It amazes me to look back over the last 7 or 8 years and see what I have learned and where I have am compared to then. Sometimes I feel like we have seen and done it all! And, other times, I find I have more learning to do. One of the things I have learned a lot about over the years are parasites. Parasites in the garden, parasites in the chickens, parasites in the goats, and… parasites in us humans!
Oh, yes, people carry parasites. Imagine that! A totally parasite-free person or animal ends up dead. There are many beneficial parasites that help keep our bodies running efficiently, but there are also parasites that can and do cause problems, especially if they get out of control. This can happen when the body is stressed in some way, be it environmental or health related.
Today I want to talk specifically about parasite management with goats. I am constantly getting asked what to do to keep goats healthy and parasite-free. How to worm (or really, de-worm). Conventional methods are to de-worm with chemical poisons given at a level that will kill of most of the parasites in the animals body yet not kill the animal. Herbs work in a similar way, but they tend to also build the animals body back up while making the body undesirable to the parasite being targeted. The biggest difference is that resistance to chemical de-wormers is far more likely than with herbs.
On our new property, no livestock has been kept for over 20 years. However, we live at the edge of a swamp, and the woods are full of animals, including deer. Deer carry parasites that also cause a problem in domestic ruminants such as cattle, goats, alpaca and sheep. The snails carry those parasites straight to our pasture, where our goats ingest them. The parasites come from all over the place, including from other farms where chemicals have been used extensively and the parasites can already be resistant to any de-wormer on the market. Add a higher density of stock than the land can support naturally (you need a LOT of acreage to support ruminants without having to manage carefully) and you have a recipe for disaster if you are not prepared.
When we moved a year ago, we were thrilled to think we would have very little problem with parasites. We had been micro-managing on our little half acre for years, and we knew how, but it wasn’t easy. Our thoughts were, the same number of goats on way more land would be almost trouble-free, at least for a few years. That proved to be false. Then, because we had so much to do trying to set the new property up to be productive, we decided to de-worm with chemicals. Amazingly, they barely worked. After years of herbal care you would think we could have used those wormers, but it seemed like parasite loads just exploded! By this summer I knew I had to go back to the herbs. I make my own mixes, and they change all the time, but generally they include at minimum two herbs that target the general parasites in our area; coccidea and barberpole and stomach worms, at least one immune booster, one antibiotic-type herb, and a re-builder. My wormer generally looks like this; wormwood, thyme, comfrey, pau de’ arco, cinnamon and cayenne, and sometimes echinacea. Often I will add garlic, rosemary, black walnut hull, slippery elm, and even tobacco leaves.
Now comes use. Most people using herbs treat far differently than I do. Most say to use for 3 days and then once a week or when the weather is wet, and generally small amounts, like a teaspoon to tablespoon per goat. In an intensive program without the ability to properly rotate pastures and keep browse and forage well above the ground this method is ineffective. I have found the best thing to do is to combine my herb mix with the loose minerals, about equal amounts in volume (not weight, the herbs are much lighter). The goats get as much as they want free choice. My mixes offer support with weather changes and stress while keeping the goats body healthy and strong. It was amazing when I put out my mix after having no success with the chemicals. Coats softened and smoothed out and became glossy again, weight improved, and colds became a thing of the past, even with weather changes as we entered fall and had lots of rain. Worms crawled from some goats hind ends. Keep in mind that only a few weeks prior to going back to herbs I did a 3x-cycle of chemical wormers at the strongest doses I could safely give with no effect. The goats devoured the herbs for a few weeks, and then tapered off. Now they look exceptionally good.
I wanted to share this because so many people are keeping goats in small yards today. Having small breeds available has made it possible for more and more people to enjoy the blessings of milk and meat and companionship from their own animals, but it has also led to more resistant parasites as these people try to keep control of parasites with chemicals while not having the ability to do the rest of parasite management required to help limit resistance. Most do not know how to do fecal tests to determine which parasite they are trying to control and they don’t have the land to properly rotate pastures. They go to herbs as a last resort (or early on without really understanding how herbs and parasite management work) after chemicals have failed or their goats are not thriving, or even die. Then, they try the herbs, but the herbs don’t work because they get mixes that don’t target the parasites they have or they are not able to do the other aspects of management, and dosage isn’t enough to compensate. My hope is, after reading this, that you will have a better understanding of how chemicals and herbs work in parasite management, and that you can make a more informed decision when using either. Tomorrow I will add a post about using variety in livestock to manage parasites when you don’t have the ability to rotate pastures and allow them to rest for the recommended lengths of time.