right. Ticks have always been a permanent enemy. What am I not doing right?  

[James Wanyoike, Kiambu County]

Dear Wanyoike,

Thank you for reaching out to us. Ticks are a group of external parasites that have negative health and economic impacts to farmers. The little creatures transmit many livestock and even human diseases. Most of these diseases are fatal and costly to treat.

Ticks are blood sucking parasites and large numbers will cause anaemia, reduced growth rate and low live weight. Tick bites also reduce the quality of skin and hides. However, of great concern is the ability of ticks to transmit many livestock diseases within and cross herds.

Efforts to eradicate ticks have been futile due to their wide species and lifecycle. At the moment, tick control is the best arsenal for farmers.

How can you control ticks?

Use of chemical agents known as acaricides is a common way of controlling ticks. Acaricides are normally applied on the livestock but can also be sprayed in the environment where ticks live.

Acaricides must be used in a way that they do not pollute the environment or harm the animal or the person applying. Additionally, these are toxins and must be mixed in the right way following the manufacturer’s instructions. They must be applied by someone wearing personal protective equipment.

Other tick control methods are handpicking (though not as effective and not practical in large herds) or biological methods that use predator birds. 

Common mistakes

To save on costs, some farmers will over dilute the acaricide or apply it scantily. I have observed this with “commercial sprayers” in the village where someone moves round with a knapsack sprayer spraying animals for a fee. With such people commercial gains can easily outweigh the goal of spraying.

There is already a challenge of resistance by the ticks to acaricides and this further underscores the need for their proper use.

Closely related to this is poor spraying. A good acaricide sprayer should generate enough pressure to penetrate hidden areas, which are preferred by ticks for example between hooves, at leg/body junctions and ears. Dipping is the best method that ensures all the areas receive an adequate amount of acaricide. There are acaricides available as smears, which can be applied by hand in areas where liquid sprays may not reach.

Wrong timing

Spraying or dipping is best done in the morning for proper soaking of the livestock and a better effect. In the morning, the weather is cool and therefore there is less evaporation. Pour-on preparations have a good penetration ability and longer lasting effect though may be slightly expensive.

Application of acaricides must factor in the life cycle of ticks. It is important to bear in mind that some ticks have a life cycle that involves stages outside the host (livestock). This is normally taken care by cyclic application of acaricides. In some instances, the off-host habitats like animal houses can be sprayed to kill all the stages of ticks.

If one brand is not working, try another one. As said earlier there is a lot of resistance development against acaricides by ticks. Acaricides come in different formulations. Your animal health professional will advise on which types to use according to the tick type and based on what is not working.

[The writer was the Vet of the Year Award winner and works in the Division of Communication and Vet Advisory Services within the Directorate of Veterinary Services; jothieno43@yahoo.com]

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