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Farmers and Ticks: What You Need to Know

Farmers and Ticks: What You Need to Know

By Ginger D Fenton

As spring arrives, the cows are turned out to pasture, the tractors take to the fields, and the ticks become more active. As farmers, you are outside and should be wary of ticks as they can carry disease-causing bacteria and viruses. We worry about ticks on our pets and livestock, but sometimes we forget about ourselves. Farmers can be exposed to ticks due to the nature of their work.

The following list includes some potential routes of exposure for farmers



Ticks are hitchhikers that may have determined your livestock (cattle, horses, sheep, and goats) are better than public transit. The host may even provide a meal for the tick depending on the species of tick and stage in their life cycle, as ticks tend to choose larger hosts later in the cycle. For more information, please refer to Protecting Livestock Against Ticks in Pennsylvania  . Pastured cattle are at higher risk of exposure to ticks which also increases your risk as you work with them.

Pets and other farm animals

Most farms have a dog or two and between one and thirty farm cats with varying levels of amicability. The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) which is also referred to as the "deer tick" can not only transmit pathogens to your dogs and cats, but these ticks can also find their way onto humans that interact with these animals. For more information, see Protecting Companion Animals Against Ticks in Pennsylvania  .

Building and Maintaining Fences

Before our livestock are turned out to pasture in the spring, it is a good time to check the fence for any damage that may have occurred through the winter months. Building, repairing, and performing any maintenance on fences is an opportune time to encounter the ticks that inhabit brushy, wooded edges of pastures and may be clinging onto vegetation and using their front legs to "quest" or seek a host. If you are putting up a new fence, consider leaving a space between a wooded area and the fence. This also makes mowing and maintenance easier. Keeping a pasture clipped is a good management practice that also can reduce potential tick habitat.

Fieldwork and scouting

At times it is necessary to get out of the tractor cab or to visit a field to check on crops or conditions, if you are along a field edge, fence row, ditch, or wet area where there is tall vegetation, remember you are in tick territory. Keep this in mind as you scout fields as well or take a break in the shade to eat your lunch.

Farm maintenance

Keeping up a farm's appearance is hard work. Landscaping on the farm and performing other farm maintenance such as cutting wood is another opportunity to venture into leaf litter, brushy areas, and the perimeter of the barnyard. Be extra vigilant when you have performed tasks that increase your likelihood of tick encounters.

What can farmers do?

Whether you are a farmer or just someone that goes outside, there are some practices that you can follow to protect yourself. Be aware of when ticks become active which is usually when the temperature reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above, although there is no harm in being on the lookout anytime that you work outside. Avoid the areas that are tick habitat when possible. Ticks like taller, brushy vegetation where there is shade and cover. Since avoiding their habitat is not always possible for farmers and others that work outdoors, here are some recommendations:

  • Check yourself for ticks while working in tick habitat.
  • Shower at the end of the day or when you go indoors and check for ticks at this time. Ticks can take cover in armpits, around your hairline and ears, around your waistband, in your groin area, and behind your knees.
  • Tucking your pantlegs into your boots can help to keep ticks from getting onto your body. Similarly, wearing long sleeves can add protection. Clothing that is light colored makes spotting ticks a bit easier. If you have been working outside, as soon as you come into the house, throw your clothing in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes, but remember to check your pockets first for marking crayons and other laundry hazards.
  • Treating your clothing with products containing 0.5% permethrin is an option to repel ticks as is purchasing already treated clothing. Products recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) such as those containing DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be applied to your skin as well. See Ticks and Tickborne Disease  for more information or visit the CDC's Preventing Tick Bites.
  • If you find a tick, remove it the proper way. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the mouth as you can and pull it straight out gently. Do not squeeze the body of the tick as it could spew the contents from its stomach back into the wound. If you are concerned about the tick and potential disease, it can be placed in a plastic bag [LH1] and put in the freezer for testing by a laboratory, if desired. Your local Extension Office or the Insect Identification Laboratory at Penn State can assist with tick identification.


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