Monday, January 22, 2018

Maintaining a Healthy Herd by Checking Fecals for Parasites

You and your beloved mate, pockets stuffed with small plastic bags and a marker, one or both hands (if you are lucky) covered with protective nitrile gloves, waiting in the barn for one or more of your goats to squat to relieve themselves (a sure sign that pellets will follow) or lift their tail signalling the internal rumen conveyor belt is about to get to work. You lunge forward, hoping you are quick enough to catch the still warm pellets in the bag you deftly pull open before they hit the hay and roll underfoot.  It is a delicate balance. You must be fast in your approach, yet not so determined that the goat in question catches on to your mission and darts away, taking their black gold with them. This dance continues for two and a half hours while you wait for each goat in turn to give up their pellets. Some goats are unfazed by this routine intrusion. They eat. They lift their tails. They look at you like you've gone mad, but they carry on regardless. Some are inquisitive and stick curious noses into your hand, spilling your prize and forcing you to await another go round. Others are so shy that you must not make eye contact lest they catch on to your game. These clever goats dart off to drop their pellets in secret while you are busy with another.

"Why?" You ask. Testing for and treating your goats to prevent heavy parasite loads is a basic part of maintaining a healthy and thriving herd. "Running fecals" is common around here and should be a part of your herd management plan, too.

Several times each year, we collect fecal samples from most (if not all) of the goats on the homestead. These samples are carefully bagged, labeled and sent to be scanned under a microscope. We receive back an egg count for several kinds of parasites that can prove fatal to goats if left unchecked.

Our herd is susceptible to Barberpole worms more than other parasites. Occasionally the tester will find Whipworm or Tapeworm eggs or the eggs of a protozoa, like Coccidia. But, mostly, our chief adversary is Barberpole, also know as Stomach worm (Haemonchus Contortus). These bad boys live in a goat's abomasum and grow to 10-30mm long. They feed off the goat's blood supply, causing anemia among other woes. Females are capable of producing as many as 5,000 eggs daily. So prolific are these beasties, it is not hard to see how they can rather quickly cause a goat's demise.

Along with fecal egg count, we routinely check the lower inside eyelid for color against a FAMANCHA chart. We are looking for bright pink to red. Medium pink indicates the possibility of a heavy worm load. Light pink is almost certainly indicative of heavy worms, a goat that is very anemic and headed for big trouble. White eyelids are critical; immediate action was needed to have already been taken. A goat might survive with white eyelids, but the prognosis is not good.

Equipped with these two pieces of information, we are ready to treat any goat that needs it. We do not routinely worm the entire herd. It is believed that doing so can lead to resistance to the medicines that kill parasites. Instead, we treat any goat who has medium to light pink eyelids AND a high egg count. We treat any goat who has light pink eyelids (even if worm load is fine.) And, we treat any goat who has a high egg count (even if the eyelids are well colored.)

Our wormer of choice right now is Fenbendazole, as we are still seeing good results from using it for most of our herd. We switched to using oral Ivomectin for a couple of our goats who showed little improvement after a course with Fenbendazole. We are watching them carefully for continued signs of resistance. Any goat who is being treated with a dewormer will also get oral Redcell if they are showing signs of anemia. We give the red cell daily for 7-10 days to help give the goats the building blocks they need to rebuild their blood stores. Anemia can take weeks to resolve and must be monitored.

We'll repeat the process of collecting fecal samples from any goat we treated 10-14 days after the initial treatment to retest for eggs. There should be a marked decrease. If the egg count is low, nothing further needs to be done at this point. If the count is lower, but still high, we'll either redose with Fenbendazole or use Ivomectin instead and recheck the egg count in another 10-14 days.

Interested in seeing what collecting samples looks like? Sean captured a short video for you. Rather than our usual method of each of us watching from both sides of the barn, I had the idea to close everyone on one side and feed the goats along two walls. My thinking was that with a row of tails facing us, it might be easier to catch them at their business. It worked in that we were able to catch all of them. It could use some tweaking before next time since the larger does were downright MEAN to the littles trying to eat the hay, too. Lily, Abigail, Rachel, and Keziah were the worst of the offenders and I was quite happy to move them to the other side of the barn once I caught their samples.

Thanks for visiting with us this evening. I hope it was educational. Sean and Sonja ♥

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