No, I’m not talking about the members of Congress, but the microscopic blood and nutrient-sucking nasties that tend to hang around barnyards.
I’ve recently been given a much needed wake-up call regarding parasites in our goat herd. Nettie has been losing weight. Naive as I am, I had just attributed her weight loss to her outstanding milk output the past several years and her recent birth of triplets. She hasn’t been off her feed, acting lethargic or abnormal so I really didn’t take much note of her overall condition with the exception of some weight loss. I give the goats a pelleted wormer three times a year and occasionally dust them and the chickens with D.E. (I use an empty single-serving yogurt container with small holes punched in the lid, works great). They also have a salt lick and a mineral block labeled for goats.
But I became complacent. They have food, water, shelter. I worm them, they have minerals, I trim their hooves……done. But I should have seen the writing on the barn.
Before the ice storm took out the electric fence two years ago, our herd of four had roughly an acre of woods to roam around in. Since then, our herd of seven has been living in two different “temporary” areas. One year they were in the back yard and this past year they were back at their barn, albeit in a much smaller area that measures roughly 45’ x 45’. They seem to be comfortable and nobody is stepping on each other for space, but it definitely isn’t roomy enough to run around like crazy goats and it gets grazed down in the winter to nothing but dead grass. But the most important thing I was overlooking was the fact that there were seven goats pooping in that area for over a year. And poop = parasites.
Last week I did something so simple, but something I had forgotten about, and it made my heart drop. I simply pulled Nettie’s lower eyelid down & looked at the color. And it was a pale pink.
There is a very simple and un-invasive test that involves doing just what I had done, using a color chart called the FAMACHA eye chart. It was developed in Africa as a cheap, easy and pretty accurate way of judging if a goat (or sheep) was anemic. Basically, the area underneath the eyelid is a perfect place to judge just how much iron is in your animal’s blood. Lack of iron is usually caused by blood loss. And unless you’re goat is bleeding externally, chances are that Haemonchus Contortus, or more commonly known as the barber pole worm, is sucking the blood from your animal from the inside. And if there are enough of those nasties snacking on your goat’s lifeblood, it will cause her to become anemic. Which is bad.
Severe anemia will ultimately cause death in goats if not treated, and the barber pole worm is a huge culprit in the deaths of goats and sheep.
So why don’t you just worm them all the time to keep the worm population in check? There are several reasons. One of them is that a wormer is a poison; basically you’re just giving the goat enough poison to kill the worms, but not the goat itself. Another reason I don’t like to constantly give wormers is that we drink the milk from the does and eat the meat from the males.
There is also the very-real possibility that you can (and will) cause the parasites to develop immunity or resistance to the wormer. This is the reason you are supposed to rotate several different types of wormer. Apparently Ivermectin has been rendered almost useless in several areas of the US because of overmedicating.
Anyways….back to Nettie. She was given (along with the rest of the herd) a medicated goat pellet called Positive Pellet Goat Dewormer. This is the only wormer I’ve given my goats & they get it in the spring, summer and fall. This type of wormer is supposed to treat infestations of the barber pole worm among others. But after having my heart-dropping moment at diagnosing her anemic condition, I did some much needed online & book re-education in worming livestock.
Pregnancy and the actual act of giving birth takes a toll on a goat and the parasites can get out of control because the goat’s immune system has been weakened. So I decided to give her an additional dose of Ivomec (Ivermectin). This wormer is labeled for use in cattle and swine as an injection, but you administer it orally to goats. Recommended dosage is 1 mL per 50 pounds of weight, but you can give as much as 1 mL for every 34 pounds of weight. Nettie weighs approximately 140 lbs. so I gave her just a tad over 4 mL. Since the medication is bottled for injections, I had to take a needle and syringe to remove the wormer from the bottle and then squirt it into the drenching gun (remember to safely dispose of the needle!!). I put Nettie in the milk stand and she was thinking that an extra meal was coming her way, but I surprised her with the drenching gun and it was down her throat before she could struggle much.
I also bought a bottle of Vitamin B Complex and a bottle of Red Cell to help get her Iron levels back to normal. She’ll be getting drenched with 8 mL of the Red Cell once a day for at least a week and a 7 mL intramuscular injection of Vitamin B Complex once a day for at least a week.
I’m also going to try something I read on the net; it’s a concoction of corn oil, Kayro Syrup and Molasses given orally or mixed with grain several times a day for a week.
I’ve checked eyelids on everyone else and no one was as bad as Nettie was, but definitely not in top condition. I’m going to do a bit more research and then worm them all again in a few weeks with a different family of wormer. And in the meantime I’ll probably give everyone molasses in their feed for a little iron boost….won’t hurt.
So what are we going to do to prevent this from happening again? We’ve already more than doubled their goat yard just this past weekend by putting up more cattle panels & t-posts. It’s still nowhere near as large of an area as we’d like, but it’s a start. I’m also going to have to stop throwing the chicken scratch in the goat pen. The chicken feed is on the outside of the goat pen (because the goats just love chicken food), but every morning I was tossing out a scoop of scratch by the goat barn so the chickens would peck around & hopefully eat the ticks & other bugs around the barn. The only problem with doing that is the goats also liked picking through the left-overs and in the process were probably ingesting more worm eggs. If I were to drop a carrot on the ground, the goats wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, but if there’s a speck of chicken scratch on the ground, they have no problem licking it up. Go figure.
I’ll also be worming on a more regular basis now, and possibly year round. Our winters aren’t that harsh so I’m sure the parasites will take any opportunity – like a few 50 degree days in a row mid-winter – to get an early start. I’ve also called our vet and asked her if she’d do a fecal exam on the goats in the next few weeks. I suppose I should have really had one done before the worming in order to see if the medications were actually working. But at least this way I can see if anyone is still having problems after the worming.
Getting to this point didn’t happen overnight, and I’m sure it’s going to take months to get Nettie and the rest of the herd back on top. Another lesson learned, and hopefully not soon forgotten.