A cattle producer in Queensland’s tick-free zone who has lost 18 cattle to tick fever said he warned Government officials two years ago that moves to relax tick control procedures would compromise the integrity of hard-won tick-free areas.
Taroom cattle producer Ivan Hay was mustering on a property he owns at Wandoan last Saturday when he was shocked to find 18 cows lying dead in a paddock.
Vet analysis and lab tests later confirmed the cattle died from tick fever.
How a tick population was able to establish on his property some 100km from the tick-infested zone is now the subject of an investigation.
In recent years Mr Hay has bought cattle from the tick-free zone through saleyards at Roma and Dalby.
He believes there are two possible sources of the tick outbreak – undetected ticks imported with bought-in cattle that he trusted were clean, or ticks being transmitted from another property.
In addition to the value of the lost cattle, at approximately $30,000, he now faces an expensive and exhaustive program of blood testing, vaccinations and tick treatments over the next 12 months to eradicate ticks from the Wandoan property.
With that work and expense ahead it is possible over time the costs of this outbreak could exceed $100,000, all of which the Hays will have to bear themselves, as there is no Government assistance available or State-based biosecurity compensation fund in place in Queensland.
“It frustrates the hell out of you, we shouldn’t have to absorb this, we have done nothing wrong,” Mr Hay told Beef Central.
“We’re busy, we don’t need this, we don’t need the time (cost), we don’t need the expense, and we don’t need the worry about where the next lot of cattle we purchase come from.
“If you buy cattle out a clean saleyard, they should be clean, someone has got to be responsible for them not being clean.”
Until July 2016, cattle being moved from a tick-infected zone into a tick-free zone in Queensland had to be presented to a tick clearing station for inspection and treatment.
Under changes introduced in July 2016, there is no longer a requirement for cattle to be inspected and dipped. It is now up to producers selling cattle and producers buying cattle to manage tick populations and transmission risk themselves.
The rules require that stock moving from the infected-zone to the free-zone must be tick-free. Producers can get an accredited certifier to inspect, and if required to treat, cattle at a public clearing facility or on property.
Mr Hay was one of the many cattle producers in the Taroom district who participated in the successful community-driven program to eradicate ticks from the region in the 1980s and 90s. An extensive process of regular mustering and chemical and other treatments ultimately succeeded in pushing the tick infested zone beyond the Taroom Shire’s boundaries.
Mr Hay said the hard-won tick freedom was an “absolute asset” for producers in the region.
He was among a group of producers who warned the Queensland Government two years ago that its new legislation would undermine the region’s hard-earned freedom from ticks.
“We bumped our heads with them two years ago at the meeting, we could see this was going to happen,” Mr Hay said.
“They have taken the effective third party out, like the old DPI. You’d have someone that would inspect, clear and treat the cattle that did present at the clearing centre, but that is no longer a requirement under the new regulations.
“They can just get the cattle in themselves and run them through the crush and say these are all good, and what has happened to me now might happen again next year or the year after.
“There is no responsible third party being paid by the Government to make sure that live cattle ticks are not crossing the tick line into the tick free area.”
Relaxed rules have compromised free-zone integrity
Taroom cattle producer and veterinarian Paul Wright said the new legislation which relies upon all producers adhering to a ‘general biosecurity obligation’ was always likely to compromise the integrity of the tick-free zone.
“In July 2016 when line clearance ceased we recognised, and repeatedly pointed out, the risks that these changes posed, not only to our area but to the whole of the free zone,” Mr Wright said.
“We pointed out that it can be some considerable time before people in the tick free zone actually realised they had infestations of cattle tick.
“This time lag could run into a year or even years, by which time infestations can be widespread, and the consequences and costs of these incursions land unfairly on the affected producers.
“We no longer have a system whereby cattle have to be presented to a clearing centre to be inspected and treated.
“That is the fundamental root cause of the problem. On-property clearance procedures have been so watered down in the quest for flexibility that they are no longer effective.
“These cattle ticks are likely to have come through the present flawed treatment and inspection system and have brought the organism which causes tick fever with them.
“When the affected cattle were moved to the unknowingly tick infested property from the clean properties at Taroom, having had no previous exposure to cattle tick or tick-borne disease, they were susceptible to tick fever and have contracted the disease and died.”
Liability ‘falls squarely on the victim’
Mr Wright said a major concern was that the liability falls squarely on the victim of a tick outbreak.
Proving the actual source of a tick infestation was made very difficult by the lag time that was often involved between the initial tick incursion and the subsequent results finally manifesting.
This left affected producers in an invidious position, he said, as they were left to deal with the costs and concerns of the incursion.
“The onus to demonstrate the extent of the incursion and to prove that these tick incursions into the tick free zone did not occur as a result of the flawed legislation and regulations pertaining to clearance protocols must rest with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
“These are families who have done everything right, and suddenly they are left with this infestation through no fault of their own, and now, they have to contend with not only these stock losses but also ongoing treatment costs.
“While this is disappointing, it is certainly not surprising, this scenario is one which we exactly predicted prior to the introduction of the July 1, 2016 regulations.
“In the end, it all sheets back to the poorly constructed and poorly thought-through regulations.”
It was ‘catastrophically disappointing’ to think that the amount of blood, sweat, tears and money that had gone into eradicating cattle tick could now be “so carelessly put at risk”, he said.
“People in this area have enjoyed the privilege and financial advantages of attaining freedom from cattle tick and they have guarded this freedom jealously for all those years, and then just to have it completely undermined by poorly thought out legislation and regulation is disappointing to say the least.
“The best thing that we can recommend to our local producers is not to take for granted that there is any tick free zone anymore due to the porosity of the current system.
“Any stock introduced onto your property need to be properly cleared at the Taroom clearing centre because the consequences of not doing so are potentially horrendously expensive for you and your neighbours.”
Biosecurity Queensland investigation underway
A Biosecurity Queensland spokesperson told Beef Central the agency was investigating the detection of cattle ticks and a diagnosis of tick fever in livestock at the property near Wandoan.
In a written statement Biosecurity Queensland said owners of cattle tick-infested properties have a general biosecurity obligation to take all reasonable actions to prevent cattle tick spreading.
“Owners of cattle tick infested properties in the cattle tick free zone have an obligation to eradicate ticks from their property and to ensure their stock are cattle tick free before they are moved from the infested property.
“There is a Queensland Government acaricide subsidy scheme to assist producers with the cost of chemicals used for eradicating infestations in the free zone.
“At this time, there is nothing to suggest this infestation is a result of the new cattle tick management framework introduced from 1 July 2016.
“Producers need to remain vigilant and ensure that stock are free of cattle ticks when they are moving or being received.
“All cattle moving from the cattle tick infected zone to a destination in the cattle tick free zone are required to obtain a biosecurity certificate and meet the requirements of inspection and treatment.
“Locations where producers can meet the requirements aren’t restricted to former traditional clearing centres. Producers now have more options to undertake the inspections and treatments at other suitable facilities.”