Spring may not be here, but the stomach worms are, and they are in record numbers! We typically start thinking of doing the Spring deworming when the days start to get longer and warmer and the grass starts to get green. This year I am urging you to rethink this strategy. We here at Louisa Veterinary Service, Inc. have been seeing record numbers of animals die from internal parasitism in the past few months. Certainly, the record rainfall and the random 60-degree days have helped make this possible. Most of the animals that have died have been young (3 months-3 years). Goats typically are the most notorious for having stomach worms, but this year it has been cattle, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, and pigs.
The stomach worms invade the glandular stomach and small intestines and feed on blood, which makes the host animal anemic. Also, this invasion disrupts the animal’s ability to absorb protein, which then makes the animal leak fluid from their vessels. How many of you have heard of bottle jaw? Yep, that’s the fluid I’m talking about here. In severe cases the animal’s entire face can become swollen. You’ll also notice very pale or nearly white eyelids and/or gums.
It’s important to remember most of these species are predatory animals, so they are NOT going to show you weakness until they literally start to stumble or become unable to walk. As you can imagine, when an animal gets in this anemic, thin state their immune systems are compromised and they are very, very difficult to recover. Dewormer is not a miracle drug, unless it is used at the appropriate time.
What can I do about this you say??? You can start by simply going outside after reading this blog and just putting your hands on some of your animals. Evaluate their body condition by feeling them or weighing them and look at their eyelids and evaluate how pink they are. Actually, reach down in that wet coat of hair and touch them and push on their eye ball so you can get a good look at the third eyelid. Another thing you can do is just to walk around you pasture and look at some poop. Sounds crazy, but it’s very important to see if the manure is formed and consistent. You can also look at your records and see if you have heavily pregnant animals in the group…the worms really love them!!!
I’m not trying to scare you with this blog. Life gets super busy, believe me I know, and it’s my job as a veterinarian encourage you to practice preventative health care. Usually I do an article like this in late March or early April, but this year we need to be thinking about this now! So, put on the tall muck boots and head out to the pasture to do some evaluating. We’re happy to run some fecal samples if you are unsure if you have a problem. You cattle peeps who are waiting for your Spring herd work to deworm may want to reconsider if you have any weaned calves or replacement heifers. You can always deworm ahead of our visit if you need be.
Once you get a handle on your parasite situation, remember your work is not done until the cycle is broken so you may have to go through this whole exercise again in one month. Please let us know if we can help you by doing fecal exams, discussing which products to use, or advising on how to manage your herd or flock to stay ahead of the worms.
This is not a year where you can just do what you’ve always done. Being a good manager requires changing strategies according to the circumstances your business is dealing with. I know the rain and mud are depressing, but your animals need you to be motivated and invested in them now more than ever!