Six Ways to Address Lice Now

There's a lot of winter left in cattle country. One of the issues often overlooked this time of year are lice problems.
There's a lot of winter left in cattle country. One of the issues often overlooked this time of year are lice problems.
(File Photo)

For beef producers, lice present an ongoing problem for cattle, especially in winter and particularly in colder climates. Lice can rob cattle of valuable performance when it’s needed most, decreasing weight gain and leaving cattle more susceptible to disease.
While you may have treated for lice in the fall, there is a good chance you could see them begin to reemerge depending upon the product you used and when you timed your application. It’s important for cattle producers to understand there are two types of lice of concern: blood sucking and chewing. When it comes to blood sucking lice, systemic treatments work to kill these pests, and while topical treatments will kill both blood sucking and chewing lice, in either case, only the adults are killed, leaving the eggs to hatch and reinfest the herd. 

Minimize cattle stress
“Traditionally, in order to break this cycle and give season-long protection, producers have to treat all the animals in the herd two to three weeks following the first application, just after the eggs have hatched but before they get a chance to lay new eggs,” said Thach Winslow, DVM, senior technical consultant at Elanco Animal Health. “However, by choosing a single application product that kills lice at multiple life stages including the eggs, producers can eliminate the impacts of lice infestation while saving time and money and sparing their cattle the stress of being put through the chute a second time.”
Dr. Winslow explained that when choosing a single-dose product, it’s important to properly apply it at the right time of year to provide season-long protection for your entire herd.
The right time of year
Lice do not thrive in warm weather, so when the temperature gets too high on cattle, it will kill them. This is why we don’t see lice in the summertime. The few that survive make their way down to the cooler areas on the flank, armpits and ears. In most cases, all but just a few animals in the herd will be lice-free during summer. It isn’t until well into fall and early winter the lice start to reproduce and reinfest their host and ultimately the rest of the herd. 
“It doesn’t matter what you pour on the cattle’s back, if the lice aren’t out, it can’t kill them,” said Dr. Winslow. “When you turn to your neighbor and say ‘Yep, winter’s here,’ the lice are probably saying the same thing, and this should signal you to treat.”
Proper application 
To kill the lice and eggs, the active ingredients need to come in direct contact with them. It’s important to apply product directly to the hide from between the ears, down the midline and all the way to the tailhead. 
“This is easier said than done and it is not recommended to give this task to an untrained employee,” said Dr. Winslow. “In the end, mis-dosing can end up costing you a lot of dollars for the entire herd, not just the one or two animals missed or mis-treated. If all animals are not properly treated, once the chemical is gone the whole herd will get reinfected, just like when coming out of summer.”
Dr. Winslow offers some pointers for proper treatment:

  1.    Always make sure the product is well shaken before using.
  2.     Make sure the applicator gun is shooting a stream and not a shower.
  3.     Keep the tip of the applicator gun touching the hide as you apply it.
  4.     Set the dose gun at half the required dose. Give the first half (first squeeze) from the head to the middle of the back. Give the second half (second squeeze) from the tailhead back up to the center of the back. This assures proper application in the most important areas.
  5.     Be sure to treat all the animals in the herd or herd unit at the same time.
  6.     A missed animal is worth bringing back through the chute.

Keep lice at bay year round
While broad-spectrum, pour-on dewormers (endectocides) should only be used when internal parasites are the primary target, they can provide added benefits for lice and fly control. “Treating with an endectocide at spring turnout can help in killing off any remaining lice from the winter months,” said Dr. Winslow. “This can also facilitate fly control, if they are present, with an added knockdown to enhance fly tag performance. When we head into fall, deworming with endectocides can help keep lice at bay until winter treatment.”


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