The Basics of Beef Cattle Health; Parasite Control

  • Karan Beef

    Parasites, and diseases are some of the main factors that impact beef cattle health across South Africa. It is crucial that farmers, both large and small, focus on ensuring the health of their herds. Deworming and dipping cattle are simple yet highly effective measures that all farmers can take to guarantee the health of their cattle.

    Internal and external parasites significantly impact the health of cattle herds. KARAN BEEF Head Veterinarian, Dr. Dirk Verwoerd, explains: “Many people underestimate the impact parasites and their associated diseases have on cattle herds. For example if tick burdens are not controlled, farmers can loose a large portion of their herd through tickborne diseases such as Redwater, Gallsickness, Heartwater and Lumpy Skin Disease. Farmers must implement effective integrated dipping and deworming protocols to support the health and production of their cattle herd, and the quality of their beef products.”


    An important step in ensuring optimum beef cattle health is controlling external parasites. Ticks and other external parasites have an impact on beef cattle health and cost farmers time and money through deaths as well as lower calf numbers produced. There are different types of dipping methods available to farmers namely, plunge dips, spray race, topical (pour-on) treatments, hand spraying, and hand dressing. The implementation of a dip programme depends on several considerations such as geographical (coastal areas have considerably higher tick challenge right through the year than the central Highveld or dry Northwest), the infrastructure available (diptanks, spray races etc), the rotation of active ingredients to prevent the development of tick resistance, and the number of cattle in the herd. Farmers should consult experienced private or state veterinarians in their area to assist them in designing a programme that is fit for purpose, especially where tick resistance against commonly used actives have developed over time. The control of ticks should be part of an integrated parasite management programme as injectable (endectocides) products in the Ivermectin family are effective against both internal parasites (worms) and external parasites (ticks, mites & lice) and should strategically complement the use of dips, pour-ons etc. The only cattle that should not be dipped are very young calves or heavily pregnant cows to minimise the risk of injuries during the process. Plunge dipping is the traditional method and if done correctly the most effective against external parasites. It ensures complete wetting of the animal, especially in important areas such as inside the ears and under the tails. The correct dilution of the chemical is very important, and several practical issues must be considered to assure an effective process. High temperatures will cause evaporation, increasing the concentration, rain will dilute the dip and periods longer than a week between dipping will cause sedimentation so the first 20 cattle will be used as “stirrers” and must be dipped again with the rest of the herd. All cattle must have their heads pushed under to create contact between the dip and earticks and the top-up water plus dip mixture must be calculated based on the volume used if large numbers of cattle are dipped. Spray race is a gentler method of dipping but may not be as effective as some parts of the body, such as the underbelly, tail, and ears may not be sprayed thoroughly. It requires maintenance of the nozzles, effective filtration of the dip, and the use of the correct water pressure to penetrate coats. Topical treatments (Pour on products), hand spraying, and hand dressing (with tick grease) are more suitable for use on a smaller number of cattle or as temporary measures between dip days or in areas where specific types of ticks present the main health challenge such as Brown Ear Ticks. Pour-on products allow regular rotation between actives and thus address challenges with tick resistance.


    Regularly deworming your herd plays a vital role in ensuring beef cattle health. Worms and other internal parasites can lead to significant weight loss in cattle, negatively impact fertility and milk production, and even impact cattle growth.

    There are three internal parasite groups: roundworms, tapeworms, and liver flukes. Adult cattle can develop a resistance to some roundworms but not to flukes. As a result, farmers need to plan an annual dosing strategy customised to their environment and different seasons. Dewormers should be administered at the recommended dose as under-dosage can cause the development of parasite resistance against the actives used. While certain cattle may develop an immune response resistance to different worms, they will still carry them and pass them to cattle that are not resistant to them.

    When deworming, young calves should be a priority as they are the most susceptible to internal parasites. Suckling calves should be dewormed at 3 months old, and then again between 7 and 8 months of age to reduce the risk of heavy worm infection.

    There are two ways dewormers can be administered: orally using a drench gun, or by using injectables. Oral drenching is a cost-effective method as it treats a wide range of worm species, with some combinations also effective against tapeworms and certain stages of liver flukes. Injectables are used when a very long period of cover is required (LA = longacting formulations), also against ticks, or when specific parasites are targeted such as the migratory worm Parafilaria that causes “false bruising” lesions which significantly lowers the value of the carcass.

    By implementing these two health measures, cattle farmers of any size can ensure that they have healthy beef cattle herds. This goes a long way to ensuring they can continue to produce quality beef products.

    Read more about the impact of Foot & Mouth Disease on South African Exports here.

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