Howdy from a deep, dark crevice of cow 4211! The smell of fall is the in air. What a relief after that long, hot summer. I cannot tell you how many relatives I lost, mostly because I cannot count, but that is beside the point.
Allow me to better introduce myself. I am a Bovicoli bovis, a little red chewing louse. I am easily recognized by my relatively big head compared to the hard-core lice, you know, the blood suckers. You can tell us apart by the color we appear when found on cows.
Our clan is more reddish-brown and yellow. The blood suckers look dark because their abdomens are filled with blood. They also are better attached to the skin because of their specialized mouthparts used to harvest blood and serum.
Back to the part about the summer
We can only survive for short periods of time off the cow. Our reproduction slows dramatically in the summer; I bet that sounds familiar. The short hair on the cow provides less area for us to hide and multiply. So, we migrate to folds of skin between the legs and body of the cow.
Yep, we are heading north to our breeding grounds. There is bound to be plenty of dead skin up there; and made a few scabs too. We pretty much go unnoticed through most of the cold weather season.
Undetected, we grow from egg to adult in three to four weeks. Our eggs are deposited on the hairs of cows. Those nits, as we call our kiddos, have our same eating habits. We chew and cause itching on the cattle. The suckers, my cousins, cause much more potential damage. As I said before, they are hard core. They’re out for blood.
We Bovicoli bovis are just here to eat and we don’t mean any harm. Heck, we practically do the cattle a favor by cleaning up the dead skin. But those suckers, they can cause a loss of flesh, stunted growth, general unthriftiness and anemia. And, you did not hear it from me, but also a loss of milk production. They hit your pocketbook to the tune of $125 million annually to all cattle. Yep, the suckers ruin it for all of us.
“T” is for treatment
Most farmers wait until the cows start rubbing. So, we usually get several good months of uninterrupted work done before “T”day, you know, treatment day?
But the really smart managers either do a little prevention or early detection to get us before we make much progress. They sure make it a tough life for us little guys trying to make a living.
Some of them treat the cow before calving so that we can’t hitch a ride on the calf. My great, great, great, great, uh, great, grandfather landed on cow 4211 from her momma. We’re all immigrants here.
Other dairymen, keep a close eye out for us, especially on the young ones, you know, the calves. Every two to four weeks they gather up about ten cows and ten calves, put them in a headlock, walk behind and part the hair on the tailhead, neck and shoulders looking for us.
When there are more than ten of us per square inch, they call the vet and the next thing you know we all get the crud and die. But we are survivors, our eggs hatch and we come back with a vengeance. Many of them don’t bother to bring back insecticide, as they call it. So we spread around to other animals and go back to breeding.
Oops, I gotta go. The clan is headed out. Have I made you itch yet?
Angela M. Daniels is a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters LLC, a dairy and swine veterinary practice, food safety laboratory and DHIA milk-testing and contract research organization in Dalhart, Texas.