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Posted: 06/20/2023

Protect Your Flock from Sheep Keds

Bites, blemishes, and back loss – oh my! Sheep keds can take a toll on your flock, especially if you live in the Western part of the country. But they don’t have to. We’ll explain what these weird, tick-like creatures are, what kinds of problems they cause for producers, and how their nuisance can be prevented.

What Causes Sheep Keds?

Sheep keds are wingless, hairy flies. Similar to ticks, keds take blood meals from sheep and goats, usually feeding on the animal’s neck, breast, shoulder, flanks, and rump. These pests are more prevalent in the Western states, but as animals move all over the country, they can pop up anywhere. An adult female lifespan runs about 4-5 months (compared to the male’s 2-3 months), in which time she produces 10-12 larvae. These larvae get cemented into the sheep’s wool. Adult sheep pass the keds around the flock through direct contact, and newborns become infested from contact with their mom not long after birth.

Sheep Keds Can Cut Profits

Heavy sheep ked infestations can make animals thin and weak, and lead to blue tongue virus where the animal’s tongue swells and turns blue. But they can also lead to infections and blemishes in the wool and on the skin. Ked bites make sheep itchy, and they tend to bite or scratch themselves, but this action damages the wool and makes it thin, dirty, and discolored. Skin blemishes called cockles are caused by a reaction to ked salivary secretions during a blood meal, and like the wool, they decrease the quality and value of the sheep’s skin. These bites and blemishes add up to losses of several million dollars for the U.S. leather industry every year. Some producers also attribute back loss to shep ked infestations. It’s when ewes roll on their back to scratch an itch after getting bitten and get stuck. The pressure from internal organs on the diaphragm leads to suffocation. The good news is that blemishes and back loss are preventable with the proper tools.

Treating Sheep Keds

Sheer the ewes before lambing to decrease the possibility of spreading ked infections from dam to lamb. In general shearing only controls 75% of the keds because it can miss the ked pupae that are closely attached to the animal’s skin within the wool. That’s why prevention with insecticides is more effective – one application to freshly shorn sheep will take care of the hatched pupae.

Can You Prevent Sheep Keds?

In addition to timely shearing, a strong insecticide will work to prevent sheep keds on the animal and in the facilities. Consider trying one of these products below, which all specifically mention sheep keds in their descriptions (along with several other pests):

  • Ultra Boss Pour-On Insecticide controls lots of pests with a simple pour-on application along the back. Plus, there’s no slaughter withdrawal.
  • Permectrin CDS Pour-On Insecticide is a ready to use spray and pour-on. For optimum control of sheep keds, treat the entire flock after shearing and repeat as needed (not more than once every 2 weeks).
  • GardStar 40% EC Permethrin Concentrate is a highly active insecticide that’s approved for use with many species, including lactating animals. 
  • Pyranha Stock Guard Concentrate Fly Control is a livestock and premise concentrate that can be used in automatic spray systems and backrubbers. This product effectively controls a wide range of insects for an equally wide range of animals and facilities.
In the West, where keds are more prevalent, some producers dip their sheep in a tank to submerge them in a prevention insecticide. Pour-ons can be more economical if you have smaller flocks, but regardless of what route you take, always discuss new health-related initiatives with your veterinarian.

Don’t Shave Profits – Stop Sheep Keds with PBS Animal Health

Helping your flock flourish is easier than you think. Stop sheep keds from spending an entire lifecycle on your animals. Eliminate the adults and the larvae with safe and simple prevention products from PBS Animal Health. Insecticides and other tools can help protect your flock, and ultimately, your profits.

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