Sheep and Goat Parasite Control

— Written By and last updated by Jessie Jones
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With the onset of spring weather, producers should be thinking about worm populations and control methods in their sheep flocks and goat herds. Haemonchus Contortus, or Barber’s pole worm, is an internal parasite that lives in the stomach of the animal. The Barber’s pole worm is a blood-sucking worm that can remove large quantities of blood, which results in anemia. Anemic animals are characterized by paleness of the gums and the linings of the eyelids. Sheep and goats infected with the Barber’s pole worm may become ill, have difficulty gaining weight well or is losing weight, become lethargic, and may have diarrhea – death is possible.

Adult Barber’s pole worms live in the stomach of the animal and lay eggs in large numbers that are then passed in the manure. The eggs develop into larvae and are ingested by sheep and goats. Once ingested, larvae go through a three-week development period to become an adult and produce eggs. At the start of the grazing season, with lush grass growing, grazing animals may pick up larvae. Larvae develop and survive best under warm, wet conditions. If conditions are hot and dry, larvae numbers will decline as they are killed due to heat. If conditions remain suitable for development, large numbers of larvae can accumulate on the pasture.

The Barber’s pole worm can cause economic and production loss to both sheep and goat producers. To avoid such losses, producers should have control programs in place to reduce the worm population. The most effective control programs require the use of dewormers as well as other management techniques such as grazing management and utilizing the FAMACHA system, which is a system used to detect anemia in sheep and goats.

Grazing Management

As the worm eggs are passed in the manure, it is wise to make smart decisions about grazing. Below are some recommendations to follow:

  • Grazing pastures with multi-species, like cattle or horses, can reduce parasite loads as these animals are not impacted by the Barber’s pole worm.
  • Plant tannin-rich forages. Tannin-rich forages, like Sericea Lespedeza, will provide some resistance to parasites.

Deworming and FAMACHA

Producers should be trained on how to use the FAMACHA system. The FAMACHA system compares a color chart to the inner lower-eye membrane of each goat or sheep. A white color indicates anemia from a high parasite load. Dewormer resistance is prevented and money is saved, because only the animals that really need treatment are receiving it. It’s always a good idea to weigh the goats or sheep, so you know how much dewormer to give them. Dewormers should always be given orally. The pour-on cattle deworming products, which is poured on the animal’s back, do not work on goats and sheep, because they have different hair follicles than cattle. It is important to work with a veterinarian when using dewormers. If you are interested in becoming FAMACHA certified, please contact your local Extension agent.

For more information, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website at North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.