All goats have worms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The worms stimulate the goat's immune system so that the goat is able to fight off the worms and keep them from proliferating.
Goats experience a worm problem when the worm count grows so that the worm burden is more than the goat's immune system can handle. When the worms proliferate, not only do they begin to irritate the goat's internal tissues, but the worms will also at some point start to prevent the goat's affected organ from properly functioning.
This can lead to death if not properly treated.
Types of Worms
There are many types of worms that goats can have. Different worms attack different parts of the goat - such as the lungs, liver, and stomach.
Lungworms. These worms thrive and reproduce inside snails. So if your goats have access to stagnant water (which snails love), they may be more exposed to lungworms. An excessive lungworm burden irritates the bronchioles in the goat's lung. The immune system of the goat then mounts its defense and produces mucus and white blood cells. The result of the irritation and defense cause the goat to cough severely. (Please don't freak out if your goat occasionally coughs. Coughing can occur without lungworms being the culprit.)
Liver Flukes. Like lungworms, liver flukes also thrive and produce inside snails. They are one of the more lethal types of worms that need to be treated very quickly because they damage the goat's liver. If the goat's liver isn't properly functioning, toxins can build up in the goat which causes further damage.
Stomach Worms. These worms prefer wet vegetation. If the grass your goats are eating is covered in dew, the larvae move up the grass and are eaten. They then start to suck the blood from your goat by destroying the lining of your goat's stomach so they can get to the blood stream. A burden of stomach worms can cause anemia, diarrhea, and weight loss in your goat because the stomach lining is severely compromised.
Coccidia. Coccidia is found in soil and can become a problem if there is overcrowding. Coccidia mostly affect kids because they are still building their immune systems. The coccidia makes it difficult for the goat to absorb nutrients. Diarrhea that is caused by coccidia is foul smelling as opposed to diarrhea from the kid drinking too much milk which doesn't smell foul. Diarrhea from coccidia leads to weight loss and failure to thrive as the coccidia damages the goat internally.
How to Prevent Worms
Preventing worms is all about good management.
Stability. Change causes stress for goats. The more stability you can maintain in everything (feeding, housing, pastures, personnel), the less stress the goat will be and the better their immune system response to worms.
Proper Pasture. Keep goats away from stagnant water and in healthy pastures that are not overly eaten down. Rotating pastures as much as possible is a great management strategy. Be aware that when rotating pastures, you are not only looking at how much plant material is available, but you should also be considering how long the pasture should be left fallow. Wet pasture will often have a harder time controlling parasites than dry pasture does.
Proper Living Conditions. Overcrowding and not enough feeding stations produce stress on the goats that can affect their immune systems and their ability to fight worms. Proper manure management will also improve everything.
If you are having significant trouble with worms, you may have too many goats for your available land and barns.
Strategic Use of Concrete. It is incredibly difficult for goats to pick up worms when housed on concrete. If you are really struggling with wet pastures and heavy worm burdens, the strategic use of concrete may have a place in your worming prevention program.
Worm Prevention Program
It is important to have a worm prevention program in place. This is different for everyone depending on the conditions in which their goats live. It should include the strategic use of chemical or herbal dewormers, but encompass a much bigger picture
Use of chemical or herbal dewormers. You need to determine how often and what type of dewormer you will use. We do not rotate worming medications. We stick with one until it no longer works as evidenced by fecal counts.
While I am a big proponent in all things natural, I'm not a big fan of herbal wormers. While they may work for some people, they require very frequent dosing for each and every goat. This takes a lot of time and effort. If you have bossy goats that are getting more than their share, you'll have others that aren't getting enough.
In addition, most herbal wormers I've seen use wormwood, which is contra-indicated for lactating women. I don't wish to feed this to my lactating goats.
Be aware that most chemical dewormers are "off label" for goats because there is not enough money in goats to make it worthwhile for the manufacturer to determine dosages and milk withdrawal times.
Fecal counts. Fecal counts are your friend. Determining which type of worms can help you choose which type of dewormer to use. It can also tell you how effective your wormer is.
FAMACHA. Learning and using FAMACHA is a great tool for determining whether your goats are struggling with anemia which is often (but not always) a symptom of a heavy worm burden.
Pasture rotation. The strategic use of pasture rotation can be a very helpful prevention tool. This is a huge issue which can be heavily researched for your specific situation.
Manure management. Overcrowding and unhealthy conditions are a big cause for worm burdens in goats. If you cannot properly manage the manure, you may need to decrease the number of goats in your herd.
Culling for Worm Susceptibility
As your herd grows, you will find you have certain genetic lines that are more susceptible to worms than others. Goats that continually have worm problems should be considered candidates for culling. If you are regularly doing fecals, this will give you more data to help.
It is incredibly important when moving goats from one farm to another to be aware of worms. Different locations may have different worms and your goats will need to build up a tolerance to the worms at their new location.
In addition, if there are changes in conditions at your current farm, be aware that this might change the worm load of your goats.
Worms in goats are a part of owning dairy goats. With proper planning and management, they don't have to be a problem.
Disclaimer: This information is provided as an example of how we personally raise goats at Goat Milk Stuff. We are not veterinarians and any information on the GMS website should not be taken as veterinary advice. Please seek the advice of a professional vet before making any changes to your herd management or individual treatment of your goat.
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