Parasite prevention is an important aspect to a farmer and rancher’s health management plan for their herd. For small ruminants, such as goats and sheep, parasite prevention is vital for their overall health.

“Parasites become an extremely challenging issue for small ruminants. Particularly during the summer, as those animals are grazing, they consume the larvae that is on the blades of grass, enter the home of their host that is the sheep or goat,” said Travis Hoffman, assistant professor and Extension sheep specialist for the University of Minnesota Extension and North Dakota State University Extension.

Parasites that inhabit their host, such as a goat or sheep, lay their eggs in their new home. The eggs are then passed through the animal’s manure, which will end up in the grass pasture. Those eggs then hatch, and the larva crawls up onto the blades of grass.

“The larvae crawl up on the grass stems, and then the animals eat it. Larva only go two to three inches from the ground on the grass; therefore, making sure your animals don’t graze on a pasture below four inches is a way you can ensure the animals do not reinfect themselves,” said Kelly Froehlich, South Dakota State University Extension sheep and goat specialist.

Besides a producer maintaining a good length of forage in their pastures, there are also other steps that can be taken to prevent parasites from infesting a herd. Producers should quarantine all new animals they purchase before integrating them into their herd. This will ensure that no new parasites will be passed along into the original herd.

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Collecting manure samples from the herd and sending them to a laboratory for a fecal egg count is another way to make sure there is not a parasite problem in the herd as well. In addition, producers should consult with their veterinarian and come up with a deworming plan that works best for their operation.

A common parasite in small ruminants are barber pole worms. These parasites attach themselves to the sheep or goat's stomach and proceed to suck the animal's blood. Due to this, the animal will become anemic and also share its needed nutrients with the barber pole worm. According to Froehlich, an easy way to see if an animal is suffering from a barber pole worm is to check the inside of the goat or sheep’s eyelid.

“The pale eyelid could be an indication of a high parasite load,” Froehlich said.

Barber pole worms have the ability to reproduce at a rapid pace, so it is important for producers to catch early, before the parasite does serious damage to the animal’s overall health.