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Review of research needs for tick control - Phase Two

MLA commissioned Strategic Bovine Services (SBS) to conduct this review in order to examine current measures for cattle tick control, threats to the continued success of these measures, research needs for maintaining control of cattle ticks, and the relative economic benefits to be gained from pursuing some of these strategies. Published reports put the overall cost between A$85–290m in 2004. We believe the most accurate estimate is close to A$175–200m.

A literature review was conducted, supplemented by submissions from the public. Australia’s leading authorities on tick control were interviewed, and the overall opinion was that the most practical strategy for controlling ticks in the future was crossbreeding. Other favoured strategies were Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and introduction of chemicals from overseas. Gene markers were supported with caveats relating to the unproved status of this technology. Government control programs, such as eradication and controlling resistant ticks, were not well supported. Using an economic model we estimated the Net Present Value (NPV) of various strategies. All had higher projected returns for Bos taurus than for Bos indicus herds. The mean NPV was five times higher for Bos taurus cattle. Eradication was projected to have the highest NPV, while crossbreeding, IPM, introducing products from overseas and gene markers all ranked highly across different breeds. The lowest economic returns were predicted for strategies that involved acaricide resistance management.

Pastoral company representatives concurred that the use of resistant cattle and crossbreeding are the most important means of tick control in northern Australia. Improving fertility and meat quality would offset tick-related risks to the northern cattle industry due to loss of markets, low productivity and concern over the welfare of cattle. Gene markers potentially allow selection for tick resistance within a herd or within a breed, a technique that has long been possible but has not been widely adopted due to practical difficulties. The Beef Cooperative Research Centre addresses major issues affecting the profitability of northern beef enterprises without a specific emphasis on ticks.

Regulatory controls, assisted by natural climatic barriers, have been successful in confining ticks to a defined geographical area of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, and for eradicating ticks from most areas of New South Wales. However, the future of regulatory controls is under threat due to resistance to chemicals. The NT government has implemented a program to eradicate synthetic-pyrethroid resistant ticks. State government policy in QLD and NSW is to shift the burden of responsibility for tick control to cattle producers. Due to the high incidence of resistant ticks, restrictions on the movement of cattle with resistant ticks in Queensland would be unlikely to provide extensive economic benefits, and would be difficult to enforce.

In the past tick control has suffered from the absence of a united national approach, but the recent development of Standard Definitions and Rules has facilitated cooperation between states. However, there is still a need for a coordinated advisory body to consider policies for the management of ticks and a meeting in Queensland to establish such a coordinating body, CTMQ, was well supported by the industry and researchers. Follow up meetings have since been held, sponsored by QDPI&F.

Northern pastoralists ranked the tick vaccine very high in terms of a desirable tool for tick control. Due to its low efficacy and short duration of immunity the current tick vaccine is not widely used. An improved vaccine is unlikely to be developed within the next five years with more work needing to be done to extend the immunity duration to twelve months, and improve efficacy to 90%. This would make the tick vaccine a viable tool for use in beef cattle. The tick fever vaccine is generally very effective but there are problems with biosecurity risk, convenience and side effects. Research on non-live vaccines for tick fever is proceeding. The Anaplasma vaccine project has made interesting progress in recent years, but the real need in Australia is for a vaccine against Babesia, which causes the majority of tick fever cases.

To date chemical treatments have been a cheap and effective control tool, but the average time from introduction of a new acaricide until it develops resistance or is taken off the market, is only about eight years. Resistance to common chemical classes is widespread in Queensland. Macrocyclic Lactones (MLs) and Fluazuron are widely used in the beef industry without any reported resistance. Researchers anticipate the onset of resistance to MLs within the next 30 years. A DNA-based test for acaricide resistance could assist producers to ensure farm biosecurity, which would probably have commercial application both in Australia and overseas. However, pharmaceutical companies show a trend away from the development of new chemicals. New formulations already registered overseas would likely be readily adopted in Australia, but the APVMA registration requirements are onerous and expensive. The APVMA do not see the cost of registration as being an issue they need to address.

Fungal biopesticides show promise as an alternative measure for the treatment of both ticks and buffalo fly, but are still unproven in the field and require seed money to complete product development. According to the economic model, the introduction of IPM measures, including environmental management of ticks and buffalo flies, would give reasonably high economic returns and is supported by authorities involved in tick control. Both strategies promise to decrease risk of residues in animal products.

As government investment in tick control decreases, cattle producers are being increasingly held responsible for this. We recommend that MLA invest in tick research to help provide northern beef producers with the tools needed to offset the risks posed to markets, welfare and productivity caused by ticks. The greatest returns could be achieved by MLA giving assistance to:

• Research into crossbreeding and gene markers through the Beef CRC programs;

• Support for the peak body (Cattle Tick Management Queensland) that would decide tick control policy and prioritise research and extension needs;

• Extension tools being provided for consultants to advise farmers on control of ticks and buffalo


• Research on a diagnostic test for acaricide resistance;

• The monitoring of tick vaccine research. This would take top priority for funding if a vaccine with 12-month duration of immunity and 90% efficacy could be delivered.

An ancillary recommendation is that MLA facilitates the reporting of reliable statistics on breed trends in the national beef herd. These are needed to provide a sound database on which to assess potential benefits from interventions in the beef industry, to promote trade, to assess risk of disease and to study possible trends in meat quality and other production parameters.​


Title Size Date published
2.6MB 01/06/2005

This page was last updated on 10/11/2014

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