My operation is a small commercial meat goat herd; primarily Boer crossbred does bred back to either a Kiko or Boer buck. We sell wethers for the 4-H market and for meat. The best does are kept to increase herd size without purchasing outside stock. Some does are sold for meat.
I have a 30-acre farm where the does are pastured from May through Nov. Before the grant, I did not have the ability to rotate and separate animals. Now, with additional fencing, I practice more sustainable practices as I can rotate pastures, intensively graze, sort animals so that I only deworm the ones that need it, etc.
I am also slowly implementing extended grazing on such plants as turnips.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goal: My original goal was to learn and implement the FAMACHA system to decrease dewormer use on the farm and even more importantly, by using dewormers sparingly, to slow down the speed of resistance building in the parasites.
The FAMACHA system used a chart that is compared to eyelid color in the goats. The eyelid color can reflect if the animal is partially anemic or not. The anemia is directly related to parasite burden from the most deadly and common parasite of small ruminants, Haemonchus or “barberpole” worm.
Routine use of dewormers year round, regardless of infection level has accelerated the worms’ development of resistance to many dewormers. For example, in the southern states, reportedly 90% of goats have worms that are resistant to Ivermectin. With no new products on the market, it is imperative that we use dewormers only when necessary so to slow the development of resistant parasites. Further, when parasites in an animal become resistant, than they infect pastures and infect all the other animals grazing with these resistant parasites so that a one animal problem becomes a whole herd problem.
Process: I wanted to first see where we were at in terms of infection rate on parasites. To begin the project, all animals had a fecal sample taken and results recorded. At the same time that we pulled the fecal samples, we also checked their FAMACHA score to see if there was any relationship.
We did indeed find that the heavier infected animals (the ones with a high fecal count) did have a lower FAMACHA score (a score that denoted that that animal should be dewormed). We then only dewormed the animals whose FAMACHA scores indicated it and did not deworm animals that scored in the “OK” zone.
At the same time, we were able to put in pasture fencing to facilitate rotating pastures and more intensive grazing (a more extended season). We felt that to truly test the FAMACHA scoring system, the animals had to be on pasture for the maximum amount of time. Deworming animals on a dry lot system doesn’t tell us a lot since they don’t pick up parasites like animals do on pasture. To truly test whether we could do with less deworming or more strategic deworming and still be successful, the animals had to be on pasture.
Also, with the additional fencing, we were able to let pastures “rest” and hopefully decrease the parasite period, another sustainable technique to control parasites without chemicals.
I worked with an Extension Educator in Michigan, Mike Metzger, who also happens to be a dairy goat producer as well. He was able to point me to information resources that were useful. I especially liked the Univ. of Maryland website: www.sheepandgoat.com
It has lots of useful information and an excellent newsletter for small ruminant producers. There are so few resources I feel for small ruminant producers.
Secondly, I worked with a local woman, Janet Adams, who taught us how to do our own fecal samples and mix our flotation solutions, etc. She has a small goat herd and a small goat supply business she runs from her home.
Additionally, in March of 2009, Janet Adams and I did a program on FAMACHA, integrated pest management and fecal testing for a group of producers and 4-H youth at the Steuben County Extension Service. About 50 individuals attended.
In the months of our trial, we were hesitant to not deworm all the goats in our herd. But when we compared the FAMACHA scores with actual fecal counts, we felt fairly certain that we could selectively deworm the animals that scored low. We did learn a couple of lessons. First of all, some parasites don’t cause anemia, so even though the animals’ eyelid color is normal, it may have some other parasites such as brown stomach worm. But given that the Barberpole worm is the number one economic killer in Indiana for small ruminants, the FAMACHA scores and selective deworming did work fairly well.
I think the results were outstanding. We cut our deworming rates by half over the course of the trial. In doing further research, we found that some animals are more or less resistant naturally to internal parasites. Some animals never did need deworming! Probably a good genetic composition! Some animals needed to be dewormed every time. As a matter of fact, about 30% of the animals were consistently wormy and needed to be done each time. But we did indeed cut our chemical use of dewormers in half and I think with continued selection for resistant animals, we could do even better. I will make one last comment. In the summer months especially, the animals should have been FAMACHA checked weekly. We thought we wouldn’t have to do it so often. But if barberpole worm is present, it can reproduce so rapidly that from week to week, the animals could go from an untreated score to a TREAT score!! As a matter of fact, we learned this the hard way when in just a couple of days we lost 3 does and we realized that the worm load had increased enough in one week to cause death.
So this does indeed mean handling the animals more frequently in the hot, damp summer months when the worm population can explode. But we feel the handling costs are more than justified by the benefits of decreasing wormer usage.
A. Check FAMACHA scores against actual fecal samples for accuracy.
B. Even fecal samples can be deceiving if the parasites aren’t shedding eggs at the time of sampling
C. In hot or damp months, animals need to be checked weekly
D. Keep good records. You need to know which animals are more susceptible. If possible, keep doe replacements from the genetically more resistant animals.
E. Rotate dewormers (by class) yearly. Don’t rotate more often than that.
F. Make sure animals are weighed and dosed accurately. Underdosing animals results in building resistance in parasites.
G. Withhold feed if possible for 12 hours before deworming. Then the dewormer works far more effectively so that you don’t have to re-treat later and it also helps slow resistance.
The project information was shared at the 2008 Michigan Boer Goat Association field day. Approximately 80 people heard the presentation.
We also did a fecal sampling demonstration for 4-H families and discussed the project in March of 2009 to approximately 50.
In addition, numerous one-on-one discussions happened at various goat events and 4-H fair.
The FAMACHA information was also shared during the Michigan Dairy Goat Society annual day in March at Michigan State University. About 60 people attended this session.
PROGRAM BENEFITS AND IMPACTS
According to www.sheepandgoat.com , an Excel spreadsheet documents the expected average dewormer costs for a goat herd. In just a very small, 30 doe herd, costs are about $93 at the very least annually for does and an additional $115/ year for kids to 5 months of age. So if dewormer costs were cut by 2/3 with use of FAMACHA and fecal testing, folks could save around $137/year on chemical dewormers. More importantly, by use of strategic deworming, FAMACHA and fecal testing, animal performance should be improved (due to lower parasite load), and most importantly, decreased resistance to chemical dewormers. In other words, this practice preserves the effectiveness of current chemical dewormers so that when you do need them, they work!!! It is difficult to put a dollar figure on that and on the improved animal performance.
I thought the whole process was very easy to understand and very easy to work with. I will definitely encourage others with good ideas to put them to paper and research them. It is so incredibly fortunate that SARE exists to give people on the “grassroots” edge of production a means to research and improve practices that are so immediately applicable.