Monday 21 March 2011

Ticks and prevention

Ticks. Ectoparasites. Little spidery type characters which latch on to warm blooded creatures and suck their blood.

They can be a bane to sheep farmers if you farm in a tick infested area, causing problems to livestock which range from anaemia to actual illnesses, as ticks are capable of passing diseases on also. Fortunately not all hill ground is heavily infested with ticks.

Those who suffer at the hands of ticks try to prevent an infestation. Lambs in particular can suffer heavily should there be a good rise of ticks in the spring but ewes also can fall foul of the tick. Obviously a lamb will be more susceptible due to it being so much smaller and a tick isn't bothered as to whether it latches on to a day old lamb or a five year old sheep, so long as it finds a host it will be happy. By the way that may also be us (can cause Lymes Disease), our dogs, cats....... you name it. Ticks have been proven to have a severe detrimental affect on the survival of grouse.

An immunity does build up in the sheep flocks. Which is where the 'hefted' flock thing comes to the fore, a breed of sheep which has lived on the ground for generations will be less susceptible to the little blighters than stock fetched onto the same ground which have never had any contact with ticks. Many years ago a new tenant went into a farm in the area, the sheep were hefted on to the farm and all was well, however he brought some cattle with him which had never been exposed to ticks before, some died, others suffered and recovered. The tick problem is not one to be taken lightly.

I find it interesting that neighbouring farms, separated with only a wire fence can find one farm with a tick problem and the other without. Ticks live on rough ground, you'll not find them being a problem in normal grassy fields, they like the rough hill ground to live on but all the same, two similar farms and one will have a problem whilst the other doesn't - interesting!

There are two seasons for ticks, spring and autumn. We call it a tick rise. That being when the conditions are right the ticks come out to play, they rise to the occasion so to speak. Crawling out of their cosy homes deep in the tussocks of grass they latch onto the sheep and start gorging themselves. Tiny little orangy red things they soon grow into big fat grey things. Things - not terribly technical but I know what I mean! By tiny I'd say about the size of match head, by big fat things I'd say up to the size of a small grape. (Someday I will try and get a photo of a tick - bear with me!)

The first season for the ticks is the worst, due in main to the affect they can have on young lambs and nursing mothers. The spring rise can come at any time, once the weather warms up the ticks will be wakening and thinking of feeding and breeding. Some years there is barely a rise at all, other years the ticks seem to come out in force, all dependant on the conditions.

Spring dipping used to be the answer to the tick problem. I can recall dipping ewes just prior to lambing time and I mean just prior. It was always deemed best to dip the ewe flock as close to lambing time as possible so as should the stress of being dipped cause them to lamb there would hopefully be a live lamb and a ewe able to feed it. When a full time shepherd I dipped ewes which were heavy in lamb and never came across any problems from doing so although my boss told me he had seen ewes lambing in the draining pens before.

I haven't covered dipping on this blog yet but the sheep find themselves fully immersed in water, they are put through a swim through bath and pushed under the water to ensure their whole bodies get a good soaking, the water contains a diluted dip chemical which adheres to the wool and skin and kills off any ectoparasites present and also prevents others from taking up residence in the future. Dipping is a strenuous time, probably more so on the handlers than on the sheep as sheep are naturally good swimmers. However, having said that it will be stressful on the sheep and especially so when in lamb and hence the reason for dipping as close to lambing time as possible.

Spring dipping soon became history. There was a tick cream came onto the market which I used to use many years ago, every new born lamb was caught up and this cream was smeared in their lisks. The lisk is the area of skin in the 'arm pits' and groin. Ticks prefer areas of skin to latch onto although they will be found in the hair around the face and neck.

Soon tick cream also became history as the pour ons came onto the market. The same pour ons used to treat lice infestation were also available for ticks. These are easily applied along the back of the sheep and cause little stress to the animal at all.

Recently Shep has been busy inoculating pregnant ewes with their pre lambing injection and at the same time treating them for ticks with pour ons. There has been a very odd tick to be found but it is really early enough yet as the weather hasn't quite warmed up and remained warm for long enough to get the little blighters excited. The pour ons will prevent tick infestation for a number of weeks so ought to cover the rise when it comes.

When the ewes were dipped it was found that the lambs naturally picked some of the dip residue up off their mothers fleeces and so rarely got much trouble with ticks due to this. It was also thought that the tick cream kept the ticks off the lambs. However, with the pour ons those who have a real problem with ticks find they have to treat their lambs with in a few days or when they are released back to the hill to prevent an infestation.

So, ewes living on known tick infested ground are finding themselves being applied with a pour on over the coming weeks, they are being prepared for a counter attack against the ticks. Owners of sheep on grouse moors may find the shooting syndicates will pay for the treatment as this aids the management of the grouse. In actual fact, some grouse moors which had had sheep removed have found them being reinstated as a management tool, not just for the grazing purposes but also to try and manage the tick infestation problem - interesting!

Shep doesn't hide the fact that she doesn't like using these pour ons, I take precautions to try and keep the stuff of my skin. I am fully aware that the chemicals disagree with me and try my utmost to keep contact as minimal as possible. So I find myself furious with a product I have been working with recently. Furious enough that I will name it. Dysect.

Dysect is cypemethrin based, a watery solution which is administered by way of an automatic gun, a gun with a T piece with five or six jets. So instead of the single pinstripe down the sheeps back you get five or six finer stripes down the sheeps back. Dysect also seems to be the product on the market at the moment which gives the longest cover for tick infestation. One of the other products which I used for treating lice no longer seems to have the impact on ticks that it used to have on some peoples flocks, probably due to a resistancy with having been used too long without a change of product(chemical ingredient).

I have used this product once before, a couple of years ago in the late spring on a warm day and found the chemical smell of the stuff was almost overpowering. I have now found myself using it again only to find you could hardly use it.

They say a bad workman blames his tools. Well I must be a bad workman.

The pour on seemed to be causing a breakdown in the guns which were being used. A new gun was ordered and duly arrived. The problem persisted. (All pour ons do seem to have an ability of causing guns to 'break' and it always pays to use the gun produced for the specific pour on).

Eventually and after a great deal of frustration it was found that the problem was the actual product itself and not the gun. A large cardboard box held four bottles of dysect which were stored in a farm building, on close inspection of the contents of the bottles it was found that half of the liquid had solidified, the stuff had kinda seperated. These bottles were all standing upright in the cardboard box and the liquid had seperated in the upright position. What I mean is, the solid wasn't at the bottom of the container and the liquid at the top, no the solid was up one side of the upright container and the liquid up the other side.

When the containers were shaken the product turned to a milk shake type subsistency whereas it ought to have been a clear liquid. It was also found to have calcified with small granules getting into the pipe and subsequently the gun and so causing everything to bung up.

All sheep medicine products are labelled, they give you directions on use, how to apply, operator and environmental safety advice and storage instructions. I have copied and pasted the particular directions for this product here Pharmaceutical precautions
Do not store above 25°C.
Store in a dry place.
Store upright in the original container tightly closed in a safe place away from food, drink and animal feedstuffs.
Protect from direct sunlight.
Avoid extremes of temperature.

The dysect I was using was in its original packaging,in the cardboard box it was packaged in,upright, in a farm building which was dry, there was no chance of it being in direct sunlight and as for being above 25degrees.....!! Extremes of temperature?? Definitely not, quite probably a fairly constant temperature of 5 -6 degrees, there wasn't even a frosty night.

The agricultural merchants contacted the manufacturers and were told to sit the container in a bucket of warm water and to store all containers in the house!!

So, the containers went into the house, the following day they went with us to sheep pens out on the hill, yes it was a cool day, no frost but cool. Within half an hour the guns began to play up, the liquid was turning milky, it was difficult to use the guns and apply the correct amount of medicine onto the sheeps backs and patience was wearing exceedingly thin. Strangely enough we didn't have a bucket of warm water on hand, are you menat to wear the bucket on your back with the container in it whilst applying the pour on?

All attempts to keep clear of the product were failing on my behalf. Often the substance was coming out of the guns like a fine mist, far too often the guns were being primed to try and remove airlocks, on a number of occasions the guns had to be taken apart to remove calcified lumps out of the mechanism. This is not a polite thing to say but I was pissed off - well and truly pissed off.

I have spoken to two farmers since who have used this product in the past and the same thing happened to them, so one can only conclude that it wasn't operator error, there is a manufacturers error in there somewhere. I can only hope I don't have to use this stuff again. I would like to think this farmer would complain directly to the manufacturers but I feel sure this wont happen, farmers aren't reknowned for writing letters or getting on the 'phone. Maybe I ought to forward this posting to the manufacturers?

There's one thing for sure, it wont just be the sheep that are covered for tick, lice and ked infestation this spring, the little blighters wont be bothering me either!