Prevention and protocols for healthy animals

In small ruminants, health problems can spiral from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. 

Frequently, by the time sheep and goats present warning signs they are sick, treatment may not be enough to save them. 

That’s why experts recommend vigilant observation and prevention protocols. 

“The best way to avoid disease in sheep is to prevent disease,” Alan Culham, director of operations with Katahdin Hair Sheep International, said. “Once a sheep gets sick it is hard to treat them. Sheep diseases are handled best by prevention rather than cures.”

An important step in prevention involves checking animals daily. 

“This is especially important because this time of year many are kidding or lambing or just finishing up,” Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said. 

“Those ewes and does are under a lot of stress and we need to know if they are feeling good or not,” she added.

When evaluating health in goats or sheep, producers should observe how the animals are behaving. 

“Once a sheep gets sick it is hard to treat them. Sheep diseases are handled best by prevention rather than cures.”

– Alan Culham, director of operations, Katahdin hair sheep international

For example, are they perky and happy or are they lethargic and listless? Another health indicator is body condition. Does the animal look like it is in good flesh or is it thin? 

In goats, take a look at their hair. Is it nice and shiny or rough in appearance? Also, check for diarrhea. 

Small ruminant producers can utilize FAMACHA ( FAffa MAlan CHArt) scoring to determine animal health. The FAMACHA scoring chart corresponds to a sheep or goat’s eyelid color. This is an established management practice for identifying anemia in an animal. The presence of anemia indicates parasites, typically barber pole worms. 

Implementing management practices to keep barber pole worms at bay translates into improved herd and flock health. In the spring, conditions are prime for a surge in barber pole worms. Though in years past, regularly deworming the entire flock or herd was a standard practice, experts now warn against that protocol. 

“The more we use dewormers, the less effective they become due to the parasites developing resistance,” Culham explained. 

Experts recommend only deworming animals that indicate parasitic infection through FAMACHA scoring or body condition. Another way to determine if an animal has barber pole worms is through a Fecal Egg Count Reduction Test (FECRT). In order to get a FECRT, a fecal sample must be collected. 

Keeping consistent records of treated animals allows producers to track which animals may be more genetically predisposed to parasitic infections. If an animal needs to be repeatedly treated for parasites, then it should be at the top of a producer’s cull list. 

Rotating animals to fresh pastures or paddocks every six to eight weeks can break up the natural cycle of the barber pole worm. In addition, it is beneficial to run small ruminants in the same pasture with cattle. The cattle ingest some of the worms while they graze. Thus, reducing the worm count in the pastures. 

Other health issues small ruminant producers can keep an eye out for include foot rot, white muscle disease, bloat, urinary calculi and coccidiosis. 

Proper minerals added to an animal’s diet can help prevent some of these health issues. Before producers take any action, experts encourage producers to consult with their veterinarian about prevention measures and treatment options that are specific to their operation.


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