Temporary Resolution Reached in Texas on Cattle Fever Tick Spray Boxes

A Cattle Fever Tick spray box in action in South Texas.
( Texas Animal Health Commission )

Cattle Fever Tick spray boxes can once again be used in Texas after government agencies and cattle producers came to an agreement on how to fix ventilation problems believed to have killed animals.

Eleven days after halting the use of spray boxes to control Cattle Fever Ticks in South Texas, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has agreed to temporarily reopen the boxes.

“After working with representatives from the Texas cattle industry and our state and federal partners at Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), USDA and EPA, we have agreed to a short term compromise that will ensure ranchers have the option of exempting some cattle from the spray boxes and move us toward a more permanent solution for providing ventilation in the boxes as required by the federally-approved Co-Ral (also known as Coumaphos) label,” Miller says.

A 45 day period will start on August 9 for the spray boxes to go back into use until a long term solution is found. Miller and the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) have placed the deadline as September 24 for the boxes to be fixed.

Spray boxes are used primarily along the Mexican border in South Texas to prevent the spread of Cattle Fever Ticks. After hearing reports of dead cattle that had been treated in the boxes and then seeing the boxes for himself, Miller shutdown the program on July 30.

The decision to stop use of the boxes was met with a pushback from other government agencies and cattlemen’s groups because the boxes had proven effective at controlling the spread of the pests. Cattle Fever Ticks carry the deadly disease bovine babesiosis. The disease causes the destruction of the red blood cells resulting in cattle anemia, fever and death.

According to Miller and TDA, the levels at which the insecticide Coumaphos was used went against the label and poor ventilation resulted in cattle deaths. TAHC refutes those claims, and the spray boxes had the backing of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA).

To help engage in a conversation a meeting was held in Austin on August 7. However, in a press release sent out by TDA it is claimed that none of the government agencies who manage the boxes were in attendance. EPA, USDA and TAHC all canceled shortly before the meeting.

At that time Miller had a different tone about the discussions. “It’s hard to make a deal with thin air,” Miller says.  “I’ve got a proposal to get those spray boxes open again, but everyone has to come to the table.  That’s what Texans expect. Running and hiding isn’t the way we do business in Texas.”

Negotiations appear to have gone smoother after the 45 day proposal to temporarily allow the boxes to be used was offered.

In attendance at the meeting were officials from TSCRA who were happy with the discussions.

“We are pleased to report that because of that meeting and further collaboration with state and federal agencies, a compromise has been reached that will allow the spray boxes to reopen temporarily. According to a release by the Texas Department of Agriculture, the fever tick spray boxes will be opened for 45 days, starting Thursday, so long as ranchers are allowed to opt for another form of treatment for some of their cattle. This crucial step will allow Texas cattle raisers to continue to protect and care for their livestock and prevent the spread of cattle fever ticks while a permanent solution is implemented,” says Robert McKnight, Jr., president of TSCRA.

Texas Farm Bureau also released a statement after attending the meeting supporting the decision to temporarily reopen the spray boxes and to work on finding a solution to any problems.

Also attending the meeting was Livestock Marketing Association of Texas (LMAT), Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas (ICA) and South Texans’ Property Rights Association (STPRA).

Miller was grateful to federal government officials and those from the Texas cattle industry.

“I appreciate the quick and professional response from USDA Under Secretary Ibach and I look forward to working with him to find a more permanent solution to this issue.  I also appreciate the patience and input of our friends in the Texas cattle industry.  I sincerely hope that together we can find that solution that will protect Texas cattle, serve the public interest and strengthen the position of the Texas beef industry as a world leader,” Miller says.

No statements have been released by TAHC since the agency originally reported that no deaths from spray boxes have occurred.

“Portable spray boxes have been utilized for decades and have proven very effective in our containment and eradication efforts,” says Andy Schwartz, Texas State Veterinarian and TAHC Executive Director, prior to the temporary reopening. “It is important to note that over the years of state and federal use, there has been no indication the application of Coumaphos in spray boxes has led to cattle deaths.”

TAHC reports the spray boxes have helped trace fever tick exposed cattle to 919 individual premises in 82 Texas counties since September 1, 2016.

More information about the controversy in Texas around the shutdown of the boxes can be found in the following story: