Holistic and alternative medicine and treatment methods are growing in popularity for both humans and animals.
Specifically, discussions on alternative worming methods for goats are widespread and diverse. Dr. Elizabeth Walker, professor of animal sciences at Missouri State University, is an expert on the subject. She understands the need for effective worming treatments for goats. "Internal parasites are the No. 1 health concern for meat goat management due to grazing patterns and decreased immunity," she said.
It has been a wet year, and according to the United States Department of Agriculture, when there's excessive moisture in the air, conditions are conducive for parasite growth.
Dr. Walker recommends trying to prevent parasites rather than treat them, as this is healthier for the goats. However, if goats do get worms, proper identification of the sickness is the first step of treatment. Walker suggests that "when you're in doubt on why the goats are sick or thin, internal parasites are probably the reason." Various sources suggest that roundworms tend to be the most prevalent parasite for goats. "Specifically haemonchus contortis, better known as the barber pole worm, is the most prevalent roundworm," added Walker, "and goats suffering from internal parasites will be thin, have pale mucous membranes, will be lethargic, have loose stools, and will often have what is known as bottle jaw (a swelling around the throat latch area)."
Once it's determined that a goat has parasites, several treatment methods should be considered. However, Dr. Walker doesn't believe in the effectiveness of "miracle cures," some of which are labeled as "holistic medicine." She noted, "one of the biggest 'myths' regarding natural or miracle cures for internal parasites is diatomaceous earth (or DE)," which is a USDA approved, soft, chalk-like sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a powder and some farmers use as a feed additive. Walker continued, "in research, however, on its effectiveness as a de-wormer, DE did nothing to decrease parasite load."
The USDA says, "sucessful deworming programs are are generally based upon parasite life cycle, weather conditions and individual farm management, not 'cookbook' recommendations." They also note that the ultimate goal of any deworming strategy should be the reduction of pasture contamination from parasite ova and larva. Walker reiterated this point. "In my opinion, the best thing we can do for long term improvement is cull sick animals." The FAMACHA program, which provides the basis for measuring levels of anemia or blood loss in goats, is effective in making treatment decisions for worm-infected goats. It's good because a relatively small proportion of goats (usually 20 to 30 percent) in a herd carry around 80 percent of the worms and shed most of the eggs. By identifying the goats that consistently have higher populations of worms (those with anemia-because the worms are 'blood suckers'), it's possible to treat those animals specifically without treating the rest of the herd. This helps to not build up a resistance to the de-wormer in the herd. This also allows for culling of chronically parasitized animals, creating a more resistant herd.
The FAMACHA system is only available through veterinarians who train producers to receive certification to use the system.
Herds should also be monitored every four to six weeks for fecal egg counts. Walker added, "Keep your healthy goats, breed them, and that will decrease your reliance on chemical dewormers."
When you identify which animals have worms, "you should select a de-wormer that works well on your farm and visit with your vet for proper dosage," said Walker, "Also, de-worm at critical times of the year-right before or after parturition and right before the first freeze."
Although not a first choice for treatment, some holistic de-worming methods have proven promising. One such method (though controversial) is the use of serecia lespedeza. "It's a cattlemen's nightmare, I know," said Walker, "but it has chemicals known as condensed tannins that have shown to decrease reproduction of the barber pole worm in sheep and goats. Another high tannin option is copper oxide wire particles that can be used to reduce fecal egg counts. These alternative options really work."
Above all, though, the best treatment for worms is prevention. Rotating the grazing pastures of the goats is effective. "The longer you can keep your goats off a pasture they were just on, the better," Walker said. Also, grazing goats with cattle can be preventative because roundworms for goats can not survive in cattle and vice-versa.
Walker concluded, "Know your animals. Watch them and know what they look like so you can identify early when they're sick."


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