Tuesdays with Tony
I’ve waxed poetic more than once on parasite control in horses and donkeys, which I’ve summed up succinctly as: “deworm less.” Well, today I’m here to talk about that same thing in goats and sheep (spoiler alert, the sum-up will be similar). Dr. Speziok has only been here for a few months, but I’ve already listened to her spiel on small ruminant parasites more times than I can count. So, let’s talk about the major parasites of our cloven-hooved friends and, more importantly, how to manage them.
Let’s Meet the Contestants
There are four different worms that love to cause problems in ruminant guts, and just like the boy bands of yesteryear, they have an acronym: HOTC.
HOTC stands for: Haemonchus, Ostertagia, Trichostrongylus, and Cooperia. These “big four” cause all kinds of issues for sheep and goats and can make them very, very sick. We talk about them as a group because when we do our fecal egg counts (similar, but a bit more complicated to the fecals we do on horses once a year), they all look the same under the microscope, so we count them together.
In most sheep and goats, the species called Haemonchus contortus is the main player. Otherwise known as the Barberpole worm, it lives in the abomasum (the last chamber of the 4-chamber stomach) and small intestine and sucks blood for a living.
What Do They Do?
These tiny-but-mighty blood feeders lead to anemia, edema, emaciation, and GI distress. Sheep and goats can lose weight, have pale mucous membranes, high FAMACHA scores, and bottle jaw.
These pesky pests can even hide in their hosts by going into a dormant state called hypobiosis when they sense the weather would be unfavorable for eggs on the pasture. In the south, this is basically only the hottest part of summer, but even then they never really go away. In this hypobiotic state, the larvae are significantly more resistant to dewormers and only a few products even stand a chance against them.
Why do sheep and goats seem so sensitive to their little intestinal passengers? Well, they mostly evolved to live on mountain tops away from warm, moist environments that harbor parasites. So when we bring them to the southeastern US, their little guts have no idea what to do with all these worms!
Unfortunately, just like with horses, you humans used to think that deworming very often and with rotating products was the way to go. It was very much not, as we know now, and it has only worsened the major parasite resistance issues we’re dealing with.
Doctor’s orders here: avoid deworming on any type of routine or schedule. Deworming needs to be targeted and adjusted based on individual animals as directed by the veterinarian you have a great relationship with. Parasite resistance is a very large, very real problem that we can only fight by being strategic. What works for one farm will not work for another, and the history of an individual animal is vital to making these protocol decisions. No more blanket approach!
One of the most important skills and duties of a sheep or goat owner is to perform regular FAMACHA score checks. No, that’s not another boy band. It’s an anemia scoring system developed in South Africa to help small ruminant owners monitor the health of their animals. I’ve watched Dr. Speziok demonstrate this system to just about every goat owner that’s come to Springhill, so make sure your veterinarian shows you how to do it! FAMACHA scores are judged by the mucous membranes on the inside of the lower eyelids.
To expose the mucous membranes, have the animal in an area with good light and use an assistant to help restrain them if necessary. Use the thumb of your upper hand to COVER the eye, then to PUSH the eye slightly into the socket. Use the thumb of your lower hand to PULL the lower eyelid down, and watch the mucous membranes POP into view. This does not hurt the animal, and if it’s done weekly or monthly on a regular basis, it will become routine for them.
The basic premise of FAMACHA is the darker the pink color of those mucous membranes, the better the goat is doing. The details of the scoring system and how it is used is one of those things that are best learned in person, so have your veterinarian show you how to use this scoring system next time you see them.
Protocols will vary based on an individual herd or flock, but the main point is that all deworming of small ruminants should be based on the individual animals’ FAMACHA score and their fecal egg count. Checking those mucous membrane colors can become part of your farm routine, and when they are pale, collect a fecal sample for your veterinarian to analyze. Those two things together determine when a dewormer should be used. If there are resistance issues on your farm, your veterinarian may need you to give two different dewormers at the same time. This attacks those annoying worms from multiple attack angles, giving us a better chance of killing them.
I know you humans love to focus on the medications we animals need, but management strategies are often the most important things you can do. Feeding sheep and goats above the ground and keeping their pens clean will help prevent them from reinfecting themselves and each other with the parasites they shed. If you are breeding your small ruminants, do not breed those that constantly require deworming. Try to have dams lamb or kid in a clean, dry pen with minimal other adult animals.
Work with your veterinarian to manage the overall health of your animals, which will help them better fight off parasites. Dr. Speziok is now offering a herd/flock evaluation where you can learn some awesome tips and tricks for making your small ruminants as happy and healthy as they can be!
Until next week,
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Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!