This article is intended to guide you to following the physical signs and your own intuition on when to address a suspected parasite issue. I do this without the aid of modern equipment and detail the steps I follow to assess herd health.
I envision in my management a more pastoral, ancestral setting where I don’t rely on modern technology or testing to be able to know when my goats need help. Part of this stems from my desire to be able to manage my herd even if society collapses all around us–though that concern has faded away–and part of it from my belief that if goats have been domesticated for thousands of years, it must be entirely possible to manage them without modern interventions at all.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s work really solidified that focus for me and it is for that reason I do not use fecal samples, blood tests, thermometers or other “modern” tools to get a finger on the pulse of my goats’ health. What I detail here, then, is simple, easy to use and primarily intuitive. This is my method for determining when to treat for parasites.
Brittle, rough, breaking coats indicate a nutritional or parasite issue. Healthy goats with good mineral status should have soft coats, not coarse or rough. This is usually my first indication that someone is struggling. Since I know my minerals are on point, my first suspect is parasites. This is especially true at times of stress, such as kidding, breeding or abrupt changes in temperature.
If nutrition is adequate, parasites are also first implicated when any of my goats has a reduction in body condition. The general exception to this can be during early lactation when they’re putting more into building their growing kids. The following video is one of the best resources I’ve come across to thoroughly teach how to accurately assess dairy goat body condition. The 20 minutes it takes is worth the peace of mind in knowing how to quickly and easily assess the goats in your herd.
Additionally, ADGA has created an excellent PDF file on body condition scoring. You can download it here.
In addition to overall body condition, sometimes a goat with a heavy worm load develops what can best be described as a pot belly. It hangs lower, not wider, drooping down from the spine in a way that looks like a goat in late pregnancy.
Though not indicative of all types of parasites, a worsening FAMACHA score can indicate potential trouble. I have seen improvement in FAMACHA scores within a few days after administering my essential oil parasite protocol that I will discuss further down. This has been replicated in other herds, indicating that essential oils may act quickly to help restore balance. FAMACHA scoring is a simple tool that can be used by anyone at any time. You can learn the true method–and even become certified–through this link.
A goat with a voracious appetite that doesn’t seem to lessen is probably feeding worms, especially if there are no considerations such as: lactation, gestation, a growth spurt. A large appetite combined with weight loss is very likely to do with parasites unless there are other symptoms, such as diarrhea, lethargy or feeling generally unwell.
The way a goat acts can tell us so much about how they are feeling. In general, a parasitic goat doesn’t display many behavior changes unless they are experiencing a severe infestation. If you observe a goat acting off in any of the following ways, a more thorough examination is warranted and the situation should be considered high priority:
- reduced appetite
- not keeping up with the herd
- acting depressed
- lethargic, lying around or moving slowly
- teeth grinding
Once you have determined a potential parasite issue, there are numerous herbal methods you can use to address it. Something I deeply appreciate about herbal methods is that they can be used even without confirmation and don’t have the level of risk of resistance or side effects. Some manufacturers claim there is no resistance with herbal methods, but I feel that we can’t definitively state that without studies to prove it. I will say that my belief is strongly that there are no issues with resistance or side effects. We have certainly not seen any in this herd.
My own preferred method is to use a commercial parasite formula (for convenience) infused in olive oil, to which I add my essential oil blend of oregano, sweet orange and lemongrass*. You can purchase the exact recipe here, or just use 1 drop of each in 1ml olive oil.
*I know that there is a lot of passion surrounding the choice of essential oil brands, so I want to share a story here to explain why I use Plant Therapy. I’d been treating a kid for pneumonia using an MLM brand with no improvement. I switched to PT oregano essential oil and saw marked improvement in just one dose. You need to do what feels right for you, but I want to add this story to caution you that if the oil you’re using is not yielding results, you may just need to try another brand. I have seen major gains and healing using essential oils and know they have powerful medicine, but not all brands will offer the same results.
The three main suppliers of herbal parasite blends, listed in order of my own personal preference, are:
Each of these comes with its own unique instructions, so I won’t go into dosing details here. If you’re a DIYer, you could take a look at the ingredients of these formulas and likely formulate your own based on locally available or easily obtainable herbs. I believe there is great energetic power in using herbs grown as close to where we and our goats live as is possible and that is always preferable to purchased options.
Continue the discussion in the Parasite forum.