Temporary holding pens built near the border are helping cool fever-tick spread without halting movement of Mexican cattle into Texas. And USDA hopes to build 8 foot fences along and near the Mexican border to further limit the movement of tick-carrying wildlife into pastures already declared tick-free, according to Under Secretary of Agriculture Edward Avalos.

The ticks carry bovine babesiosis, or cattle tick fever. There were more than 100 incidents of tick fever in Texas in 2010. More numbers could be expected if control measures aren’t maintained or improved, according to Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) officials

Speaking at the recent Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association convention in San Antonio, Avalos emphasized the need for added stateside monitoring of Mexican cattle entering the U.S. That’s due to Mexican drug cartel violence that has caused USDA to pull its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel from the Mexican side of the border.

The personnel withdrawal puts added pressure on USDA “tick riders,” livestock border guards who patrol a 500-mile tick bumper zone in search of stray cattle, deer, feral hogs and other livestock that may be fever tick carriers.

“What’s happening in Mexico is terrible,” said Avalos, who rode with tick riders along the border area last week. “It has impacted our ability to do our job in Mexico.”

He added that temporary holding pens built in Pharr, Laredo and Eagle Pass border cities in Texas have help enabled Mexican feeder cattle to be tested for fever ticks and other harmful insects and treated for parasites that can cause further problems.

Wildlife has become an important part of ranch operations in South Texas. But free-roaming deer and other wildlife can infest cattle herds already tested and cleared for fever ticks.

“Many ranches already have good fences,” said Avalos. “We’re proposing additional fences to fill the gaps to prevent movement of wildlife, primarily whitetail deer. If you have a pasture clean of fever ticks and deer enter it, in a few weeks you are infested again.”

The fences are on hold until a complete environmental impact study is made to determine the impact on the region, he said.

Meanwhile, Dee Ellis, Texas state veterinarian with TAHC, said field trials of new tick control products are scheduled in the coming months. He said, however, that a vaccine to prevent tick fever is “a ways off.”

Ellis said further efforts to maintain tick-free ranches in South Texas and other regions are being made through enhancing the TAHC and USDA programs to regularly check cattle for ticks.