Sampling and or counting the ticks present on cattle provides a basis to estimate damage, monitor control methods and assess management success. See also how to identify ticks, best time to count cattle ticks and how and when to tick score (an alternative to counting).
As hosts reject some ticks during feeding it is necessary to identify and count only those that will complete engorgement. The growth of parasitic ticks is characteristically slow in the early stages and then very rapid in the final 12 to 24 hours. Engorged cattle tick females, like those of many others, detach from their host overnight, or early in the morning. It has been shown that the number of engorged females detaching in the morning (Day 1) is equal to the number of females 4.5 – 8.0 mm long on the previous day (Day 0).
The pre-engorgement stages of ticks have been termed ‘standard’ ticks. Counting them provides the basis for ecological studies, estimation of damage and assessment of efficacy of control methods.
To reduce the workload and increase safety, adequate inspection facilities are required and only one side of the host need normally be counted. If an estimate of total burden is needed, the count is doubled. Due care must be taken when examining the animal for the presence of ticks. A mechanical tally counter should be used (if available) and the surface of the animal can be divided into convenient areas to examine.
Areas to examine include the tail butt (Figure 1), escutcheon (extra care needs to be taken) (Figure 2), flank (Figure 3), belly, dewlap (Figure 4) or neck (including upper neck) (Figure 5) and ear (Figure 6). An effective way to detect adult ticks, especially when they are engorging, is to feel the hair coat of the host with the palm of your hand. To find immature ticks or unfed adults, the hair can be parted systematically using both hands and eyes to find adults and nymphs (larvae will be too small to detect). Rolling the skin between your fingers can also help to make these flat life stages stand out. Visually inspect for any obvious signs of cattle tick as you approach the animal. Take note of any lumps, swellings, bumps and scabs on the skin that may need closer inspection.
Use fingertips to feel for ticks including any lumps, swellings, bumps and scabs on the skin. Remove any ticks, scabs or shells using fingernails, place in the palm of the hand for closer inspection. If the accredited certifier or person conducting the inspection normally wears glasses for reading, they should wear glasses whilst performing the inspection.
For animals to be transported interstate, or across tick free zones, an accredited certifier or inspector is required to examine three sites on a percentage of the consignment. Two primary sites (tail butt and escutcheon) and one secondary site (dewlap, ear, upper neck or flank). If a live cattle tick is found on a single animal, all animals in that consignment fail the inspection and must not be moved to the tick free zone.
In the event of finding cattle ticks on animals, or any tick of which the identity is uncertain, the owner or agent should remove the tick for positive identification. See the ‘identification’ section under professional service providers.
If you find cattle ticks on animals that are currently treated, and you suspect your treatment is failing, see the ‘resistance testing’ section under professional service providers. For assistance with counts also see professional service providers.
The following link provides a list of accredited certifiers trained and authorised by legislation to certify the cattle tick status of livestock.
If you find cattle ticks on animals in a tick free zone, it must be reported to your relevant government department, see professional service providers.
Infestation levels - (total of one side count)
The effect of tick burden on animal performance and productivity will be higher when the animal is in poorer condition, calves are impacted more than adults, in animals with poor general health, and when feed quality or quantity are inadequate.