Ticks are proving a persistent problem on a Lancashire farm
Climate change may be favouring moorland tick populations, which pose a real threat to the welfare of farm livestock using the moors. It is a wide ranging problem as Neil Ryder found out.
Despite making considerable in-roads into controlling ticks on his farm in the past, Malcolm Handley is again having to look at control measures.
In the early 1990s, he participated in an EU-funded tick control programme but tests have now shown he will not be able to cut back on treatments just yet.
“After all the work that has been done, I was gutted to find we still had a problem and have to think what to do next” says Malcolm who farms at Croasdale House Farm in Slaidburn, Lancashire.
It also makes us wonder whether there may be a potential resistance issue on the way
Malcolm followed up the programme with his own control measures and thought he would now be able to cut back on treatments. Tests, however, have shown he is wrong and he will have to retain these measures for the foreseeable future.
His problem now is deciding on the future strategy for tick controls on his farm, which will maintain, and hopefully reduce, the relatively low levels of tick populations. These future strategies will have to be borne by the farm business.
While tick-borne louping ill is not a major problem on the farm, it is believed to be having an effect on the grouse. Other tick borne diseases and problems, including abscesses, do have a real economic impact on the farm though, resulting in numbers of small, often lame, lambs that can be difficult to sell.
Malcolm, his wife, and business partner Marty, came to Croasdale House Farm in 1985 when he took over as head shepherd on the, what is now, United Utilities owned farm.
They went on to take over the tenancy of the farm in 1990. The farm is made up of the 800ha (1,978 acres) moorland and 140ha (346-acre) of ‘good inbye’ land.
Stock levels stand at around 900 commercial ewes based on a core of Swaledales, which are crossed with the Lleyn and the cross-bred ewes are put to Texel tups for store lamb production.
A more recent addition has been the 30 breeding cow Croasdale herd of Belted Galloway and followers, calving all-year-round to produce a steady supply of high quality beef for direct sales.
Malcolm says the farm was ‘always renowned as a bad tick farm’. “A shooting syndicate using the moor took an interest in controlling ticks so in 1994 we blood tested the sheep to see if they had had any contact with louping ill and found 100 per cent showed positive results.”
He says this showed at the time they were not losing sheep to louping ill because they had developed a level of immunity passed on from ewes to lambs.
He was then asked to take part in the Bowland Tick Suppression and Louping Ill Eradication Project and, while the shooting syndicate had finished by that time, the landlords were keen to carry on with the project, which was backed by EU money.
“The programme started by vaccinating all the sheep against louping ill then routinely vaccinating gimmers once at shearing, and again in the autumn before going away to winter. “This was linked to heavy use of pour-on insecticide and acaricide preparations or dipping with some five treatments per year.”
This was carried on for a seven-year period with final blood tests showing very low levels of antibodies.
During the EU-funded project, money was available to help with the chemical and drugs costs, but when the project came to an end in 2001, Malcolm decided to carry on with the work himself.
“We carried on but reduced the use of pour-ons and dips to three times a year on both sheep and cattle,” he says.
“We have only vaccinated once since then and that was the new herd of cattle as an insurance policy. However, just over a year ago, 16 ewes were tested at random and 12 came back positive for the louping ill virus.
“This confirmed there is a resurgence of ticks and louping ill on the farm. This may not have been helped by the efficacy of the pour-ons or the changes occurring in both the climate and the tick rise patterns,” says Malcolm.
“We have no scientific proof, but I feel the protection from our pour-ons is not lasting as long as in the past, which raises the question whether we should be using more dips. It also makes us wonder whether there may be a potential resistance issue on the way.”
Malcolm says this will mean additional dipping, possibly including OPs, over three years to cover the full life cycle of the tick.
“Against this we do not want to handle stock more than is necessary, plus there are health risks for both humans and sheep.”
Up to now, Malcolm has used pour-ons on ewes at lambing in April, but he is considering whether to move back to using them at the same time as pregnancy scanning in February.
“Whatever we decide, it will be done in conjunction with the present shooting tenants, our own vets and the team at the Moredun Institute who have worked with us throughout,” says Malcolm.