Goat Deworming and How to Monitor Your Herd for Parasites
One of the most common, and preventable, causes of early death in goats is parasites. Worms can infect a goat and cause anemia, dehydration, starvation, and death.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of research or remedies for goats. What's worse, goat farmers also battle against dewormer resistance (which happens when a dewormer is overused and the parasites have evolved to survive dewormers).
It's enough to make any goat farmer feel a little panicky.
But it's not all doom and gloom because once you've got a handle on your deworming program, you'll stop losing goats to this common killer without creating dewormer resistance.
The Importance of Deworming
Parasites are invisible pests that can cause devastation to an otherwise healthy herd.
It's important to note, that all goats will get worms. Often, getting worms has nothing to do with farming practices, and everything to do with the weather, the individual goat, and other elements of nature that farmers just can't control.
But that's why it's important to monitor our goat's “tolerable” worm loads.
Yes, goats can thrive with worms.
But if the worms start to take over (due to a bloom, underlying immunity problems, or other stressors—like pregnancy) worms can win the internal battle and will kill a goat if not identified and managed as soon as possible.
Monitoring Through FAMACHA Scores and Fecals
Because the most dangerous types of worms are blood-sucking worms, scientists and animal husbandry experts encourage the use of a system called the FAMACHA score to monitor signs of parasite loads that are causing problems.
This is done to prevent dewormer resistance. It is a 5-point system that helps goat farmers decide when a goat must be dewormed and when it's ok to allow the goat to attempt to fight parasites on their own.
In short, the FAMACHA scoring system measures body condition, eyelid color for signs of anemia (pale to white), coat condition, and other physical signs of illness.
You can learn all about the FAMACHA scoring system here.
Monitoring and recording FAMACHA scores is vital to prevent losses as well as dewormer resistance. But in addition to scoring, fecals are equally important.
A goat fecal is conducted from a sample of feces that is tested for eggs of the most dangerous parasites to goats. The eggs are counted under a microscope, on a McMaster slide, and then multiplied by 50...which gives a snapshot of a goat's current fecal count.
From there, the decision can be made to treat the goat or to practice watchful waiting based on the FAMACHA scoring system results.
How Much is Too Much?
The million-dollar question is always about how to detect a dangerous amount of parasites before it's too late.
And that's a big one because “too late” can be different for each goat. Some have a worm bloom, become anemic, and die quickly. Others can tolerate a higher worm load, which is why knowing individual goats and record-keeping is vital.
So here's what we recommend:
Check for signs and symptoms of a worm overload daily
Learn about the different types of worms (not all are deadly)
Invest in a microscope and fecal detection kit (otherwise you're going to be running fecals to the vet regularly)
Keep records of each goat's FAMACHA Score, fecal counts, deworming schedules, and weights.
It sounds like a lot, but once you get into the routine of parasite management for your herd, it's like second nature. Plus, if you've been struggling with worms, you’ll be thrilled to see a 180-degree change in your herd's health once worms are no longer affecting them adversely.
When Should You Deworm Your Goat?
In the past, it was thought that deworming goats, horses, and cattle on a schedule was best practice. Today, we know that doing so creates dewormer resistance.
The biggest problem with resistance is that there are only so many dewormers available on the market for goats. In fact, many goat farmers choose to use off-label dewormers intended for other animals, especially in the USA where there is a lack of dewormers labeled for goats.
If resorting to off-label use, be sure to consult a vet, and compensate for differences in metabolism in animals.
If using sheep dewormers, for example, keep in mind that goats have a much higher metabolism and a dosage intended for sheep will not work for a goat.
With that being said, a goat should only be dewormed if they have a fecal count over 500 and are experiencing symptoms of a parasitic overload.
Note: If a fecal comes back with 1000+ then the goat should be dewormed and treated for anemia.
Symptoms of a worm overload may include:
Low FAMACHA score - indicating anemia (most typically caused by blood-sucking parasites)
Clumpy goat feces (rather than formed berries)
Bottle Jaw - swelling under the chin of the goat
Inability to gain weight when feed is added
Dull coat - loss of sheen, sparse, or rough
Goat acting off - atypical behavior
If your goat has a fecal score of 500-700, and they look good otherwise, consider monitoring for other symptoms and then retest in a few days. On the other hand, if they're showing symptoms of an overload or have a 1,000+ fecal count, deworm immediately and retest in one week to be sure the dewormer is working, or if they need a second treatment.
Always record before and after fecal counts when deworming. This is the best way to know if your dewormer is working.
How to Monitor Your Herd’s Parasite Load
As you can see, it’s extremely important to keep track of your herd’s parasite load. Running frequent fecal exams through your local goat vet (or learning to do them yourself) is the first step in identifying the types of parasites your herd has while monitoring the effectiveness of your dewormers.
If you’re new to goats be forgiving of yourself while determining the parasite resistance in your herd. It’s a learning curve and a lot of trial and error. Just make sure that you are keeping up with it so it doesn't get out of hand.
There are many health issues that can easily be avoided by keeping track of your herd’s parasite load. Once you organize your fecal exams, FAMACHA scores, and deworming program you will have full command over the health of your herd.
Amanda Pieper is an agricultural writer who owns and operates a small goat farm in Wisconsin. Amanda is laser-focused on raising healthy goats and pasture-raised poultry.