Advice Could Help Sheep and Goat Farmers Block Parasites

Farmers can reduce the impact of internal parasites in sheep and goats by adopting time-tested IPM strategies. With these techniques, agriculturalists could take advantage of valuable New England pastureland to feed their animals and grow their industry.

These findings come in a report by the New England Small Ruminant IPM Working Group, directed by Jennifer Hashley of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts University, Rosario Delgado-Lecaroz of County Veterinarian Services, and Samuel W. Anderson of New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. The working group, supported by the Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center, consists of 10 members, among them sheep and goat farmers, farm service providers, scientists, extension experts, veterinarians, and non-profit organization members.

The working group has studied the use of integrated pest management (IPM) practices with small ruminant farmers. They accomplished the following objectives during the grant period, for the year ending in May 2013:

  • Surveyed 165 sheep and goat farmers to assess the most pressing animal health challenges facing small ruminant producers and determined that the top five challenges reported by the farmers were, in order: 1) internal parasites, 2) foot rot/scald, 3) mastitis, 4) external parasites, and 5) predation.
  • Reached over 100 stakeholders, providing IPM strategies and resources
  • Shared IPM strategies that are low cost and reduce long term production losses

Based on the survey results, the working group found that while many producers have adopted FAMACHA, a diagnostic tool to help farmers identify parasite infection in small ruminants, other important IPM strategies for internal parasite management, such as fecal egg counts and selecting for parasite-resistant animals, have not yet been widely adopted. If these practices are adopted by a greater number of small ruminant farmers, there would almost certainly be a decrease in the number and severity of present challenges.

Another issue faced by small ruminant farmers is whether or not the animals should be allowed to graze in the field. The authors of the report wrote:

“A common phrase uttered by New England veterinarians is: ‘If you don’t want to deal with internal parasites, don’t raise your sheep or goats on pasture,’ and as the survey confirms, some New England farmers are doing just that, either reducing the time their animals spend on pasture or moving completely away from pasture to a drylot system in order to avoid H. contortus. While eliminating pasture does eliminate the spread of H. contortus, these systems require feed to be brought to the animals, which in New England nearly always means that the feed must be brought in from elsewhere. Yet New England has a great deal of land that is not tillable but is uniquely suited for pasture. Making use of this land, rather than growing and transporting feed, greatly reduces the environmental impact of raising sheep or goats; and in many cases, pasture production would be far less feasible without the use of IPM strategies to manage H. contortus.”

Through this work, the members of the New England Small Ruminant Working Group have helped extension educators and other stakeholders better understand the needs of farmers. Additionally, the information shared by the group has increased the knowledge of farmers in regard to useful IPM practices and possible solutions to issues regarding pasturing their animals. The Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center appreciates the group’s past and continued impacts in implementing IPM practices and improving the overall health of the small ruminants and the financial health of small ruminant farmers.

Read the full project summary and report.