Let’s talk about a different sort of border patrol. This border patrol is critical to the health and well-being of our livestock. In 1906, mounted patrol inspectors started riding the border between Mexico and the US as part of the Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program. These “tick riders” still patrol the 500 mile permanent quarantine zone along the Rio Grande today.
Why is this border patrol so important to the health of our livestock? These inspectors are looking for ticks that cause Cattle Fever (babesiosis) along with other diseases such as anaplasmosis and equine piroplasmosis. Cattle fever caused significant economic losses for cattle producers in the US before it was eradicated from all the US except Florida in 1943. Florida presented some unique challenges to eradication of these ticks due to white-tailed deer serving as a reservoir. Finally in 1960, Florida was free of these ticks.
The two ticks responsible for transmission of cattle fever are Rhipicephalus annulatus and Rhipicephalus microplus. These ticks are still in Mexico and are routinely found in the quarantine zone along the Rio Grande. When these ticks are found in the quarantine zone, steps are taken to ensure they do not survive and move off of the premise. First, cattle are treated to kill the ticks on them. Second, pastures can be rested for up to 9 months in order to starve ticks that are there. Third, wildlife can be fed ivermectin treated corn in feeders or they can be fed in special feeders that coat their ears and necks with insecticide.
Surveillance is still in place to maintain our Cattle Fever Tick free status here in Florida. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is collecting and identifying ticks found on livestock and farmed deer. Tick testing is done at no cost to the producer. If you have a tick that you would like to submit for identification, you can either contact your local extension agent or your local FDACS animal health inspector.