THE BASICS OF WHY DEWORMING WITH FAMANCHA SCORING WORKS
Historically goat deworming was apparently done just as deworming is done in other livestock species. That is, every so often during the year on a preset schedule dewormer was given to the goats, regardless of the number of worms they were actually infested with.
This no longer works because goat parasites have developed resistance. This development of resistance has to do with how a goat was originally designed to eat, and how by altering that for human preferences we became dependent on constant heavy use of dewormers as a “quick fix” for a less well thought out management system.
Goats are naturally browsers, which means they like to eat as the majority of their diet only the very nutrient rich parts of plants, such as new leaves, shoots, and buds, (a similar grazing pattern to that of the white tail deer). In the proto-goat’s environment these were found off the ground – on bushes, tall grass, and trees. These forages were neither prone to soiling with feces, nor a good environment for parasites to survive in until consumed by their host. Therefore the proto-goat never evolved a strong defense against parasites and was not often troubled by them.
However, the modern goat often lives more like a cow than a deer, grazing relatively short pasture in close contact to the ground. Parasites, including especially the devastating Haemonchus contortus, are deposited in feces and survive by hiding in the wet nooks and crannies of pasture grass. Over time, if large numbers of goats continuously graze on relatively small areas of ground (greater than 5-7 goats per acre), the parasite numbers in the pasture increase, and thus the parasite number inside the goat increases.
While many species of worms may infect goats, (including some common to other animal species, such as the tapeworm), the most devastating is the Haemonchus contortus. This parasite sucks the goat dry of blood, and when sufficient numbers are present they make the goat anemic. When extremely large numbers of this parasite are present, or when a goat is ill, the parasite can actually kill the goat. Dairy goats and angora goats are prone to dying from high numbers of Haemonchus. Kikos and some other meat breeds have been bred heavily for resistance to Haemonchus, (think of this as human aided evolution!), and thus do not tend to die from Haemonchus infestation, but live to die instead for your goat curry. Cashmere goats tend to vary in their susceptibility to worms, generally lying somewhere between dairy goats and meat goats.
Since we can no longer use dewormers all the time on all the goats as we used to, (or soon we won’t have any dewormers left that work!), FAMANCHA scoring was developed as a fast method to help determine which goats in the herd were most infested with parasites, (in contrast fecal floats actually count worm eggs to determine worm number and are very accurate, but these take a lot of time and individual collecting of poop!). FAMANCHA Scoring uses the relative level of anemia a goat is experiencing to determine if the goat is heavily infested with parasites or not. A goat with a dark red FAMANCHA Score has lots of blood and thus typically few blood sucking parasites. A goat with a pale pink or white FAMANCHA Score is being vampirically drained dry by its parasites and thus need to be dewormed or culled.
Culling a goat may sound harsh, but removing a goat that has a consistently terrible FAMANCHA Score and is extremely anemic is both good for the goat and for the herd as a whole. It is better to remove a goat from your herd/farm if it is failing to thrive and constantly anemic than to wait for that goat to eventually die slowly from parasite infestation. Additionally, a goat that is extremely infested with parasites is a giant reservoir walking around sowing your pastures with tons of parasites. If the same goat is constantly being dewormed to keep it alive then it is actually sowing your pastures with tons of potentially dewormer resistant parasites! She might seem harmless, but in the long run that goat is costing you big time!
Goats that are not dewormed because they have good FAMANCHA Scores act as reservoirs of NON-resistant worms. Thus, if you have 2 goats that you regularly deworm and 45 goats that rarely if ever get dewormed, the odds are that if you have a goat come up anemic from worms most of the worms your anemic goat has can be killed by dewormer (45/47 = 96% of the worms). Your anemic goat lives. If you dewormed most of your herd – 30 out of 47 goats – then 64% of the worms are RESISTANT to dewormer. Much worse odds for the survival of your anemic goat!
My personal guidelines are if the goat has to be dewormed more than once in a year, that goat leaves my herd. I have known goats that never needed to be dewormed in their entire lives, and never became anemic. Breeders are working hard to continue to produce goats with greater and greater defenses against Haemonchus and other blood suckers, so perhaps in a few decades this problem will be mostly overcome, (at least in meat goats).
HOW TO FAMANCHA SCORE
FAMANCHA scoring utilizes a FAMANCHA card (seen in the image above) to compare the color of the inside of a goat’s eyelid to a scale of 1-5 on the card. Any goat scoring with the 3 lightest colors should be dewormed. A goat that has a completely white eyelid needs to be dewormed immediately as it is almost out of blood and could die!
Interested producers can be certified as FAMANCHA scorers (contact your local extension). Technically FAMANCHA cards have to be ordered from the guys who run the FAMANCHA program and are only available those who have been certified. However, the Internet is a vast place, full of many, many things. Including, if you are a producer with no opportunities to become certified, FAMANCHA cards.
When it comes to scoring goats, I usually check mine about once a month, (even though they usually only need deworming once a year or less). This lets me catch a goat that may have decided to get itself super wormy by doing such things as eating grain spilled in feces, defecating in the hay it is also consuming by crawling in the manager, or just being sick from some other bug making it more susceptible to worms.
Breeds vary on what is an acceptable/realistic expectation for a FAMANCHA score, though the ideal is always to have a bright red eyelid. Kiko crosses should always have great bright red FAMANCHA scores. Boers and cashmeres are usually decent scores. Dairy goats will hang out at the bottom of the range of FAMANCHA scores unless cross grazed with other species or intensively managed. Angoras, in my experience, typically have extremely poor scores and may be prone to dying from worms.
HOW TO MANAGE PARASITES ON PASTURE:
I have spent a lot of time trying to keep abreast of the most recent recommendations, so check back – as this page may change!
- Keep pasture tall. Pasture grass more than 4 inches tall is too tall for parasites to climb up high enough to be consumed by goats, (since goats like to graze the top of the grasses).
- Rotate pastures. In hot dry climates, give pastures a 1-3 month rest before putting goats back on them to allow parasites to hatch out and die without being consumed. In periods of high moisture (lots of rain, high humidity) parasite eggs survive longer in the pasture, so you may need to wait 6 months or more before putting goats back on the pasture.
- Have forest or brush pastures. Pastures incorporating or consisting solely of what the proto-goat mostly ate, (i.e. browse), are less prone to increasing goat parasite loads.
- Add lespedeza. Lespedeza is a bush like plant that contains tannins. These tannins interfere with goat parasites, and thus decrease the number of parasites feeding on the goat. In my personal experience there is a mild but very real decrease in parasite numbers when goats are fed diets high in this species. Lespedeza hay in both round and square bales in currently grown and sold in North Carolina.
- Cross graze with other species. Goats and sheep are susceptible to the same blood sucking parasites. However, horses, cows, turkeys, and your wife’s beloved silky free range organic specialty chickens from Bavaria are not susceptible to the same parasites as goats and sheep. Therefore, if you graze your goats with your horses/cows/turkeys/fancy chickens some of the blood sucking parasites deposited by the goats will be consumed by these non-compatible species and die. This will naturally lower the worm load on your pastures. Nature has provided us with a natural goat parasite vacuum and incineration system – just graze your goat pastures with other livestock species. *Note that some parasites, like the tapeworm, are more opportunistic and can survive inside vastly different hosts. Therefore, this trick will not get rid of everything!
- Keep your pack goats on a dry lot. If you don’t have many goats, (or you have boat loads of cash), you can feed your goats hay in a manger off the ground and keep them in a dirt lot. This prevents the goats from defecating in their hay, and thus they consume few parasites.
- Cut hay off your pastures. Cutting hay off pastures is believed to remove some parasites from the pasture. As an added bonus, once the hay dries in the sun the parasites on the hay itself are dead and you have some nice hay for the winter!
- Keep feces out of food and water. Goats love to lay in the hay manger and have a knack for getting goat poop in their water. Which they then both eat and drink. There is a reason humanity spends billions of dollars annually on public health!
WHY THIS MATTERS TO PACK GOAT ENTHUSIASTS
If you don’t manage the worm load of your goats, then if you own goats that are susceptible to worms, (like dairy breeds), you may have a goat that is too anemic to hike/pack.
Additionally, parasites carried by goats (and some carried by other livestock, horses, and dogs as well!) could potentially infect some types of wildlife if large numbers of goats are kept in the exact same grazing locations that large numbers of susceptible wildlife use. However, I have yet to find ANY study demonstrating transference of parasites from goats to wildlife, (even species that are pretty susceptible like buffalo). For more on this transference issue see Impact of Packing with Goats in Western National Parks in the menu. Frankly, the main issues that I’ve read about where goats have transferred parasites to wildlife are in man made settings like when goats are run with buffalo being raised on a commercial farm where the buffalo are kept at unnaturally high densities on small pastures with short grass.
Will bringing one goat that is a bit on the anemic side, (thus has a fair number of worms most likely), for a hike in a state forest cause a problem? Probably not. Hell, even bringing a string of goats for a multi-day hike is unlikely to result in the transference of any parasites from the goats to susceptible wildlife. However, part of the responsibility of bringing any animal (dog, horse, or small child) into the woods is minimizing your impact on the environment that you came to enjoy so that others may enjoy it as well. So if the goat has a bad FAMANCHA score , (as defined as worse than a 3), that goat does not hike with me.