The warm winter months provided many Texas growers a jump start to the planting season, and early spring rains have replenished soil moisture in large areas of the state. But, as they say, not all that glistens is gold.

Entomologists and livestock specialists are warning farmers across the U.S., including Texas and parts of the greater Southwest, that mild and wet conditions in recent months could be setting up a year for heavy tick problems, especially after incubation and larvae development, reach their peak in June.

While last year’s historic drought caused extensive damage to agriculture, it also stressed insect populations. But while tick season last year was termed mildly moderate, spring rains and warm winter temperatures have provided the perfect tick breeding scenario in 2012 and signs of early tick problems from Missouri to the Southwest have already emerged. 

University of Missouri livestock specialist Eldon Cole reports a large group of cattle in mid-May (2012) suffering from a serious tick infestation were identified. He says ticks are an economic concern because they can stress cattle and may result in anemic conditions. Cole says a few cases of anaplasmosis in his state each year can be common and attributed to tick problems.

Cattlemen in Texas are familiar with tick-borne animal diseases. The USDA Tick Eradication Program, the longest running program of its kind, is still in operation along a large stretch of the Texas-Mexico border.

Ed Bowers is the director of field operations of the USDA-APHIS Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program in Laredo. He says for more than100 years inspectors and “tick riders,” a group of specially trained and mounted inspectors, have combed the rugged backcountry of this border region in search of stray cattle and horses as well as smugglers who attempt to bring illegal animals across the Rio Grande.

Mexican ticks troublesome

Of concern is the large population of Mexican ticks that spread bovine babesiosis, or Texas Cattle Fever, a disease that has historically troubled the cattle industry in the Southern United States and devastated cattle operations in Texas on more than one occasion.

While no one is suggesting that a hefty tick population this summer will result in the spread of cattle fever, entomologists warn that ticks can easily spread this and other types of diseases in both animal and human populations.

“A lot of nasty diseases are spread by parasites of many types, and ticks are notorious for clinging to their hosts and transmitting a variety of bacteria and even viruses,” says USDA research entomologist Joe Mathews Pound in Kerrville. “We have had several cases of Equine Piroplasmosis reported in West Texas (in May), horses that came across the Mexico border. This is just one disease that can be spread by ticks.”

Pounds says among humans, Lyme Disease remains a concern, so heavy tick populations are not just troublesome to the farmer, but just about everyone who spends time in the outdoors. He warns cattlemen to watch for ticks clinging to the ears of cattle and keep an eye out for animals acting erratically.

“If this happens, it’s time to call in the vet,” he adds.

But of equal concern are farm and ranch workers who should take precautions to avoid tick problems. Pound suggests a Permethrin-basedproduct known as Permanone that can be sprayed on the inside of work clothing and allowed to dry 24 hours before wearing. He says the repellant is an effective product to keep ticks away for several days.

For animals, Pound suggests using ear tag repellants for cattle and flea collars for dogs.

“If the tick problem is really bad, applying a repellant to farm animals and pets may be necessary for protection against tick-borne diseases. And if the yard or house has an infestation, pesticides may be required, keeping in mind that spraying will be necessary again after new incubation periods have passed and eggs have hatched.”

In Central Texas, Pound says fire ants adequately control tick populations in many fields, leaving tick numbers the highest in wooded areas. But Permethrin-based products will repel ants as well as they do ticks Pound says, and advises keeping a supply handy this summer if insects become problematic on the farm and in the backwoods.