How to count cattle ticks

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).

Tick Counts

  • Count female ticks 4.5 – 8 mm long as these will drop within 24 hours.
  • Examine using fingertips/fingernails and palm of the hand to feel for lumps then part the hair and visually inspect.
  • Use a counter to count all ticks on 1 side of an animal then multiply by 2.
  • Primary areas to inspect are the tail butt and escutcheon.
  • Secondary areas to inspect are flank, belly, dewlap, neck and ear.
  • Three sites must be inspected, two primary sites and one secondary site for animals to be transported interstate or across tick free zones.

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.

Figure 1. Tail butt – start at the butt of the tail. Use fingertips to turn the hair back on both sides and backwards down the tail for about 15-20cm. Pay close attention to the caudal fold. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 1. Tail butt – start at the butt of the tail. Use fingertips to turn the hair back on both sides and backwards down the tail for about 15-20cm. Pay close attention to the caudal fold. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 2. Escutcheon – start at the vent down to the scrotum or udder as follows:  Using the finger tips, run the hand down the escutcheon, moving between the scrotum or udder and the inner hind leg.  Claw the fingers so as to have fingernails in contact with the animal’s skin. A gentle back ward motion will remove any ticks, scabs, or shells felt with the fingertips.  Repeat this procedure 2-3 times on either side. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 2. Escutcheon – start at the vent down to the scrotum or udder as follows: Using the finger tips, run the hand down the escutcheon, moving between the scrotum or udder and the inner hind leg. Claw the fingers so as to have fingernails in contact with the animal’s skin. A gentle back ward motion will remove any ticks, scabs, or shells felt with the fingertips. Repeat this procedure 2-3 times on either side. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 3. Flank – part the hair with hands. Use thumbs and fore fingers to roll the flank, exposing the skin in a narrow ridge. This opens the hairs so that the skin can be seen. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 3. Flank – part the hair with hands. Use thumbs and fore fingers to roll the flank, exposing the skin in a narrow ridge. This opens the hairs so that the skin can be seen. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 4. Dewlap – look at the whole of the dewlap facing you. The dewlap can be rolled between thumb and forefinger where it is practical to do so. Image courtesy Janet Meyer
Figure 4. Dewlap – look at the whole of the dewlap facing you. The dewlap can be rolled between thumb and forefinger where it is practical to do so. Image courtesy Janet Meyer
Figure 5. Upper neck – the upper neck is the area along the top line about 15–20 cm either side of the high point of the shoulder. Turn hair back, moving away from the head of the stock. Image courtesy Janet Meyer
Figure 5. Upper neck – the upper neck is the area along the top line about 15–20 cm either side of the high point of the shoulder. Turn hair back, moving away from the head of the stock. Image courtesy Janet Meyer
 Figure 6. Ear – run thumb nail along the inside upper edge of the ear, inspect the whole ear, both inside and outside. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Figure 6. Ear – run thumb nail along the inside upper edge of the ear, inspect the whole ear, both inside and outside. Image courtesy Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

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.

  • 0 – 25 ticks - very low
  • 25 – 50 ticks – low
  • 50 – 100 ticks – low moderate
  • 100 – 150 ticks – moderate
  • 150 – 200 ticks – moderate to heavy
  • 200 – 250 + ticks – very heavy burden (the animal will be losing condition)