I recently had a request for info on my deworming regimen.  I’m not sure if the questioner wanted a simple brand name, or the whole scoop, so I’ll describe the whole deal for anyone not familiar with it.  I was hoping to take photos of the process, but won’t have time for at least another week, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Since we got into goats, we have been using a pre-mixed herbal powder that can be purchased from Hoegger’s Caprine Supply.  I buy several pounds at a time.  After a good bit of research on the different types available, I began running into many people who had used herbals for some time, and compared the stories.  Other brands and home-made versions always seemed to wind up requiring at least an annual dose of chemicals to combat anything not taken care of by the herbs.  With the Hoegger brand, however, when used correctly,  I encountered story after story of success.  The final straw was when I saw a long-time goat-keeper’s herd, and they were absolutely gorgeous, fit, and healthy.  I asked what she used, and it was the Hoegger’s dewormer.  She explained that they periodically did fecal samples just for the info, and the fecal checks always came back clean.  A year prior, conditions had allowed many of the goats in the area to become severely afflicted with Barber Pole Worm, as well as standard intestinal worms.  Several goats had died from the infestations.  This goat-keeper submitted their fecals to check on their herd’s status, and the vet called and said, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep it up!  This is the first clean sample we’ve seen this summer!”  Thus, I was sold on the brand.

The key with herbals is that you MUST give it on a regularly scheduled, weekly basis.  After experimenting with giving it–I tried sprinkling it on peanut-butter and bread, letting the goats just eat it plain, sprinkling it over their grain, mixing it in something and drenching the goat with it–I was irritated since it was so difficult and time consuming.  Then, a friend suggested molasses balls.  I tried it, and it worked!

About once every 3 months, I mix up a big batch of herbs into molasses.  You need about 3/4 cup molasses for every cup of herb powder, though it’s no exact science.  Too much molasses will be sticky; too little will be crumbly and more bitter tasting.  You just want it to nicely form into balls that aren’t too sticky.  I always measure my powder, because it allows me to calculate roughly how many teaspoon-sized balls I should get out of the mix.  I try to measure out enough for about 8-12 weeks.  After I mix and form the balls, measuring each out by simply using a teaspoon measuring spoon as my scoop, I roll each ball into a bit of flour, and set it on a cookie sheet.  After the sheet is full, I put it in the freezer and freeze the balls.  Once frozen, I put them all into a clearly labeled ziploc bag, and store them in the freezer.  Otherwise, they tend to get gooey and form into one big ball–especially if I accidentally use too much molasses (ask me how I know!).  Using the flour and freezer method really doesn’t add much more time, and it leaves a larger margin for error in the event of too much molasses.  BE SURE TO LABEL the bag!!  They look just like little kid-sized chocolatey treats, and are surprisingly tempting!!  Since they are just herbs, I doubt it would harm anyone, but I’m not sure a molasses-herb ball would taste all that great if you are expecting chocolate!

Every week, on the same day, I take one teaspoon-sized ball out of the freezer for each goat, and either hand feed, or drop the ball into their grain dish at milking time.  Either way, every goat I have offered these balls to (mine and visitors alike) has loved them!  I did have one new goat that was sick when she arrived, and she turned her nose up at the ball.  I simply rolled the ball in sunflower seeds, and then she took it right away.  I continue this one-ball-a-week regimen for most of the year, with 2 exceptions:

One exception is during the 3rd month of pregnancy.  I have heard mixed reviews on potential risks of the herbs during pregnancy, so based on my limited research, I decided to stop giving it after the third month.  This is typically the late winter months anyway, reducing the risks of parasites significantly.  Then, after kidding, I wait about a week and give the 3-day (6 ball) regimen listed above.  I don’t really have data for that decision to wait a week; it’s just a preference of mine to avoid changing anything I don’t have to for one week after kidding, in order to give their bodies time to overcome all the stresses involved in kidding and freshening.  I wait 7 days (after the last ball) and do the 3-day-regimen again, which covers the 7-10 day window of the parasitic development stages.  After the second round, they go back to the once a week regimen until the next breeding season.  Last year, I only gave one round after kidding, but after further research, I did the two rounds this year, and the does seemed to bounce back faster.  After the 2 month break, and with the stress of kidding and lactating, they are more vulnerable at this point than other times, so I think that the extra dose really helps them out.

The second exception is on an as-needed basis in early fall, as we approach breeding season.  I am trying to make a habit of of doing annual fecal samples of all our goats, and if the sample shows positive for parasites, then they would get another 3-day-dose.  If the samples are negative, then we will just continue with the once a week regimen.  I prefer end of summer, as it will give me an idea how the goats have faired through any extra wet or drought conditions, all of which can affect parasite loads differently.  The timing also gives me an opportunity to ensure the goats overall health is up to par as we go into breeding season.

I start giving the dewormer balls when kids are about 8 weeks old, assuming they are on mother’s milk and healthy.  They don’t really know how to eat it earlier than that.  If they were fed milk replacer or otherwise off in health, I would drench it earlier.  As kids up to around 60 lbs., I break the ball in half, so they only get 1/2 tsp.  Even my April-born kids have hit that weight just before fall so far, and then go on the full-size balls.  When I had my mature buck (around 200 lbs.), I made a few extra large (1.5 tsp. sized) balls for him, but he was on the same time schedule as the does.  Since a buck wouldn’t need the break for pregnancy followed by the double 3-day regimen, he would stay on the once-a-week dose until the fall, and then get the 3-day regimen along with girls if needed based on fecals.  Also, if I purchase a new adult goat, it gets one to two rounds of the three-day regimen, based on overall health, then it will simply fall in line with the rest of the goats and their regimen.

Finally, any dewormer–whether it be herbal or chemical–is only as effective as the goat is healthy.  If you deworm your goat, and they seem to have worms again a short time later, then there is a nutritional imbalance that is not allowing their natural pest-resistance features to work.  As long as the goat is healthy, if I see a few signs of worms here or there, it really doesn’t concern me too much.  That’s how goats in the wild survive.  As long as the goat is looking fit and healthy, has some meat on it’s bones, isn’t “pot-bellied” (classic sign of severe worm infestation), and has normal “goat-berry” poop, then I just stick with the usual once-a-week ball.  Their health will prevent a true infestation.  In the past, when I have purchased a goat whose health is not up to par, I deworm them using the double round of the 3-day regimen, but I also work on getting their nutrition where it needs to be so they can control pests naturally.  I had one goat that fell a bit ill, and I saw some signs of tapeworm I just couldn’t seem to get rid of with the herbal dewormer alone.  I looked for signs of what she might be deficient in, and decided she had a few early signs of copper deficiency.  A goat with proper amounts of copper in its system easily repels worms, as the worms HATE copper!  So, I dosed her with a 1% copper solution for about a week.  On the 3rd day, there was the most disgusting mass-exodus of tapeworms out of her gut!  Just wads of them on her poop! She never had a re-ocurrence while I owned her.  The goat’s fur can be the easiest way to see if there is a deficiency of some sort.  Coarse, dirty, rough fur is the first sign.  Black fur that has a copper- or bronze-colored tint to it is another sign.  “Fish tail,” where the goat is missing fur on the very tip of its tail or a curl on the end of the hair shafts of the body fur are also early signs.  “Ring-barking” of trees in the paddock is a sign that deficiencies may be getting more serious.  (Disclaimer:  Copper sulfate can be deadly if used improperly.  I like to see multiple signs of deficiency before treating for it!)  Get their health and nutrition right first, and a deworming acts as a side-kick.  That should be what a dewormer is, rather than a “fix-it” when there is a problem–because it isn’t.  Although it certainly provides an early and immediate boost if the animal is off and should certainly be given to a sickly animal, a dewormer will only be a short-term solution if the goat’s health isn’t up to par!  For more information on overall goat health, see this post.

As a side note, we recently finished our annual testing.  We did our first fecals, all of which came back completely negative.  I specifically asked if “negative” meant “nothing” or if it meant “less than a certain count,” and was told they found absolutely no signs of parasites at all.  Curious, I asked if that was common for this area, seeing as how we have been in a drought for a year, and droughts can cause some parasites to go dormant.  The response was “NO! A negative fecal is highly unusual!”  In addition, this year, we also decided to test our girls for CAE, CL, Johnes, Q-Fever, and Toxoplasmosis, as recommended for goats in this area, and goats that will be traveling.  It also makes me feel better about my overall herd health and about the safety of serving the milk to my family and visitors, as some of these diseases are spread goat-to-goat through the milk, others through direct contact, and some are contagious to humans.  Granted, all these tests are just a “snapshot” of their health at that moment, but it is nice to see that what we are doing seems to be working.

Now, as we head into this breeding season, I am feeling really good about the health of my girls, and combined with their genetics, which we have carefully selected, I’m also feeling good about using them as our foundation herd back at the farm.