Perfect weather conditions lead to tick explosion across clean cattle country

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Perfect weather conditions have led to an explosion in cattle tick numbers in Queensland, causing a financial and logistical nightmare for cattle producers.

Biosecurity Queensland said there were 149 current tick incursions in clean or tick-free areas of the state after a warm and wet start to winter.

For producers in the cattle tick-infested zone, every day is a struggle, with the cost alone of managing poor animal health often upward of $100,000 a year.

Two men both in blue work shirts stand smiling in front of property gateTwo men both in blue work shirts stand smiling in front of property gate
Ivan Hay (right) spent $250,000 over two years to eradicate ticks on his property, Jambaroo.(ABC Rural: Lucy Cooper)

Producer Ivan Hay from Canadian Vale Grazing Company knows what it is like to be on either side of the tick line.

He said it had been a long and expensive battle with ticks after he spent $250,000 to earn clean status at his property Jambaroo, north of Taroom.

“When we were in a program to get clean we did eight dippings, three weeks apart, and you can’t miss them. You’ve still got to do everything else,” he said.

“You just get one round down and it’s 21 days, and you’re going again.

Map showing the tick line across the state of QueenslandMap showing the tick line across the state of Queensland
The cattle tick line was placed in July 2016 and separates the infested zone (red) and the tick-free zone.(Supplied: Queensland government)

There are two cattle tick zones in Queensland, the infested zone and the cattle tick-free zone.

The tick line separates these zones and is an imaginary boundary.

It is not a straight line; instead it ebbs and flows based on individual property status.

Worries widespread

But Mr Hay said the expense to achieve tick-free status was worth it.

The savings following the cost of treatments have been phenomenal, and he can now send cattle to any sale with no restrictions.

“The animals are [also] in better health because they don’t have the parasites,” he said.

A tick infestation on livestock.A tick infestation on livestock.
Cattle ticks can transmit the deadly tick fever. (Supplied)

Mr Hay said the fear of losing his tick-free status never leaves him.

“Everyone’s worried about it.”

Feral deer to blame

A male grazier smiling with his black and white dog sitting in the back of a uteA male grazier smiling with his black and white dog sitting in the back of a ute
Murgon grazier Peter Angel says more needs to be done to control feral pests which are spreading ticks.(Supplied: Peter Angel)

Murgon grazier Peter Angel said his property was tick free for more than 50 years until the tick line was moved in June 2018.

He said in recent years, feral pigs and deer populations had grown rapidly, which spread ticks to cattle quicker.

He said Biosecurity Queensland needed more funding to educate producers.

“If you don’t do anything about the tick you won’t have an industry,” Mr Angel said.

Ineffective treatments

Mr Angel also said current methods were expensive and often ineffective, and with the current explosion of ticks being chemical-free was not possible.

“Everyone wants less chemicals,” he said.

Biosecurity Queensland’s principal policy officer David McNab said because some places in the tick-free zone had become resistant to tick controls, producers’ range of chemicals were limited.

“Which makes it difficult then to get on top of them and eradicate them,” he said.

A herd of cattle waiting in cattle yards on a propertyA herd of cattle waiting in cattle yards on a property
Peter Angel says he was able to keep ticks off his Murgon property for 50 years before the line was moved.(Supplied: Peter Angel)

He said some breeds were very susceptible to ticks and heavy burdens.

“You can certainly lose your British breed cattle to ticks if you can’t get on to your country [due to wet conditions] and muster cattle,” he said.

‘Perfect’ tick weather

Mr McNab said the increase in the number of infested properties in the tick-free zone was not unexpected given the weather conditions.

“You would normally expect winter to [arrive] in May and the breeding cycle of the tick starts to back off, [but] it stayed very mild and very wet,” he said.

“So, the ticks are actually continuing to breed through winter … so that just kind of keep those numbers quite high.”

He said when the numbers built up they inevitably spilled over into the tick-free zone.

A cattle dip and yards on a Queensland propertyA cattle dip and yards on a Queensland property
Peter Angel says current treatment methods for ticks are “inefficient” and costly.(Supplied: Peter Angel)

He recommended everybody in the “dirty” zone increase their biosecurity plan, increase surveillance, and consider preventative treatments before they got infested.

“In the tick-infested zone it’s also strongly recommended they vaccinate for tick fever because when you’ve got ticks you’ve got the opportunity for tick fever,” he said.

He said prior to changes to the tick line in 2016 there was upwards of 350 infested properties in the tick-free zone.