Outbreaks highlight tick control challenges

James Nason, 06/05/2012

Female cattle ticks at various sizes. Image: Qld DPIThe tick outbreak that forced the cancellation a Central Queensland campdraft two weeks ago was the 32nd infestation recorded in the free and control zone since December 2011, according to Queensland Government figures.

The ongoing rate of infestations in areas deemed to be clean underlines the size of the challenge facing industry and government authorities in their bid to maintain the integrity of the tick control line that separates clean and “ticky” areas.

Cattle ticks are the most serious external parasite for Australia’s beef and dairy cattle industries and left unmanaged have the potential to kill large numbers of cattle through the spread of tick fever. Underlining the reality of the threat, the NSW Department of Primary Industries reported the death of 22 cattle as a result of tick fever on a property near Quirindi on Friday (more details below).

While 32 infestations in four months would appear high, when compared to historic records, the current rate of reported outbreaks this year is more or less on par with historic averages in Queensland.

Historic records, according to departmental figures held by AgForce, show that in most years, including dry years, infestations in the combined free and control zone have averaged between 130 and 160 properties per year.

The highest rate of recorded outbreaks in free and control zones occurred during the wet years of the mid-1970s when a minimum of 200 individual outbreaks were recorded every year from 1974 to 1980. In 1977 alone 391 outbreaks were recorded.

Another wet year in 2011 – Australia’s third wettest year on record – saw a distinct spike in outbreaks, with 227 outbreaks reported from January to October.

That included 137 in the control zone and 90 in the free zone.

Eradication schemes have gradually pushed the tick line into geographic areas that are more environmentally favourable to tick survival, which in turn has made outbreaks in control areas during wetter years more likely. This helps to explain the higher rates of infestation in the control zone.

However the high number of outbreaks in the free zone presents an obvious area of concern.

The recent outbreak that forced the cancellation of the Injune Campdraft occurred in the free zone more than 180km south-west of the tick line.

The producers involved now face the nightmare scenario of having to quarantine all cattle movements from their properties until October, and have to repeatedly muster all cattle for control treatments at their own expense (some subsidy assistance is available on the costs of treatment) over a two-year period. 

Recent outbreaks have heightened fears that resourcing cutbacks, such Government stock inspector numbers, movements in the tick line to areas where a single wire fence is now all that stands between clean and infested country, and rising levels of resistance to chemical treatments in tick populations are undermining management of the tick line.

Producer representative group AgForce is hoping Queensland’s newly elected Coalition Government will move to restore adequate resourcing of tick management programs.

AgForce says it will  continue to support that first removed or clean properties from the tick line that become infected be reimbursed 100pc of the chemical costs to clean up the outbreak. 

AgForce cattle president Grant Maudsley said the group also supported all endeavours of Government to fully prosecute any intentional breach of the tick line.

“AgForce is in discussion with the department of agriculture seeking continuance of the role of the Cattle Tick Management Queensland (CTMQ).

“Working in collaboration with Biosecurity Queensland under the proposed Biosecurity Bill there is opportunity to change the way cattle ticks are managed and the movement of stock can be more flexible.”

One proposal tabled at CTMQ involves formalising a reserve team of retired or former stock inspectors to be mobilised in the event an exotic or endemic disease outbreak, as occurred during the Hendra Virus outbreak in NSW last year.

The concept is similar to that of the army reserve, and would ensure that adequate numbers of qualified staff were available to conduct the forensic management work required to contain and control an outbreak.

Cattle killed by tick fever in NSW

Meanwhile the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) is advising cattle producers in north west NSW to look out for cattle ticks following a case of tick fever in a beef herd near Quirindi south of Tamworth.

“Tick fever was confirmed yesterday following the deaths of 22 head of cattle on the Quirindi property,” said NSW DPI Regional Veterinary Officer Samantha Allan said in a media alert issued on Friday.

“NSW DPI regulatory officers have quarantined the affected property, and found cattle ticks on the stock.

“The remaining 390 cattle on the property are being monitored closely for signs of tick fever – and will undergo a treatment program to eradicate the ticks.

“Tracing of stock movements on and off the property is also being undertaken to check the source of the disease and the potential for further spread.”

Ms Allan said it was unusual for cattle ticks and tick fever to occur in the Tamworth region.

“Cattle ticks which can spread tick fever are more usually found in the north east of the State but they can occur anywhere in NSW,” Ms Allan said.

“Now we have this case in the Tamworth district, all cattle producers should check their stock and report any unusual ticks to the NSW DPI or the Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA).”

Ms Allan said NSW DPI was working with the local LHPA staff on the case.

She said tick fever is caused by a parasite of red blood cells and the only thing that can spread tick fever is cattle ticks.

“Signs of tick fever in cattle include fever for several days, loss of appetite, weakness, a reluctance to move and red urine,” she said.

“Stockowners who suspect their stock have cattle ticks or tick fever should contact NSW DPI at Wollongbar on

(02) 6626 1201, their private veterinarian, their local LHPA office or the emergency animal disease watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

“Brochures to help with the identification of cattle ticks are available from the numbers above, your local NSW DPI office, or from the NSW DPI website

“The important message for stockowners is to check their stock for cattle ticks and any signs of tick fever because treatments are available and early identification can keep losses to a minimum.

“The number of new cattle tick infestations in NSW this year is 34 – down 15 per cent on the same time last year – which is important considering cattle ticks spread tick fever.”

Cattle ticks are a notifiable disease in NSW, meaning stockowners must report findings and any outbreaks must be eradicated. Cattle and other livestock coming from tick-infected Queensland must also be treated for cattle ticks before they enter NSW.


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