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Prevalence of sheep lice and trends in control practices across Australia – Australian sheep parasite control surveys from 2003 to 2019

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 05:18 authored by Colvin, AF, Reeve, I, Kahn, LP, Thompson, LJ, Brian HortonBrian Horton, Walkden-Brown, SW
The sheep body louse (Bovicola ovis) is a parasite of major economic concern in Australia. This article reports lice incidence and control practices on Australian sheep farms as determined by three cross-sectional surveys of the years 2003, 2011 and 2018. The incidence of live lice detected within a flock was similar across the survey years with a slight decline in 2018 (2003: 20%, 2011: 18.6% and 2018: 13.9%). In an average year, most farmers did not see any direct or indirect evidence of lice infestation (2011: 59.3% and 2018: 69.5%), however, over a five-year period 38.9% (2003), 66.3% (in 2011) and 55.8% (in 2018) reported seeing evidence of lice infestation at least once with significant variation between sheep producing regions in 2011. In an average year, nearly three quarters of respondents treated for lice (2011:73.5% and 2018: 73.3%) with the majority treating immediately following shearing and very few treating sheep with long wool. Even higher percentages treated for lice at least once in the preceding five-year period (2011: 86.2% and 2018: 87.5%). Backliner was the most popular method of chemical application for lice control in sheep off-shears or with short wool (2003: 77%, 2011: 73% and 2018: 74.3%). For long wool treatments, hand jetting declined in popularity from 2003 (64%) to 2011 (54%) and 2018 (8.6%) as backliners became more popular (2003: 36%, 2011: 51% and 2018: 60%). The use of benzoylphenyl urea insect growth regulators (IGR) for off-shears/short wool treatment declined from 2003 (92.8%) to 2011 (51%) and 2018 (2.9%) and were largely replaced by neonicotinoids and spinosad for backliner/spray-on products. The use of organophosphates declined for plunge dipping (2003: 83.8%, 2011: 83% and 2018: 7.7%). Spinosad use for plunge dipping off-shears/short wool increased over the survey years (2003, 0%, 2011: 9% and 2018:46.2%). The use of IGRs declined for backliner application on long wool and were mainly replaced by spinosad in 2011 and 2018. Fewer respondents reported suspected resistance to lice control products in 2018 (8%) compared with 2003 (26%) and 2011 (13%) with most reporting suspected resistance to IGR and synthetic pyrethroids and emerging suspicions of resistance to neonicotinoids in 2018. Resistance to lice control products also reduced in importance as a reason for recurring lice infestations between 2011 (ranked 2nd) and 2018 (ranked 6th). Biosecurity was important to sheep producers with the highest ranked reason for recurring lice infestations being from stray or purchased sheep.


Publication title

Veterinary Parasitology: Regional Studies and Reports



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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Elsevier BV

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© 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Sheep for meat; Sheep for wool

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