Help your livestock avoid louse infestation this winter

Louse eggs glued to hairs (Photo: Lee Townsend, UK)

Louse eggs glued to hairs (Credit: Lee Townsend, UK)

In the midst of these cold weather months, it is easy to forget that pests never rest. Especially now with animals coming in closer contact for warmth, the threat of parasite transfer is increased. The University of Kentucky explains why routine checks and establishing a pest control program are essential to ensuring the health of your livestock.

Factors that encourage an infestation of lice in a livestock herd include a lack of nutrients, weak immune systems, and stress associated with travel and transportation of the livestock. Short winter days with less sunlight also encourage pests to advance and spread from one animal to the next. 

An infestation of lice is not only irritating to the host, but it can also cause major issues. When the parasite feeds, for example, energy is lost through the extraction of blood. Common symptoms of this are weight loss and low vitality, usually leading to a variety of even more issues. These include higher risk of contracting and/or delaying recovery of diseases, lack of stamina, as well as the potential to develop anemia.

The article explains that when assessing a herd, knowing the red flags of louse infestation are important. Indicators include: missing hair or evidence of extreme rubbing and raw areas of skin from instances of over grooming or scratching. If lice are not existent, then other parasites or dietary issues may be to blame.  A “greasy appearance” or oily areas are another indicator of lice, as this results from the animal crushing the pest as they scratch or rub. Also make sure to check around the eyes of livestock as certain breeds of louse, such as the little blue cattle lice, are found along the eyes of the animal, equating to a “goggle-like” look.

Matting of the animal’s hair is also consistent with the presence of lice, as well as lice tend to knot the animal’s hair when they lay their eggs. Diagnosing this problem, as well as catching it in the early stages, is as simple as combing through the fur of the animals looking for these symptoms. The article suggests analyzing five, one-inch areas along the face, dewlap, neck, back and base of the tail as these are the favorite feeding places for the parasites.

Creating and maintaining a prevention and management plan for outbreaks can help diminish the possibility that your herd will suffer from louse infestation. Additional practices to utilize include:

  • Insecticides—dewormers and insecticides are great avenues for fast relief depending on the intensity of the infestation. Beginning treatment in the summer months will help the animal absorb and develop a resistance before the cooler months begin.  There are many varieties that are available depending on the application and coverage type.
  • Ridding of “carriers”—through the summer months, lice find safety in few members of the herd, or those who are labeled as “carriers” or “reservoir” animals. These animals are typically older and have lower immunity with less ability to groom and care for themselves. The pests stay with these animals over the summer and spread when the herd comes together for warmth in the fall and winter. Identifying these outliers and removing them or treating will contain and even prevent the potential of outbreak.
  • Nutrition—providing rich options of feed and forage keeps energy levels up and boosts immunity against fatigue, illness, and can also decrease the effects of lice infestation.
  • Sanitation and housekeeping—though this may be redundant, having clean facilities can help discourage the spread and survival of louse. Cleaning using insecticide or resting an infested location for several days allows for the present lice to die. Repairing of broken fences and structures keeps the affected away from the healthy herd as well.
  • Quarantine— when any new animal enters the premises, assume that they are infected. Allow for them to go through full treatment administration before introducing to the herd.

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