Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats

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Anthelmintic resistance is becoming a large issue in small ruminant herds. This is when deworming fails to achieve expected results such as prevention of death, production loss, or reduction of a fecal egg count by 95% or more. Anthelmintic resistance is wide spread and varies by species, geographic location, and individual farm. Management can accelerate drug resistance. Some practices include frequent deworming, under dosing, deworming when infection levels are low, putting treated animals on clean pasture, improper use and storage of dewormers, etc. Targeted Selective Treatment is a method used to slow anthelmintic resistance. It involves only deworming animals that require deworming or would benefit from deworming. There are a couple tools producers can use to make deworming decisions. One is the FAMACHA© system and the other is The Five Point Check©. The FAMACHA© system is based on the level of anemia of an animal. This can be estimated by assessing the color of the mucous membranes of the eye. Anemic animals will have a pale color while healthy animals will have a red color. The Five Point Check© is an extension of FAMACHA©  and addresses its limitations. It looks at the animal’s eyes, back, tail, jaw, and nose for sheep. Since this method was developed for sheep, we look at coat condition in goats instead of the nose.

Eyes: Anemia is caused by blood-feeding parasites, such as Haemonchus, hookworms, and liver flukes. Coccidiosis can also cause anemia. Anemia is estimated by evaluating the color of the lower eyelid and comparing it to the colors on the FAMACHA© guide.

Back: A Body Condition Score (BCS) is taken to determine how fat or thin an animal is. By handling the animal, the amount of fat and muscle over the back, ribs, and loin can be determined. Internal parasites can cause a loss of body condition. However, poor or declining body condition can also be a sign of age, poor nutrition, or other diseases. Also, animals vary in their ability to carry and hold body condition. Scoring is based on a 1-5 scale with 1 being very thin and 5 being obese.

Tail: A dag score is taken to determine what degree of fecal soiling has occurred on the hindquarters. Dags are dried feces left on the rear end of an animal. Many worms can cause diarrhea, but stress and diet are other causes of diarrhea. Dag scoring is based on a 0-5 scale, 0 being none and 5 being severe diarrhea extending to the hocks.

Jaw: Bottle jaw is an accumulation of fluid under the lower jaw of a sheep, goat, or calf. It is usually a result of anemia and occurs primarily due to the infestation of barber pole worms (Haemonchus contortus) or other blood feeding parasites.

Nose: Check for nasal discharge. Nasal worms (Oestrus ovis) cause watery or purulent, discharge in goats and sheep. However, sheep are more affected then goats. This parasite has negative effects on weight gain and can inhibit a ram’s sense of smell during matting season. Other nasal discharge related diseases or parasites are lungworm and pneumonia.

Coat: The condition of a goat’s hair coat can be indicative of its overall health and thriftiness.

FAMACHA© and the Five Point Check© are used together when determining when to deworm and can be a useful tool when culling animals. Other factors to consider when determining whether or not to deworm are the scores of other animals in the herd, fecal consistency, weight gain, fecal egg count, and past FAMACHA© and Five Point Check© scores on the individual animals. For more information on managing internal parasites in sheep and goats contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.