International Partners Fight Against Internal Parasites

International Partners Fight Against Internal Parasites

NCAT Livestock Specialist Linda Coffey recently traveled to Ghent, Belgium, to attend an international meeting focused on managing internal parasites in sheep and goats. Following is her report on what she learned during the trip.

I have been privileged to be involved as a member—along with NCAT Southeast Regional Director Margo Hale and NCAT Livestock Specialist Dave Scott—of the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (ACSRPC) since 2006. ACSRPC is made up of researchers, veterinarians, and educators who work to help sheep and goat producers understand how to sustainably manage internal parasites in their animals. The ACSRPC includes members from the USA, Mexico, and South Africa.

Since 2006, NCAT has collaborated with ACSRPC scientists to provide farmer-friendly educational materials. We have produced 18 publications related to sustainable internal parasite management, as well as numerous videos, webinars, and presentations. It’s been a fruitful collaboration.

Earlier this year, the leaders of the ACSRPC asked me to go to an international meeting, the Joint COMBAR- ACSRPC Meeting. COMBAR stands for “Combatting Anthelmintic Resistance” and is a consortium of 32 European countries. I was able to present a poster about NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program and our successful partnership with the ACSRPC. With LOTS of help from coworkers, I prepared a poster, packed my bags, and boarded the plane for Belgium!

Internal Parasites Matter

Poster presentation: Linda, left, spoke to attendees about ACSRPC's work to educate farmers about sustainable management of internal parasites.
Poster presentation: Linda, left, spoke to attendees about ACSRPC’s work to educate farmers about sustainable management of internal parasites.

During the two-day meeting, I spent time each day in the poster sessions, sharing the work my colleagues and I do with ACSRPC. I spent the rest of the time in educational sessions. Following are some important points I took away from the meeting’s presentations.

First: “Worms Matter”—The four livestock priority areas identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are all impacted by internal parasites.

  • Preventive techniques are the best defense against internal parasites. Even the drug company scientist made this point!
  • We are fortunate in the U.S.! ACSRPC has collaborated with South African researchers for many years. As a result, U.S. producers have the enormous benefit of the on-farm methods developed in South Africa (FAMACHA, Five Point Check). The ACSRPC has validated and promoted these effective methods. In addition, we have collaborated to build a library of farmer-friendly science-based resources (see www.attra.ncat.org) and have helped create more materials housed on the ACSRPC website, www.wormx.info.
  • Because the ACSRPC believes in international collaboration and in including educators on the team, American farmers will continue to learn about effective techniques for managing internal parasites.

The Big Five

Saanen dairy goats greet visitors to the first of three Belgian farms the group toured. These animals are healthy and free of internal parasites.

Our South African colleagues refer to the internal parasite management techniques that are proven effective as “The Big Five.” These are:

  • Breeding—Strengthen the stock. Breed for improved parasite resistance. Select the strongest animals. As Susan Schoenian of the University of Maryland stated, “Focus on the father.” Be sure your rams and bucks are helping you have stronger sheep and goats. Dr. Anne Zajac of Virginia Tech noted that we are seeing increasing use of breed and individual selection for resistance to parasites. This can mean enrolling in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) or in simply putting emphasis on this trait through using FAMACHA or fecal egg counts.
  • Pastures—Pasture management is ESSENTIAL. By respecting what our livestock, pastures, and soils need, we allow our animals to coexist with parasites. Dr. Jim Muir of Texas A & M presented on this topic. Gareth Bath of South Africa enthusiastically endorsed Dr. Muir’s talk. He said, “Short duration, high intensity grazing with a long rest is used in South Africa with great results.”
  • Monitor—use FAMACHA, the Five Point Check, and fecal egg counts to assess the status of flocks. Producers in more than 30 countries and on all continents use FAMACHA. In the USA, 43,278 cards have been sold to date.
  • Worm load—Weaken the worms. Be SURE to provide refugia and use dewormers wisely so that we are not selecting for “Super Worms.”
  • Dewormers—Number five on the list, because dewormers are NOT our first line of defense! This echoes what I heard in 2003 at the American Dairy Goat Association conference. Back then, Dr. D.G. Pugh of Auburn University stated, “Dewormers are the WORST way to manage parasites!” It startled me then, but this is a key point to understand. Many of the speakers at this conference repeated this idea; we MUST use preventive techniques for better health of our animals.

For more information on these monitoring strategies, see ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture’s Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats publication.

Touring Belgian Farms

The keynote speakers, poster sessions, and educational sessions were fantastic—but we didn’t spend all our time inside. Following the conference, twenty of us boarded a bus to tour three area farms, accompanied by a local veterinarian.

The first farm we visited belongs to a young farmer who has 1,500 Saanen dairy goats and milks 1,000.  He’s very tall and one feature of his parlor is an adjustable floor! It can be dropped down when he milks, or raised up when someone shorter is working. The farm is organic and everything was very clean and attractive. He runs it alone; his wife works off the farm.

The second farm raises Belgian Blues, an extremely heavy-muscled cattle breed. The farm also offers dinners and a petting zoo, which provide a real boost to their income. The farm had a bouncy house, a pig, and pasture for a deer and some pygmy goats. There was also a lovely vegetable garden, a glass greenhouse, and a duck pond. Espaliered fruit trees, grapevines, and beautiful shrubs and flowers completed the picturesque setting.

Finally, the third farm we visited has 60 dairy cows and 250 dairy goats. The farm was scenic and well-landscaped. It was clearly meant to be an educational destination, having many informational signs throughout. The well-stocked farm store had many cheeses and yogurts. It was a sunny day, with bicyclists riding by and windmills in the distance—a great vibe. See www.leenhof.be.

Farm Tour Take-Aways: Dairy Goat Management

The two farms with dairy goats shared several interesting management features. The goats are mostly Saanen and are bred for long lactations. They kid at one year of age and milk for 10 months. Then they kid again at two years of age and are not bred again. Some does milk for four years! The average milk production for these does throughout lactation is just over four liters.  That amount isn’t very impressive at peak lactation. However, considering this average includes several winters and extended lactations, it is good. The farmers do this because:

  • They don’t want too many kids—only enough to keep herd size stable.
  • Bucklings are not profitable, and kidding fewer does each year means they don’t have too many bucklings to sell at a loss.
  • Less kidding means fewer health issues. Pregnant does may get ketosis, mastitis, dystocia, or milk fever. Pregnancy, birth, and early lactation are very stressful. This system avoids that and saves a great deal of labor.
  • Nutrition can stay more stable because nutritional needs are leveled out.

Long, airy barns with skylights and a wide central alley provide housing for the goats. The outside walls hold automatic waterers. Goats also enjoy scratches from an automated, touch-activated rotating brush. Goats have ready access to the outdoors, but they get all the roughage they need inside the building. Pastures are just for fun! The goats have excellent body condition, as they have full access to palatable feed and only reasonable demands on their bodies.

Farm Tour Take-Aways: Healthy Animals Producing Delicious Food

This is a great system for their situation. They have limited land base, organic animals, and limited labor. The farmers return all the manure and bedding to the field. They keep nutrition consistent and the animals avoid parasites. The farmers stressed the importance of putting up the silage and haylage at the right time for optimal nutrition. In addition, the veterinarian emphasized that great nutrition and a good, clean environment are how these farmers maintain such healthy stock.

The farm tours really helped me get a feel for how this densely-populated country manages animals for maximum health. I also very much enjoyed the chance to experience life outside of the city. The picnic supper my Consortium friends and I shared that evening resulted from the farm visits: a good loaf of thinly-sliced whole-grain bread, three flavors of chevre, and nectarines. A perfect ending to an amazing experience in Belgium.

Final Ruminations

This was an excellent trip for learning, networking, and building bonds. It was exciting to spend time with important scientists and educators from all over the world. I am grateful to the ACSRPC, especially Dr. Joan Burke of USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center. She has seen the value of collaboration and has written grants that include funds for developing outreach to farmers. Her foresight and hard work means that in the U.S. we have educational resources to help farmers understand and manage the main health problem of small ruminants. I have had the privilege of sharing these resources with other farmers, and the sheep and goats on my own farm have benefited as well. I have been honored to be one of the educational partners in this work.

Additional Resources

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture’s website has an extensive collection of resources on sheep and goat production. To download publications on managing internal parasites, see the Sheep and Goat section. Visit the Podcasts section as well, to find episodes on small ruminant production.

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