The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Goat and sheep five-point check

Goat five-point check

I've been playing around with fecal egg counts to keep a handle on parasite loads on our farm. But Dr. Dahlia O'Brien doesn't actually recommend egg counts in that scenario. Instead, she thinks the tests are most handy for determining contamination levels of pastures (rather than animals), for telling which parasite species are in your herd and which drugs those worms are resistant to, and for determining which animals to cull (those with high parasite loads that seem healthy and thus are spreading the worms to the less resilient animals).

What should you use instead to keep an eye on individual animals and determine if they need to be dewormed? The five-point check is a quick and easy technique that can be used on goats or sheep to eyeball their parasite levels in a minute or less. Start by using the FAMACHA method (more on that in a moment) to assess anemia due to barberpole worms via the color inside the animal's eyelids. Next feel along the animal's back to get a body-condition score --- low fat equates to general ill health (or not enough food in heavy producing animals). Check under the tail for scouring (diarrhea), which is a sign of coccidia infestation (a non-worm internal parasite that can do a number on animals' intestines). Look for bottle jaw (a swollen jaw), which is an extreme sign of parasite infestation. Then check the nose for discharge (in sheep) or check the coat quality (in goats) as another overall health indicator.

FAMACHA cardI suspect many of you use the five-point check (or parts of it) without even noticing. Of course you'll pay attention to a goat with a scruffy coat or a sheep with a daggy bum (as they say Down Under). Once you learn where your animals hold their excess fat, you've probably gotten into the habit (like I have) of feeling for fat every time you pet the little spoiled darlings handle those important farm livestock. Only the FAMACHA test really requires additional explanation.

And, unfortunately, that explanation is pretty intense. In order to become a card-carrying FAMACHA expert, you have to attend a full-day workshop about that topic alone or take this online course complete with video test. I'll bet you know what's next on my educational agenda....

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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What do you think about that recommendation to cull the most resistant goat? I understand that it is valuing the health of your entire herd over the health of one individual.... the poor Typhoid Mary of goats that doesn't care about parasites. But do you think that would be selecting for less resilience? Wouldn't you want to keep animals that remain healthy no matter what?
Comment by Jon Wed May 11 09:34:24 2016

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