By Chipo Tachiona
Most parts of the country have been receiving rains and farmers have been busy in the field. While the rains support our summer cropping activities, with usually bring with them ticks which trigger tickborne diseases such as red water, heart water and theileriosis (commonly referred to as January disease). Tick-borne diseases are illnesses transmitted to animals through the bite of infected ticks.
The theileriosis season usually peaks in January hence it was named January disease. It becomes incumbent upon farmers to regularly inspect their cattle to check tick manifestations. It becomes imperative for farmers to regularly dip their cattle to avoid unnecessary loss of their livestock.
Since 2016, more than half a million cattle have succumbed to January disease. This translates to over US$250 million that the country lost in potential revenue. More than 65 percent of cattle deaths in Zimbabwe are caused by tick-borne diseases. This has brought about the loss of economic security as cattle are a vital wealth source.
The Government has responded by introducing a raft o measures that include the Presidential Tick Grease Scheme and a countrywide construction and refurbishment of dip tanks.
The hallmark in the control of theileriosis, like all other tick-borne diseases, is to control the tick vector and dipping is one of them. Other ancillary efforts to contain theileriosis include the application of tick grease.
The term cattle dipping means the application of acaricide to cattle for the purpose of destroying parasites which infest their skin, especially ticks.
Cattle dipping methods
Cattle spray race – This method is graining prominence because of its effectiveness in managing water and acaricide. Since they reduce the risk of harming livestock, spray races are appropriate, especially for commercial purposes. Cattle are driven through a tunnel and are sprayed with acaracide solutions targeted at all parts of the animal. A thorough soaking of the animal’s body has become possible with the advent of well-designed systems.
To ensure that all ticks attached to the animal’s body are killed by the chemical, the level of wetness should not differ from that of cattle going through the plunge dip. To guarantee appropriate cover and successful tick management, however, proper maintenance and practices must be followed. In order to achieve an even cover, nozzles must be carefully set, regularly removed, and cleaned.
Spray races need to be maintained at the proper pressure. Without creating a mist, the dip wash must penetrate the animal’s coat. Dip wash will not adequately penetrate the coat, the animal’s ears, or the area under its tail if the pressure is too low.
Plunge dip – This is the most common method of dipping cattle. A plunge dip is a structure that enables total immersion of cattle in water charged with an acaricide. Such dips are usually made of concrete, fixed, or transportable. Plunge dips, when built and utilised properly, ensure that the entire animal is soaked. Maintaining correct dipping and replenishing records is crucial because insufficient dipping results in ineffective tick management and tick resistance to acaricides. Of paramount importance is the observation of the manufacturer’s instructions on charge and re-charge as this has been the Achilles heel of this method.
In most cases farmers are continuing to use under strength/compromised dipping mixture due to reliance on the ‘smell test’ i.e. if you can smell the chemicals then all is well when in fact they would be running weak solutions that encourage tick resistance build up over time.
All animals must be dipped every dip day, apart from very young calves and highly pregnant cows (pregnant, young, sick, or old animals may not be dipped at all, but can be sprayed or treated with alternate treatments). Fixed dips must be long, wide, and deep enough to totally submerge the animal as it plunges and force it to swim a distance before striking the bottom.
Pour-ons – This is when topical treatments are applied topically to an animal’s skin in tiny dosages. They contain a spreading component, typically oil-based, that enables the dip to cover the animal’s skin. Pour-ons are more expensive than plunge or spray dips, but they are more effective against flies and midges and can be used in fly control programmes.
Pour-ons can be used on few animals or as a temporary solution, but they shouldn’t be relied on for total tick control. Pour-ons must be applied to dry animals; if it rains on them right after treatment, the pour-ons may not work as intended.
Hand spraying – For farmers with a small herd of cattle that do not warrant the expenditure of buying a spray race or constructing a plunge dip, hand spraying becomes an effective tick control strategy. It is necessary to use a reliable knapsack sprayer and regulate the pressure so that the animal receives a full wetting without the spray condensing into a mist.
For cattle, 7 to 9 litres of dip wash are needed per head; for sheep and goats, this amount is lower. To guarantee that the skin is saturated, spraying should be done against the direction of the hair growth. Sheep and goats can be treated for ticks by hand-spraying.
Hand dressing – Applying tick grease or oils to areas of the animal where ticks concentrate, such as the ears or beneath the tail, is known as hand dressing. It can be used as a spot treatment in between dip days or in addition to any other way of tick management, but it shouldn’t be used as a sole means of tick prevention. Tick greases and oils typically have a long residual time and adhere better to hairless skin.
Injectable parasiticides – They are effective against ticks and are used to control internal parasites. They are typically only effective against single-host ticks and are too expensive to be utilised for complete tick control.
When should farmers dip their cattle?
Farmers should know when and what to vaccinate their cattle against because vaccination and dipping can’t be done in one season, but rather at different periods throughout the year when certain diseases are prevalent. Ordinarily, cattle are supposed to be dipped once every two weeks.
In January disease hotspots, farmers are supposed to dip their cattle three times in 14 days in accordance with the 5:5:4 dipping regime. The 5-5-4 dipping regime is a practice where animals are dipped every 5 days and then at 4-day intervals to ensure that there is effective tick control.
Early detection of tick manifestation helps to save animals, but prevention is better than cure, which means farmers must dip their animals regularly to prevent tick-borne diseases.
The symptoms of theileriosis in cattle can vary depending on the severity of the infection, but the most common are fever, anemia, enlarged lymph nodes, labored breathing, weakness, and a decrease in milk production.
The livestock sector is an important source of livelihood and contributes significantly to the economic well-being of the country. This is the reason why the government came up with the Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan which addresses all the factors hindering the growth of the sector. This is crucial as the country journeys towards an upper middle-class economy as envisioned in the National Development Strategy 1.
The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) invites all institutions or individuals trading in livestock and livestock products to register or renew their licences for the 2024 agricultural season. All registrations are done online at AMA website www.ama.co.zw.
Chipo Tachiona is Farmyard Investments director.
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