Everything you wanted to know about spraying cattle

Sidai Africa Kenya Ltd’s Dr Ochieng Odede (pictured) is a trained vet and the technical director at Sidai. He talked to Smart Harvest on pest control and the important pests for cattle farmers.

Refresh our minds: Why are ticks important to a livestock keeper?

Ticks, if you have forgotten, are parasites that attack livestock. During an attack, ticks would affect the animal in one of many ways: poor growth of the animals, damage of the skin, tick-borne diseases, death of livestock and so on. When these happen production is lowered, costing the farmer revenue, and death may occur leading to great losses.

What are the major mistakes farmers commit in control of ticks?

The first one would be lack of regular spraying. In an attempt to save money some farmers will not spray their animals until there is tick invasion. The danger with that is that often farmers only take notice when the ticks in question are the soft-shelled types that balloon in size as they suck blood. Yet sometimes an animal is infested with hard-shelled ticks that are often tiny in size and not very visible to the naked eye. Therefore, this style of dealing with ticks often misses some ticks and does not protect the animal. This contributes greatly to the resistance that ticks have been developing against existing acaricides.

Ideally what is the right frequency to spray animals?

Every seven days throughout an animal’s lifetime: this is standard practice if a farmer wants to successfully fight ticks.

If they sprayed every seven days you can guarantee the results?

Yes. But remember there are other aspects of spraying that have to be done right. The chemical has to be of the right strength. The recommended dosage is 1ml of acaricide per litre of water. And one cow should be sprayed with about 5 litres. I am saying this because some farmers use understrength acaricide formulation and the ticks don’t go away; they build resistance instead.

Any other mistakes (with tick spraying) farmers commit?

Some farmers spray the animals they deem infested and leave the ones that are not showing tick infestation. This is wrong because some ticks like brown-ear ticks cleverly conceal in the crevices of the ear and skin folds. If you spray one animal and leave another, the one that has not been sprayed will be exposed to low levels of the acaricide and if it has a few ticks the parasites will develop resistance against the acaricide.

You have a new acaricide to deal with it, how does it work?

Ticks are developing resistance against acaricides that have been in the market. This new acaricide was formulated by combining two existing acaricides. The result is a chemical that is effective against both hard-shelled ticks and soft-shelled ticks.

How would you describe a properly executed spraying routine?

Spraying should start from hind hooves, up hind limbs, then udders and inner thighs, down the tail to the whiskers, under the belly, front hooves, up front limbs to the dewlap, the back and sides of the body, top of neck, in and around ears and front of head. To accomplish this the farmer would need between 10 and 15 minutes of continuous spraying. If the farmer spends less time, say 5 minutes, they would have probably done a bad job.

Apart from ticks, which other parasites would cause a livestock farmer sleepless nights?

Tsetse flies, mites, fleas, nuisance flies, stomoxys and stable flies. These parasites transmit diseases (tsetse flies cause sleeping disease called Nagana in livestock) and some burrow in the skin to cause great discomfort. An animal that is in discomfort does not produce as expected by the farmer.

On acarides, if I were a farmer I would want to spend as little as possible on the same.

Aren’t vaccines against diseases caused by these parasites available so that I would spend only once?

There are a number of important tick-borne diseases affecting cattle. The three economically significant and most common are East Coast Fever (ECF), anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Only ECF has a vaccine. There aren’t vaccines for anaplasmosis and babesiosis. So a farmer will still need to spray the animals with acaricides.

There is a farmer who is worried that spraying once every seven days will probably be too costly in the long run. How would you convince them otherwise?

This would probably be because the farmer may not know how preventing ticks is beneficial. When a cow is infected with ECF it causes a sudden and sharp drop in milk production.

The average dairy cow produces 20 litres of milk every day. Milk retails at approximately Sh40 per litre. In seven days the farmer will have lost Sh5, 600. If the cow was expecting it would most likely lose the calf.

A quality breed calf can fetch between Sh80, 000 and Sh120,000. Most importantly the farmer may lose the cow. Compare all that loss – with just one disease – to cost of spraying once every seven days. It costs about Sh50 to spray one cow per week. This translates to about Sh2,700 in a year. Remember there are other diseases that we have not even talked about. And it costs money to treat the diseases as well.

When are tick infestations likely?

During rains and just after rains: these are the times the weather mimics incubator conditions and parasitic eggs hatch. Livestock then pick the parasites from the environment.

In that case then, should a farmer practising zero grazing worry about ticks considering that the livestock barely loiter the environment?

The hay the animals are eating comes from the environment. The animal does not have to go to the parasite: the parasite can be brought to the animal.

As you talked about other important parasites to livestock I noticed you did not mention worms?

Oh yes! Worms are also another important group of parasites to livestock. They include tapeworms, roundworms, pinworms and liver flukes. A farmer should deworm at least once every three months. A qualified vet should conduct the deworming.

One more thing: Is there a way around pests for organic farmers that want to avoid chemical acaricides?

I am aware of developments in the search for biological control of ticks. But as at today there is no available product to that effect. Right now all famers have are chemical acaricides.

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