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Under the right conditions, wintertime pests could explode in your beef herd

Agriculture.com Staff 01/13/2009 @ 8:33am

As the cold weather lingers, insects have become a distant memory. But just because the weather has turned arctic, doesn't mean all insects have gone dormant. Wintertime pests, like lice, can thrive during the colder months.

Under the right conditions, lice populations can build during the fall and then explode into infestations during the winter months, causing grief for cattle and producers.

If you get an outbreak, you've got a problem. "Lice affect weight gains, the quality of the hide, and can cause damage to facilities because the cattle rub a lot," says Jack Lloyd, professor emeritus in entomology at the University of Wyoming. "Even with moderate levels of infestation, we see some effect on weight gain."

According to Ken Holscher, Iowa State University Department of Entomology, lice can be divided into two main groups: sucking lice and chewing (or biting) lice.

"All species of sucking lice have piercing/sucking mouthparts and feed on blood. Chewing lice have chewing mouthparts and feed on sloughed skin, scabs, and hair but don't have the ability to pierce the skin and feed on blood," he says.

In cattle, there are five species of concern in the U.S.

  • Short-nosed cattle louse (sucking group)
    The short-nosed cattle louse is primarily found in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states. It prefers to infest older cattle and is seldom found on younger calves.
  • Long-nosed cattle louse (sucking group)
    This species is seen throughout the U.S. and primarily found on calves.
  • Little blue louse (sucking group)
    Even though very little is known about the behavior of this louse, it is dominant in southeast states, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas.
  • Cattle tail louse (sucking group)
    This species only exists in the far southeast states. It tends to be a summertime pest and only resides in the tail switch of infested cattle.
  • Little red louse or cattle biting louse (chewing group)
    The little red louse can be found throughout the U.S. and will infest all ages of cattle.

As the cold weather lingers, insects have become a distant memory. But just because the weather has turned arctic, doesn't mean all insects have gone dormant. Wintertime pests, like lice, can thrive during the colder months.

"Like all lice, cattle lice are host specific and will only infest cattle. Other than the cattle tail louse, these lice are typically more abundant during the winter months," he says.

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