A 10-acre sweep of pasture for our goats to graze in — what could be wrong with this picture? We can just fence it and let our Kinders graze, right? When we moved onto our property in the warm, humid Southeast (a temperate rainforest) in 2013, we found that it’s not that simple.
Turns out, that’s not a good long-term plan. Goats actually prefer 60% browse from shrubs and trees. (They eat fallen leaves like potato chips.) We needed trees and bushes and bramble canes to satisfy our goats’ nutritional needs and preferences. After browse, they’d like to eat about 20% “weeds” and 20% grass. They benefit from herbs, brassicas, legumes and (nontoxic) weeds in their pasture. Our picturesque old cattle pasture does not look at all like the smorgasbord they are after.
Not only do we need to add variety to our sea of grass for nutritional reasons, we also need to manage the hazard of letting our Kinders graze in a climate that sees rainy springs and moderate-to-high annual rainfall. Wet grass in warm weather is the perfect environment for parasites that can afflict and even kill our goats. The worst culprit is the Barber Pole worm (Haemonchus contortus), a parasitic nematode that sucks blood out of the gastrointestinal track. The longer goats graze a particular section of pasture, the heavier the parasite load in that pasture becomes, until parasites become a serious management problem.
Here are the factors that contribute to parasite woes:
- Warm, wet weather
- Grass that’s less than four or five inches tall in favorite grazing spots (Larvae wiggle up wet blades of grass.)
- Too many goats concentrated in a space
- Goats left to graze in one area too long
- Parasite resistance to dewormers
Fortunately, there are ways to combat the parasites that dramatically reduce the need for chemical dewormers, and one of these is pasture management. If an area is small, one solution is to eliminate pasture altogether, keep goats in a dry lot, and bring them their food (hay and Chaffhaye, cut branches, garden crops raised for goats, grain mixtures formulated for goats, minerals). Make sure they don’t eat off the ground.
A key practice, if goats will be grazing, is to avoid overstocking. If your goal is a self-sustaining system, you’ll do better to keep only the number of goats you can feed from a parcel of land. The more crowded your goats are, the more trouble you will have with parasites, and the more you’ll have to buy to feed them.
Implementing rotational grazing helps immensely to combat parasite loads. You do not want your Kinders always grazing under their favorite maple or apple tree over in the south corner of the pasture, until the grass is only three or four inches tall there. Ideally you would have them grazing an area for just 4–5 days, but that’s hard to pull off. More practically speaking that time might extend to 2–3 weeks. You want them to move them along before most parasites have time to complete their life cycle. (The life cycle of the Barber Pole worm is 21–25 days. A larva deposited in pasture hatches in about 5 days.) And you want to move your goats before they eat all of their favorite things out of a pasture, leaving only the less desirable plants to grow in their place.
Once you’ve moved your goats to a new grazing area, you want to “clean” the pasture they have grazed. You have two allies on your side: time and other species that can consumer parasites without incurring harm. A pasture could sit for a year and still have some viable parasites, but not nearly as many as it had initially. Keeping goats off an area for 6–8 weeks helps considerably.
Utilizing Other Species
Chickens run with goats or after them will break up goat pellets, exposing eggs to the sun, and will consume some of the parasites. Our goats and chickens already hang out together. They aren’t susceptible to the same strains of Coccidia, though they are both susceptible to Cryptosporidiosis, which can be a problem for both chicks and kids. We’ll take the risk for the benefit. Our chickens sleep in a separate space, and we have a fun time devising ways to keep them out of the hay feeders, which apparently look more inviting to them than their nesting boxes do. The two species like being together.
Horses or other equine grazing an area after the goats do will eat larvae with the grass. Horses are not hosts for goat parasites, so they are essentially “cleaning up” after the goats, and vice versa.
Haying after goats leave an area helps, too, as the haying process mops up and kills most of the parasites. The short grass post-haying also exposes parasite larvae and eggs to hotter, drier conditions that can kill them. Haying, though, also pulls a lot of minerals and nutrients off the land—there’s that to consider. (We are faced with the task and expense of re-mineralizing after our own land was hayed for years.) We cut our pastures twice a season, for two reasons. First, our goats avoid very tall grass—they’ll stay in the barn and eat pricey hay instead. Also, by cutting our pasture, we are controlling horse nettle, a toxic plant. But we let the grass lie where it falls.
With parasite management in mind, we are planning a rotational grazing system with enough small paddocks that we can keep goats grazing in a single paddock for 2 weeks and then move them along, not to return to that paddock for 2–3 months.
Planning a System
We’re fencing a large section of our pasture with RedBrand sheep and goat fence. (Coyotes visit occasionally, and we don’t trust electric fences to be infallible.) We will initially rotate goats within that large section of pasture using movable electric fencing, but we will gradually make permanent paddocks. If we were still young and energetic and had lots of time, moving electric fence might be an ongoing option. But we are time-challenged and getting older, and we want to be goat keeping when we are 80. We are building infrastructure now while we can to make things easy for ourselves down the road.
Enhancing Browse and Pasture Species
We will create “fence pockets” along paddock fences and within paddocks using goat panels attached to posts at either end with carabiner clips. That’s where we will establish our brambles, shrubs and trees for goat browse. We will develop pastures that offer not only grass, but rye, turnips, chicory in cool seasons, and cowpeas, sorghum, soybeans in warm seasons. Sericea lespedeza and Birdsfoot trefoil (like chicory) are legumes that reduce parasite loads, but they are harder to establish, so we’ll consider small plots of those.
Cultivating Parasite-Resistant Goats, Not Resistant Parasites
Once a new pasture is fenced and ready, the temptation might be to worm everybody one last time and then move your Kinders onto clean pasture. Again, that turns out to be a bad idea. The only surviving parasites would be those resistant to the dewormer you used. You would be introducing only “Super Worm” breeding stock into your new goat pasture. You are better off deworming only those goats that have a parasite problem so that parasites that have developed resistance breed with those that haven’t. Your herd will probably carry a few parasites; the load needs to remain light.
Feeding your goats to keep them in good body condition, especially pregnant and lactating does, is vital to controlling parasite loads. The more kids a doe has, the more nutritional support she will require. A depleted goat is far more susceptible to parasites than a well-nourished one. Protein in the diet helps heal tissues damaged by parasites, and adequate copper and zinc help your Kinders to fight off parasites. Cottonseed meal as a supplement is also effective in reducing parasite loads by half or more.
If you have a goat that you are having to treat regularly for heavy parasite loads despite optimal nutrition (including adequate copper and zinc), that goat is simply more susceptible, and you should consider the option of culling that individual from your herd. Tracking fecals and using the FAMACHA method of assessing parasite loads, you’ll likely find that your herd reflects the general rule—20% to 33% of the goats have 80% of the parasite problems. You can, through culling, develop a herd that is reasonably parasite-resistant, so that good management practices such as good nutrition and pasture rotation minimize parasite issues.
To sum up, as parasites of one kind and another become resistant to one dewormer after another, your best defense for your beloved Kinder herd will not come in a bottle. Your battle plan will be threefold: (1) maximizing your herd’s health and resilience through good nutrition, (2) reducing pasture parasite loads through optimal grazing management, (3) culling selectively, if individual goats need treatment again and again. Here’s to your happy and healthy herd!
By Elizabeth Sweet
Recommended for Further Reading:
- “How to Grow Worms (Or Not),” by Steve Hart (http://www.wormx. info/growworms)
- “Goat Pasture and Browse: A Permaculture Approach to Raising Healthy, Productive Goats,” by Chris Ostrander (Google author and title for PDF download.)
- “Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Pasture Management,” by Linda Coffey and Margo Hale for ATTRA. (Google author and title for PDF download.)
- “Management of Barber Pole Worm in Sheep and Goats in the Southern U.S.,” by Joan Burke (https://attra. ncat.org/downloads/goat_barber_ pole.pdf)
- “Barber Pole Worm War,” by Jonathan Dohonich, DVM
- (http://www.rosehillvet.com/print_ version.php?articleid=68)