Ectoparasites such as ticks, lice, mange mites, keds, flies and midges are important vectors of livestock diseases in South Africa. These organisms need to be managed to maintain general livestock health while taking environmental considerations into account.

 Animal health companies that are members of the South African Animal Health Association (SAAHA) have been supplying product specifications to populate the Oxpecker Compatibility Chart as a guide to livestock producers and game ranchers on oxpecker compatible ectoparasite management. The Oxpecker Compatibility Chart is available on the SAAHA website

Managing ectoparasites in a way that is compatible with oxpeckers is not simply about choosing the correct stock remedy. It also means controlling ectoparasites in a framework that manages parasite resistance to stock remedies. There are many areas in South Africa where ticks have developed resistance to ectoparasiticides as a result of misuse of these essential agricultural tools. In such cases it may warrant the use of stock remedies that may not be compatible with oxpeckers but there are management techniques that could be implemented to prevent oxpeckers from being exposed to harmful chemicals.

Farmers should use the Oxpecker Compatibility Chart to select products that will be applicable to their respective farming practices. Label instructions of all products must be followed meticulously to ensure effective control of ectoparasites and limiting any potential threats to beneficial organisms. It is advisable to consult the Griffon Poison Information Centre on 082-446-8946 or registration holders of ectoparasiticides (contact details available on product labels) and veterinarians for guidance on effective and oxpecker compatible ectoparasite management.

It is risky to follow advice from individuals and organisations that are not thoroughly acquainted with livestock production, livestock disease management and toxicology of ectoparasiticides. Using such information may result in parasite resistance to ectoparasiticides, spread of livestock diseases and infection of “clean” livestock with parasites that they are not normally exposed to. It may also jeopardise the well-being of both red-billed and yellow-billed oxpeckers.

Ectoparasiticides are listed in the Oxpecker Compatibility Chart with their active ingredients, toxicology, parasites that they are registered for, animals that they are registered for and registered dosage rates. The colour and numerical codes used in the chart to indicate their compatibility with oxpeckers are based not only on the toxicology of the active ingredients but also on the formulation, application methods and exposure risk to oxpeckers. Products that carry the oxpecker compatible logo have been approved as such by the Registrar of the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act, 1947 (Act No. 36 of 1947)

Sound ectoparasite management is an essential element of livestock disease management and contributes to the well-being of beneficial species such as oxpeckers.

It is by no means a guarantee that all beneficial organisms will remain unaffected hence the call for consultation with the institutions mentioned above. Anthropomorphic impacts are de facto part of human activity and there is concern about the effects of ectoparasiticides on other organisms such as dung beetles. However, implementing the correct and well informed advice, livestock producers can be assured that they will maintain animal health while caring for beneficial organisms on the farm.

Livestock producers are also warned against the malpractices of concocting home-made animal dips. Apart from being a serious breach of Act No. 36 of 1947, it is one of the most definite steps towards parasite resistance to livestock remedies, damage to livestock with resultant mortality and production losses, and negative impacts on beneficial organism like oxpeckers.

Landowners that are aware of oxpeckers on the farms should support the birds by erecting nesting boxes close to livestock watering points, keeping a good check on which livestock remedies are used and only using registered livestock remedies.

Additional information on managing farming practices to increase oxpecker numbers can be sought from the Griffon Poison Information Centre, Kate Webster on 082-702-5942 and Arnaud le Roux on 082-325-6578. Sightings of oxpeckers can also be reported to these oxpecker specialists.

For more information contact Dr Gerhard Verdoorn on 082-446-8946.