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Cattle Ranchers Have a Legit Beef with Cattle Lice

The famous Texas Longhorn is but one of the potential victims for vermin that feed on cattle blood.

During the winter weather, you and I are not the only ones to put on a heavier coat. Animals outside do it too. But when it comes to cattle, that heavier hair-coat can cause a lot of problems. And not just for the animals.

During colder months, cattle lice create problems for cattle and rancher alike. Dr. Jason Banta, a beef cattle specialist at Texas AgriLife Extension, says cattle can actually be infested with lice throughout the year, even in warm-weather climates like Texas.

“However, when we get cooler and cattle start to put on a longer, thicker hair-coat, that makes a better environment for those lice,” he says. We tend to see more problems late fall, winter, and early spring because lice will reproduce and survive better when cattle have that thicker hair-coat.”

The two types of cattle lice --- biting and sucking --- lead to what The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates to be up to $125 million a year in lost revenue. 

It’s certainly no picnic for the cattle either, as blood-sucking lice can wreak havoc on an animal’s red blood cells. Left untreated, cattle lice can reduce red blood cell counts by 75 percent, he says.

While treating an outbreak can be costly and time consuming for a rancher, it also can be stressful for animals. Most treatments involve sprays that can be painful in cold air, or injections that cattle don’t enjoy either.

However, Banta says, treatment is beneficial to the animals and the ranchers.

“I guess the way I would put it is, the return on investment for treating those lice is more than worth it,” he says. You should get a multiple-level return on that investment, not to mention the animal welfare benefits associated with lice treatment.

Prevention is obviously the better way to go for all involved, but Banta says that’s not as easy as it might seem.

“We can’t really prevent them, per se, because they’re transmitted through physical contact from one animal to another animal,” he says, “but what we can do is treat with various products, typically late fall or during the winter. And we can break the lifecycle so we’ll kill what’s there and that should give us control for the major lice season.”

The good news, Banta says, is that once cattle are treated for the season, they’re typically good and healthy until the next time cooler weather settles in.