Internal parasites need a host—your goat—to survive.
Parasites affect the animal’s health and ultimately the volume of milk or meat produced. Severe infestations can even often causes death.
Dewormers have been the go-to control, but resistance is increasing. And no new drugs are currently being developed.
But you can use integrated pest management practices, and specifically rotational grazing, to control parasites in your tribe.
“Rotating animals allows us to remove the parasite’s food supply, and depending on the conditions either starve them or let nature take its course and dry them out so that they cannot survive,” says Jason Detzel, the livestock educator Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County in New York.
Planning is critical for rotational grazing to be effective. Start by talking with an extension agent or the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for local guidance. Flexibility is also crucial.
“Rotational grazing requires flexibility. And depending on the conditions you may need to move earlier or later than you originally calculated,” Detzel explains.
The basic rule of thumb for rotational grazing is to allow animals to eat half the grass. Then you leave half the grass in one area for no more than four days.
Create a paddock that is large enough to allow the goats to eat, poop on, knock down or sleep on while achieving the 50/50 balance.
Based on pasture size and stocking density, rotation may need to happen in less than four days. Detzel suggests always having a new paddock set up and ready to go before it’s time to relocate animals. This is in case they need to move earlier than planned.
Developing a “grazer’s” eye takes time and data.
Keep records noting grazed pastures and when they were last grazed. This helps plan a rotation schedule and provides insight into how long each section lasts before needing rest.
“It is not a question of how often you need to rotate but how long you can let your pastures rest,” Detzel said.
“Time is your friend when trying to lower or eliminate parasites. The longer you can let that pasture rest after each use, the better chance you will have at decreasing their numbers.”
Spread out the Impact
Animals will cluster close to hay and water. Placing food and troughs in the same place concentrates manure and valuable nutrients, creating an imbalance.
“Work on making your operation as flexible as possible in order to spread out all that valuable impact and manure,” Detzel said.
“Nature craves a disturbance. It just needs enough rest to incorporate the impact into something productive.”
Goats don’t like eating grasses. As browsers, they prefer leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots, shrubs all types of weeds, including poison ivy.
Think of them as a clean-up crew and give them access to an area recently grazed cattle, sheep or horses prefer who prefer the tender grass.
Plus, parasites are host specific. The two most problematic parasites in goats and sheep are the barber pole worm and deer worm. But these organisms do not infect cattle or horses.
You may break the parasite’s life cycle using a leader-follower system: one species is grazed, the pasture is rested and then another type of stock is provided access to the same land.
Not a Cure-All
Rotations will not magically cure all parasite problems. This strategy is part of the solution, but not a magic bullet.
“Besides rotating, you still need to see and interact with your animals every day, you need complete FAMACHA scores and fecal samples, and you need to be a good steward to your land and animals,” Detzel said.
Only time and experience can really teach you how to understand, adjust and be successful in rotating animals. Like most skills in farming, rotational grazing has an art and philosophy that isn’t learned overnight.
But Detzel encourages farmers to give it a try.
“Make a plan, get to work, talk to other folks who are rotating or contact your local extension office, and start making the mistakes that make you an expert,” he said.