Controlling parasites in sheep and goats is crucial to herd health but chemical-resistant parasites pose challenges.
Without a management plan, a producer can waste money on ineffective, expensive dewormers — and possibly lose animals. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers a free fecal egg count sampling, which is part of a sound management plan. The service, available through the division’s Parasitology Lab in Fayetteville, provides valuable information about an animal’s health. It is part of a spectrum of diagnostic services managed by the division's research section, the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.
Worm eggs are passed out of the animals in their manure. The eggs in the fecal material can be detected with a microscope and provide valuable information about the type and level of parasites present; the magnitude of the parasite burden, or how susceptible the animal is to infection; and dewormer effectiveness.
“Many times, we are unaware of how productivity and overall animal wellbeing are negatively impacted by parasite loads in our flocks,” Michael Looper, professor and head of animal science for the division, said.
“This no-cost service of fecal egg counts actually allows producers to know the worm load of individual animals. This informative tool will increase animal health and wellbeing, as well as increase profitability on the farm.”
Arkansas ranks 18th for meat goats in the U.S., and the number of sheep within the state has increased every year over the past decade, Looper said.
Eva M. Wray, a post-doctoral research associate for the experiment station and livestock parasitologist with the animal science department, provides producers with in-depth data on samples that are submitted and offers recommended treatment strategies and consultations.
“It really is an underutilized service that is somewhat unique to Arkansas producers, and I think more folks need to take advantage of it,” Wray said.
“The biggest problem in small ruminants is the barber pole worm and the resistance it displays to all dewormer classes,” Wray said. “This worm is a blood-eating nematode and can wreak havoc on operations.”
Sheep, goat and other small ruminants infected with the barber pole worm are susceptible to low reproduction rates, low weaning weights, low sale weights, and heavy lamb/adult death rates.
“Cattle do not have the worm problem that sheep and goats face, but producers are likely losing money due to the failure of dewormers they are using,” Wray said. “For cattlemen, it is typically more about saving money by implementing targeted, selective treatments, and eliminating unnecessary, ineffective treatments.”
There are many types of parasites that can affect animal health, and most parasitisms are subclinical in nature, meaning the producer cannot visually see the extent of the damage done to the animal.
“If a producer is not routinely surveilling the parasite burdens, they have no idea of the money being lost,” she said.
In addition to the fecal egg counting service, Wray and agricultural agents with the Cooperative Extension Service conduct small ruminant workshops around the state to teach Arkansas producers how to detect and control livestock parasites.
The next workshop will be June 4 in Marianna at the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station, starting at 9:30 a.m. and will include Lee, St. Francis, Cross, Crittenden, Monroe, Phillips and Prairie Counties. Anyone interested in attending can RSVP by contacting Eva Wray or their county agent.
Anyone interested in using the fecal egg count service can contact Wray, (479) 575-4855 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or your county agent. They can provide detailed instructions for collecting, storing, and shipping samples to the University of Arkansas Parasitology Lab in Fayetteville.
“The main issue with sending samples is that the producer must send the samples via overnight UPS or FedEx, so shipping can get costly,“ she said, “but my opinion, the information that they gain far outweighs the shipping cost.”
The service is provided at no charge to Arkansas residents as part of the division’s mission to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.
Side view showing Dorper sheep comformation.
Lauren Husband, U of A System Division of Agriculture