WORMS - WHERE TO BEGIN?
WORMS: RESISTANCE, TOLERANCE, SUSCEPTIBILITY
Many goat producers are in a non-stop battle with internal parasites -- usually the blood-sucking stomach worm known as Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm). All goat breeds are affected by H. contortus. You must develop an organized plan for controlling stomach worms in your herd. Parasitologists are telling me that the warm winter of 2011-2012 is going to produce a bumper crop of worms in 2012. Observing your goats for signs of worms, treating as needed, and culling where necessary will be more important than ever.
Do not randomly select a dewormer. Get fecal counts done by a vet to find out which internal parasites are present in your goats. You need to know the enemy you will be fighting. Your problem may be something other than stomach worms, and you may not need to change dewormers. All goats have worms of some type and in some quantity. Their existence is necessary to stimulate the goat's immune system to fight them. If you want to do fecal counts yourself too, that's fine -- but get fecal counts done by a veterinary professional with whom you can compare results. This diagnosis is too important to leave to a producer inexperienced in performing fecals. The FAMACHA field test should be done in conjunction with with microscoped fecal counts; these two tests work well together to give you a comprehensive evaluation of your goats' wormloads.
Do you know why stomach worms are such a huge health issue in goats? Haemonchus contortus worms suck blood, producing severe anemia through their consumption of red blood cells. A heavy wormload is a life-threatening condition to goats. Many goats die from severe anemia caused by heavy stomach worm loads. Until the goat is deathly ill and usually too far gone to be saved, the animal will continue to eat and eat and eat . . . all the while losing ground to the damage being caused by the stomach worm.
Once the worm causing problems is identified, choose the correct dewormer and use it until it quits working. Do not rotate dewormers. Develop the habit of checking the coloration of the inner lower eye membrane (FAMACHA field test) every time you handle a goat for any reason. The inner lower eye membrane should be bright red to bright pink. If it is pink to light pink, the goat is likely wormy; if it is white, the goat is anemic and needs far more help than just deworming. See my article on Anemia on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com for appropriate treatments. Remember that the FAMACHA field test is only good for identifying the Haemonchus contortus stomach worm, and in most of the USA, other worms can also cause substantial production losses and health issues without causing anemia and death, making FAMACHA of limited value. It is important to know what worms your goats have and to continue to do fecal counts at regular intervals.
Most dewormers used with goats are "off-label," i.e. the manufacturer has not spent the time and money necessary to test the dewormer for effectiveness, proper dosing, and withdrawal times and obtain government approval to label the product for use in goats. The main reason is that goats as a species are not considered a large enough market for the manufacturers to earn back these costs. Safeguard/Panacur has been approved for use with goats, but in many locations in the USA, this product is no longer effective against stomach worms. Morantel tartrate, a feed-based dewormer, has been approved for use with goats. Feed-based dewormers are not very effective when goats are fed in groups because the goat needing the medication the worst will also be the lowest in the pecking order and will therefore get the least amount of medicated feed. Goats should be individually orally drenched with a weight-appropriate dosage of dewormer. (This same reasoning applies to medications put into water for liquid consumption.) Back drenches, also known as pour-ons, are not effective with goats because of the hide structure of the species.
Goats are dry-land animals who are very susceptible to internal parasites, especially stomach worms. Think of them as "first cousins" to deer in how they live, eat, and need to roam over multiple acres of land. They instinctively eat "from the top down" like deer to protect themselves from stomach worms. Goats made to graze on pasture will get infected with stomach worms, especially on short pasture. Do not think that tall grasses are the answer, because goats search for the newest and most tender sprigs as they are the most nutritious. These new sprigs are closest to the ground -- where the blood-sucking stomach worms are waiting to be ingested.
There is much discussion nowadays regarding the level of resistance, tolerance, and susceptibility to worms by different meat-goat breeds. Resistance refers to goats whose immune systems have counteracted the effects of a high worm load and survived, leaving them with fewer worms than their herd mates. True resistance should be genetically set. Dr. Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, told me in March 2012 that he knows of no scientific documentation proving any breed of goats to be genetically resistant to worms in the USA. This does not mean that no such breeds exist, but at this point in time none have been identified and documented. Tolerance describes goats that harbor in their bodies a worm level that kills susceptible animals; they tolerate the worm infection. Susceptible goats need to be culled and slaughtered -- not sent to a sale barn where other goat producers may buy and breed them. Individual goats within a herd may be worm resistant, but no given herd or breed in its entirety can be so identified. Individual goats that are worm-resistant and worm-tolerant are what you should be selecting to keep. Determining whether they are "worm resistant" or "worm tolerant" requires routine fecal tests and record keeping that may be beyond the capability of some producers and isn't critical to know. Simply select for goats that handle a reasonable worm load and cull the others. I cannot stress enough the importance of culling poor performers, whether they are susceptible to worms or other infections or whether they have poor body conformation. Culling never goes out of style, no matter how long you have been raising goats.
Important: Goats that are tolerant of worms are not tolerant of every type of worm nor do they automatically carry that tolerance from one location to another. I repeat: Goats that are tolerant of worms are *not* tolerant of every type of worm nor do they automatically carry that tolerance from one location to another. Tolerance is only against the worms that goats have been exposed to in their natural habitat. If that environment changes and different worms are introduced or if the goats are moved into a different worm's territory, then adaptability must occur all over again. See my article on Adaptability on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. Conditions change on the same property from month to month, year to year, and even from pasture to pasture. Regularly scheduled fecal counts are critical to inform you which goats are productive and to keep your herd healthy.
Understand the concept of adaptability. When moved, goats need time (months, not days or weeks, and sometimes longer) to adapt to the bacteria, viruses, worms, cocci, and other organisms that inhabit their new home. This is true of every goat that is moved, whether it is a breeding buck, doe, or kids. Bucks moved into field performance tests need at least six months and sometimes longer, depending upon the time of year they are moved and the differences between their old location and their new one, to adapt to their new environment to develop antibodies that keep them healthy and able to compete on a reasonably equal basis. Bucks who have lived in the area in which the field performance test is being conducted have an enormous "home field advantage" because they have already adapted.
Do not move pregnant does -- ever. Kids born at the new location will have no protection in their mothers' milk from the new organisms because the dam will not have had time to develop immunities to them before her kids are born. In 2000, I moved only 125 miles from Buda, Texas to Lohn, Texas, and bred the does within 90 days of arrival. The results were disastrous. An abortion organism acquired at the new location infected many of the does. My first goat acquired in January 1990 and her first-born daughter born in February 1991 died, in addition to other dams and multiple kids. The forty-five (45) weak kids born had to be bottle fed to be saved. It was a tragic and expensive learning experience which could have been avoided had breeding been put off for six to 12 months while the goats' immune systems adapted to the new location. Goats, like deer, stress easily when moved. Do not make it more difficult by putting demands upon their immune systems by insisting on immediate breeding.
Management is critical. Too many goats on too small acreage is a recipe for a parasite disaster. The number of goats that can be run on a given piece of land is determined primarily by how well the parasite load can be controlled and not by the amount of plant material available for the goats to eat. You have to figure out this number for your own herd, and you do it by starting with just a few goats and culling heavily. Understand that if your facilities are overcrowded, too wet, and/or unsanitary, no amount of culling is going to solve your problems, because you will be expecting goats to live in conditions where no goat can survive or thrive. In such situations, culling isn't your problem; you are in the wrong business.
Do not succumb to advertising that a certain breed is resistant to or more tolerant of worms than any other breed. This has not been
scientifically proven in the USA. All breeds can be made "wormy" through bad management, overcrowding, and environmental conditions favoring worms.
My thanks to Dr. Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, for his input and verifications for accuracy of the statements made in this article.
SUZANNE W. GASPAROTTO, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas, 4-16-12/2nd revision
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