Emerging Concepts in Small Ruminant Parasite Control

Dr. Susan Kerr, WSU-Klickitat County Extension Director
Publish Date: 
Spring 2008
Vol. III No.2

Long-time sheep and goat producers can readily list all the standard parasite control measures they have been taught over the years:Photo 1. Haemonchus contortus infective larvaesuspended in dew drop. Nature Publishing Group,

  • Deworm when fecal examinations are positive
  • Deworm all animals at the same time
  • Place animals onto a clean pasture after deworming
  • Deworm regularly
  • Rotate dewormers 

Unfortunately, these practices and other factors have contributed to the development of parasite resistance to dewormers. Indeed, in some areas of the south, producers have no effective dewormers and cannot raise sheep and goats without extreme losses to parasites; the common name for a major intestinal parasite—“the bankrupt worm”—has become all too true for them.

Small Ruminant Public Enemy #1

Haemonchus contortus, commonly known as the barber pole worm, is responsible for most losses from small ruminant nematode (roundworm) parasitism (See Table 1 for the most common nematodes). Figure 1 depicts the life cycle of H. contortus. Note that eggs are shed in fecal pellets and several larval molts and required before the parasite reaches the infective L-3 stage.

Figure 1. Haemonchus contortus life cycle. From a Haemonchus contortus Management Plans for Sheep and Goats in Texas, Texas Agricultural Extension Service publication L-5095

An organization called the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (SCSRPC) is devoted to addressing the problem of parasite resistance to dewormers. Their research with copper particles and certain tannin-containing plants show promise as potential non-chemical parasite control measures. Nevertheless, producers still rely heavily on anthelmintics (dewormers). Dr. Des Hennessy of Australia coined the term “Smart Drenching” (deworming) to describe selective treatment of certain animals and the SCSRPC advocates this approach.

The goal of Smart Drenching is to maintain animal health and production while decreasing the rate of development of parasite resistance to anthelmintics. Smart Drenching encourages producers to used dewormers selectively, judiciously and effectively.

Table 1. Common nematodes (roundworms) of sheep and goats.

The Smart Drenching System

1. Identify which wormers are effective on your farm. This is done by pre- and post-treatment fecal egg counts (see Reference #6 below for the procedure) or submitting fecal samples to Dr. Ray Kaplan’s laboratory at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine for “DrenchRIte” laboratory diagnosis of resistance. Resistance is defined as less than 95% reduction in fecal egg counts post-treatment.

2. Weigh each animal to be treated and administer the correct amount of dewormer to each animal. Be sure to administer the entire dose over the animal’s tongue and to the back of its throat. Consult with your veterinarian when treating goats because extra-label dosages are usually recommended.

3. Use dewormers from two different classes if resistance is suspected on the farm. See Table 2 for a list of dewormer classes.

Table 2. Classes of nematode dewormers





4. Hold animals to be wormed off feed for 12-24 hours before treating with benzimidazoles (Fenbendazole and Albendazole) or ivermectin, doramectrin, and moxidectin. This slows the digestive processes, allowing the dewormer to remain in the animal’s body longer for increased effectiveness. Do NOT hold pregnant ewes or does off feed in late gestation. Benzimidazole effectiveness will be greatly enhanced if the animal is redosed in 12 hours.

5. ONLY DEWORM ANIMALS THAT NEED TREATMENT. Use the FAMACHA© system (described below) to assess animals with clinical anemia due to Haemonchus contortus. For other parasites, base treatment on body condition, age (parasitism is a large concern in younger animals), fecal egg count, performance/production, pregnancy/lactation status (these dams are under higher stress and have reduced immunity), signs of illness and short-term weight gain.

The benefits of Smart Drenching are threefold: fewer animals are dewormed, so costs are reduced; there is less pressure on parasites to develop resistance; and more parasites in the “refugia” remain susceptible to dewormers. The refugia is the portion of the parasite population not subjected to dewormers and therefore not under pressure to develop resistance; it includes parasites in untreated animals as well as eggs and larvae on pasture. According to Dr. Kaplan, the refugia provides a pool of sensitive genes that dilutes resistant genes selected for by deworming (see Figure 2).

The FAMACHA© System

Figure 2. Depiction of selection for resistant parasites. Graphic by Dr. Ray KaplanThe FAMACHA© System originated in South Africa. It is a method of identifying individual sheep and goats that are heavily parasitized, based on physical evidence of anemia caused by Haemonchus contortus. A colored chart (see Figure 3) is placed next to an animal’s conjunctiva (pinkish tissue inside the lower eyelid) to assess each animal’s level of anemia. A scale of one to five is used; a score of one is the reddest and most healthy and a score of five is palest and most anemic. Animals with scores of four and five should be treated or culled; those with scores of one or two do not need treatment; various factors will help a producer decide whether or not to treat those with a score of three.

This system helps producers identify the parasite equivalents of “Typhoid Mary” in their herds: 20 to 30% of animals harbor 70 to 80% of the herd’s worms and are responsible for the majority of environmental contamination with worm eggs. The FAMACHA© System helps identify heavily parasitized individuals so producers can make appropriate management decisions (treat or cull).

Parasite Control through Management

Figure 3. The FAMACHA© chart - FAMACHA© is subject to copyright rules and no part may be altered or copied in any way without written permission of the copyright holders, the Livestock Heatlth and Production Group of the South African Veterinary Association. Colors shown in this reproduction of the FAMACHA© card are not accurate to the original ans should not be deemed as an accurate representation of the actual FAMACHA© card.

Non-chemical parasite control measures will become even more important as resistance to dewormers grows. Here are some key practices that can help producers reduce the need for chemical deworming:

  1. Never graze pastures below 3”. Infective parasitic larvae live in water droplets on pasture plants and are much more common in the lower 3” of forage.
  2. For similar reasons, try not to let animals graze on wet pastures.
  3. Rotate pastures and allow as much rest time as possible between re-grazing—at least three weeks; six months is much more effective in ensuring larval death.
  4. If possible, practice multi-species grazing. Only a few parasites are transmissible between species, so following sheep or goats with horses, for example, will help reduce the number of small ruminant parasites on pastures.
  5. Do not overstock animals—never graze more that six to eight small ruminants per acre of irrigated pasture.
  6. Select for animals that are healthy and resilient despite parasite infections; cull individuals that require repeated deworming to survive.
  7. Do not feed animals directly on the ground.
  8. Protect feed troughs, water sources and trace-mineral salt feeders from manure contamination.
  9. Provide as much browse as possible for goats.

If You Must Deworm

Unless you decide to use intensive genetic selection for parasite resistance and cull affected animals heavily, you will need to deworm some animals when warranted. First of all, know what dewormers are effective in your herd or flock (see Step 1 of Smart Drenching above). Another recommendation is to confine and deworm herd/flock additions with a dewormer from each of the three major classes simultaneously; drylot these new animals and do not allow access to pastures and the rest of the herd/flock until fecal egg counts are negative. Use dewormers sparingly and intelligently to prolong their effectiveness on your farm. Practice the non-chemical means of parasite control mentioned above to increase the sustainability of your small ruminant flock or herd. As SCSRPC member Dr. Steve Hart stated recently at the Northwest Oregon Dairy Goat Association’s annual conference regarding parasite resistance in the Northwest, “Y’all are in good shape right now. Don’t ruin it.”

For More Information

1. www.scsrpc.org
2. www.attra.org/attra-pub/PDF/parasitesheep.pdf
3. www.attra.org/attra-pub/PDF/sericea_lespedeza.pdf
4. www.attra.org/attra-pub/PDF/copper_wire.pdf
5. http://animalscience.tamu.edu/ansc/publications/sheeppubs/B5092-
6. http://animalscience.tamu.edu/ansc/publications/sheeppubs/L5094-
7. www.lsuagcenter.com/en/crops_livestock/livestock/sheep_goats/Paras
8. http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/parasitc/haemonc/txcntrl.htm
9. www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0006/
10. www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0078/UNP-0078.pdf?PHPSESSID