High tannin grain sorghum as a possible natural anthelmintic for sheep and goats

2006 Annual Report for LNE05-232

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Matching Federal Funds: $52,161.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Niki Whitley
UMES - Maryland Cooperative Extension

High tannin grain sorghum as a possible natural anthelmintic for sheep and goats


The objectives of the project are to determine the effectiveness of high-tannin grain sorghum as a natural anthelmintic for small ruminants and provide workshops to demonstrate use of the sorghum and methods for determining need for anthelminitic treatment (FAMACHA©, fecal egg counting).  The project is being conducted at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) Farm in Princess Anne, MD and on producer farms in MD and PA (in conjunction with the PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture).  

In year one, working with the National Grain Sorghum Producers (SGSP), at least five sorghum varieties will be tested for tannin levels and levels will be compared with serecia lespedeza (has high tannin and decreases parasite fecal egg counts in goats).  

In year two, at UMES, 60 crossbred hair sheep lambs and 60 Boer crossbred goat kids will be artificially (part 1) or naturally infected with parasites (part 2) and will be fed diets containing high tannin (based on year 1 results) or low tannin grain sorghum 30/species/treatment) and parasitism monitored.  Workshops for producers will be held to demonstrate and teach the parasite monitoring techniques (FAMACHA©-an eye color chart- and fecal egg counting) and follow-up meetings held to determine how many producers implement one.  

In year 3, on-farm projects will be conducted in MD with cooperation from the Lower Shore Goat and Sheep Producers Association and in PA through PASA and follow-up will occur through phone calls and interviews with farmers.  Products of this project will include the development and demonstration of a natural dewormer for small ruminants using University and producer-led research and the development of a new market for high-tannin grain sorghum, thus helping to sustain two different agricultural areas.  A fact sheet and newsletter articles will be published.  Of the 60 participating farmers, 20 will decrease chemical dewormer use through the use of grain sorghum as a natural dewormer and/or incorporation of the use of FAMACHA© or fecal egg counting.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 60 small ruminant producers engaged in this SARE project, 20 will decrease chemical dewormer use through the use of grain sorghum as a natural dewormer and/or incorporation of the use of FAMACHA© or fecal egg counting.

The desired change is a decrease in chemical dewormer use by small ruminant producers, over a three-year period, to result in a more sustainable production system.  Without intervention, small ruminant farmers will continue to be less profitable and use too much chemical dewormer.  Also, without intervention to develop a new market for high-tannin grain sorghum, the decreased production of high-tannin grain sorghum will continue.  This project will determine if high tannin grain sorghum can be fed to goats and sheep as a natural dewormer while using methods to determine specific animals that need deworming to decrease chemical dewormer use.  This performance target will have been reached when at least 20 producers decreased chemical dewormer use by using high tannin grain sorghum as a natural dewormer and/or use FAMACHA© or fecal egg counting to only dose animals that need it.  We will know this through workshop surveys and follow-up farm visits (and phone calls and interviews). Since we work extensively with farmers, this goal is easily accomplished.  Educational and demonstration workshops will be held in the Spring and Fall of 2006 and 2007 in cooperation with Maryland Cooperative Extension and PASA to report results and get producer feedback.  Three producers in MD have already requested that they be able to participate in on-farm research once the varieties and amounts to feed have been established and demonstrated. Michele Gauger and Heather House at PASA have also identified PA farmers that would like to be involved.  


The milestones are 1) 100 interested small ruminant producers will respond to flyers to gain understanding about parasite control through integrated methods, including potential natural dewormers 2) 60 producers will attend first workshop 3) 40 producers will attend second or third workshop 4) 20 producers will decrease chemical dewormer use through natural dewormers and using the FAMACHA© eye-lid color chart or fecal egg counting (farm visits, phone calls, interviews)

So far, before the project even started (due to a newsletter article about the plans for the project), 2 producers have emailed to ask questions about the newsletter article describing the project plans. In addition, 3-4 producers have called or stopped me in public to ask about hosting another parasite workshop.    

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Eight varieties of grain sorghum were analyzed for tannin content by Lloyd Rooney at Texas A&M University, a known leader in the area of milo tannin research.  Three varieties were chosen for planting for the animal studies summer of year 1 and were obtained in the Fall for research studies in the following Spring/Summer.  The National Grain Sorghum Growers cooperative Grain Sorghum Partners, Inc. grew and donated the sorghum for the trials.

Preliminary goat study:  A high tannin variety of sorghum (one that had been tested) had been stored by the National Grain Sorghum Growers cooperative Grain Sorghum Partners, Inc. and was shipped to UMES for a preliminary goat study.  A low tannin variety had been grown at UMES for a Cooperative Extension demonstration plot and had been stored at UMES.  A local producer had a bad parasite problem and offered to skip a deworming so the animals would be naturally infected and then would sell them to UMES for the study.  Only 16 of the 31 goats purchased could be used (the others were too anemic and had to be dewormed right away).  Goats were placed on a concrete slatted floor (to keep re-infection from occurring) and half were fed a diet of high tannin sorghum with a protein supplement and alfalfa pellets for fiber while the other half were fed a diet of low tannin sorghum with a similar mixture of other ingredients. Body weights, fecal egg counts, FAMACHA© scores and packed cell volume (PCV-to indicate true anemia) were collected on the goats weekly for 3 weeks.  Because almost all of the goats eventually had to be dewormed, it was concluded that this grain sorghum variety or feeding strategy did not seem to work. However, everyone involved in the discussions, including the producers, indicated that more research is needed since only one level in the diet and only one variety was used.  A couple of producers asked about adding a second natural dewormer if possible (such as garlic) in a controlled trial at UMES.

We learned in this preliminary study that FAMACHA© and PCV were not closely related in these goats (sometimes very pale eyelids with a 4 or 5 FAMACHA© score had very good PCV), and thus we used PCV to determine deworming schedule for the entire study instead of FAMACHA©.  Because there are no cases of pink eyelids having high PCV and the opposite is also rare, FAMACHA© is still an excellent tool for producers and will still be stressed as one of the best methods for “fighting” parasite resistance to dewormers.  It definitely reduces the amount of chemical dewormers used, which is better for the environment and is more economical for producers as well.

In Year 1, pasture shelters and pens were put in place for research projects and breeding for research animals.  Some animals that were purchased from the producer in the first Year were very wormy so they were kept for breeding for animals for this research so that we can assure getting animals for testing.
Boer and Boer crossbred goats were used in two studies in Year 2. Twenty four animals were housed in individual pens and for the first experiment in Year 2, as per collaborators advice, animals were removed from pasture when fecal egg counts indicated infestation and adult worms were allowed to “mature” in the animal for 21 days prior to the start of the feeding comparisons.  They were fed a diet containing some low tanning milo as a transition feed so that after 21 days, as for the preliminary experiment, diets were with either high (treatment) or low tannin milo (control) were fed.  Fecal egg counts and PCV were measured weekly beginning when animals were placed into the pens from pasture. Animals with PCV below 15% were dewormed.  Eyelid color as signs of parasitism was monitored between PCV testing periods.  Fecal eggs counts decreased for all animals regardless of type of milo in the feed 1 week after treatment feeding began and remained steady until around day 21, when counts began to increase again.  It is thought that a possible “self-cure” as has been documented by other small ruminant parasite researchers may have occurred.  

In the second Year 2 study, conducted similarly to the preliminary study but with animals in individual pens, again, there was no influence of treatment on fecal egg counts or packed cell volume.  Three different varieties of high-tannin grain sorghum were tested at a high level in the feed, and no effects on gastrointestinal parasite infection have been found.  It is possible that the tannin in milo (grain sorghum) is not the condensed tannin form that is thought to decrease fecal egg counts when fed via sources such as serecia lespedeza.  After seeing these results and discussions with Dr. Whitley, the farmer/producer advisory council (Lower Shore Goat and Sheep Producers Association) would like to see alternative possible non-chemical dewormers tested and have suggested a commercial “herbal” dewormer, garlic and/or tobacco.  However, Year 3 research involving high-tannin grain sorghum is still planned.

Project information has been reported in the Maryland Sheep and Goat newsletter as well as in presentations at 3 producer meetings and a scientific abstract has been published for a presentation in Feb. 07.  There continues to be much interest in natural dewormers for goats and sheep.


Susan Schoenian

Area Agent
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Keedysville Rd
Keedysville, MD
Website: www.sheepandgoat.com
Harry Taylor

Backbone Rd
Trigg Hall
Princess Anne, MD 21853
Office Phone: 4106514486
Michelle Gauger

Heather House