Tick fever outbreak kills 18 cattle in tick-free zone near Wandoan

James Nason, 30/07/2018

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.”

The line separating Queensland’s tick-free zone and tick-infested zone.

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.

Taroom cattle producer and veterinarian Paul Wright. Image: Cattle Producers Australia.

“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.”



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  1. Toni Imhoff, 03/08/2018

    I’m curious if all the drovers traveling through our region in the past 12 months have their stock cleared when passing in and out of the free/infested zones and who checks their compliance regime?

  2. Tracee Hay, 31/07/2018

    Robert, these cattle were purchased through saleyards from within the tick free zone, unfortunately not all producers presenting their cattle for sale through (supposedly) clean saleyards, are as diligent as you. There are also stories coming through as a result of this tick outbreak that would suggest not all clearing dip inspectors are as diligent as you, either. Whilst there are some very professional inspectors running very thorough clearing dips, word would have it that consignments of cattle coming from the infested zones are driving hundreds of Km’s out of their way to clear at (should we say) less than thorough clearing dips. During the tick eradication in the 80’s/90’s, we were one of many producers who spent thousands of dollars & man hours clearing our country of ticks, this is not an issue that we take lightly in this area, for us to have ticks where they have manifested at present, means their must be a lot of other people around who also have ticks.
    The fact that DAFF have no power to implement & maintain a P1, P2 system that was required in the old system, which worked & you then had to be scratched to move off property by a certified scratcher in this clean area.
    The onus now (as a result of this inefficent government changing the laws) is a self assesment from producers self assesing their own cattle to sell & truck from within this clean area.
    Many producers from within this area were very vocal two yrs ago at different meeting through out this state, trying…pleading with the government not to lax these laws & to move the tick line. As it was felt by many producers that this was always going to happen, not if… but when….We have been told by DAFF officers Robert, that there is no money in the budget to assist us with the cost of treatment of our cattle.
    Robert the system might be working for you in the infested zone but it sure as hell isn’t helping the producers in the clean zone..(Now infected… thanks to self assesment)

  3. Robert Hollngsworth, 30/07/2018

    This is a horrible thing to happen to anyone. There are a few errors in the story. I am an accredited certifier, so have an interest in this story. The first thing I would like to point out is that there has been NO watering down of the tick line. Cattle still have to be clean to cross the line, and they still have to be treated at least once. I will not clear stock that have not been pre-treated, and they MUST be treated again under my supervision with an approved chemical or a plunge dip which has been tested within the last 30 days. My records are audited by Biosecurity Queensland every 12 months, and I have to do a practical test every year as well to keep my accreditation.
    The person receiving the cattle has an obligation to keep their property clean. Once the stock arrive, take reasonable precautions. As a producer who was infested under the old laws, I can tell you that ANY STOCK from the infested zone are treated again when they get here, and not turned out until I am satisfied that there is no risk.
    If Mr Hay purchased stock from within the infested zone, he needs to check his records and be certain that each consignment has the NVD, the biosecurity certificate, and the pretreatment record with it. If there is certificate, send the bill to the producer who broke the law by crossing the tick line illegally – that is who the new laws hold responsible. The hard part is to prove it.

    I would also like to add that the reason I am an accredited certifier is that my property was infested by a bull purchased from the tick zone, cleared through the old clearing regime and that except for a few hundred dollars of dip subsidy we have spent 8 years and thousands of dollars getting clean, and because we were in the old buffer zone we used to be able to get the stock inspector to clear through our dip for free. Now it costs $295 per hour from the time they leave the office until they get back, so the only alternative was to truck 275 km to the clearing dip and then back to cross the line, or get the accreditation. From what I know the new laws are much better for the average producer, and are much more efficient, and allow producers many more options for marketing and moving livestock. But unless DAFF issue every travel permit, like they used to do, people will fill in an NVD and drive and no law will stop them unless they are caught. And like I said, we were infested under the old laws while obeying them because of an incompetent council inspector, so it is not the laws that are at fault.

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