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General health care of sheep and goats


There are many disease conditions for which sheep and goats may be vaccinated. All flocks and herds should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases, specifically enterotoxemia (type C and D) and tetanus. Other diseases that flock owners may consider vaccinating for are sore mouth, caseous lymphadentitis (CLA), abortions (e.g. vibrio, chlamidia), and rabies, but only if these disease conditions have been diagnosed (by necropsy) in a flock or where the risk is deemed high. Extreme care must be used when administering the sore mouth vaccine, as it is a live vaccine and soremouth (orf) is contagious (and painful) to humans.


Enterotoxemia is caused by the bacteria Clostridium perfringins, which is a normal inhabitant of the animal's gut, but can proliferate to toxic levels under certain circumstances. Type C, also called bloody scours or lamb dysentery, usually affects lambs and kids during the first few weeks of life. It is usually precipitated by an increase in feed, such as the start of creep feeding or increased milk availability due to loss of a littermate. Type D, more commonly called overeating disease (and also pulpy kidney disease), affects lambs and kids that are typically over one month of age. Overeating occurs with a sudden change in feed and is associated with high concentrate feeding.

Lambs/kids are usually found dead from enterotoxemia. They are most often the best growing lambs/kids in the flock/herd. Treatment (anti-serum and antibiotics) for enterotoxemia is usually unrewarding; however disease can usually be prevented by vaccination. Gradual changes in feed and inclusion of antibiotics in the creep feed will also help to prevent losses.

Tetanus, also known as "lockjaw" occurs when the bacteria causing it, Clostridium tetani, gains entry through an open wound or contaminated skin break and proliferates to toxic levels. The use of elastrator bands for docking and castration increases the risk of tetanus since it creates an anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) environment which the tetanus organism prefers. Animals affected with tetanus become rigid and stiff and experience muscle spasms. They usually die. Treatment (anti-serum, antibiotics, and supportive therapy) is usually unrewarding. Tetanus can be prevented by vaccination. Good hygiene will also help to prevent the bacteria from gaining entry.

Ewes and does should be vaccinated for enterotoxemia type C and D and tetanus (CD-T) approximately 30 days prior to arturition. This way, the lambs/kids will receive passive immunity through the colostrum (first milk). Lambs/kids should be vaccinated with CD-T (or type D) when they are approximately 6 weeks old. They should be given a second injection two to four weeks later.

If ewes/does were not vaccinated prior to lambing/kidding or their vaccination status is unknown, the tetanus anti-toxin should be administered to lambs/kids at the time of docking, castration, and/or disbudding. The anti-toxin provides immediate short-term immunity, whereas the toxoid provides long lasting protection, but requires 10 days to 2 weeks to impart immunity.

Lambs/kids from unvaccinated dams should be vaccinated for type D at three weeks of age, followed by a booster several weeks later. Club lambs/goats should be vaccinated twice for type D, if their vaccination status is unknown. The vaccine for enterotoxemia is not considered to be as effective in goats as sheep. Therefore, some veterinarians recommend vaccination every six months for goats.


Parasite Control

Sheep and goats are very susceptible to worms due to their close grazing behavior and slow-to-develop immunity. Goats are more susceptible than sheep when forced to graze (versus browse). All sheep and goats have worms. The parasites that cause the most damage to sheep and goats are stomach worms and coccidia. Stomach worms can cause substantial death loss in sheep and goats, if left unchecked. The barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is the stomach worm of primary concern. It is a microscopic, blood-sucking parasite that pierces the lining of the abomasum (the ruminant's "true" stomach) and causes blood and protein loss and anemia, as evidenced by pale mucous membranes (lower eye lid, gums, etc.) and/or "bottle jaw," an accumulation of fluid under the jaw.

The barber pole worm is difficult to control because it has a short, direct life cycle, is a prolific egg producer, and can go into a hypobiotic (hibernating) state, until environmental conditions are more favorable for its life cycle. The barber pole worm likes warm, moist conditions. The small brown stomach worm (Ostertagia circumctinca) is the stomach worm of secondary concern. It also burrows into the wall of the abomasum. Howver, unlike the barber pole worm, it causes digestive upset and scouring (diarrhea) in livestock.

Since the primary mode of transmission for stomach worms is grazing, pasture management is an important aspect of controlling internal parasites. Pasture control strategies include the use of clean or safe pastures, mixed species grazing (with horses, cattle - not goats), and pasture rotation.

Examples of clean pastures include those which have not been grazed by sheep or goats for six months or more, those which have been grazed by cattle or horses, fields in which a hay or silage crop has been removed, fields which have been rotated with row crops, and fields which have been newly planted or renovated. Pasture rotation will help to control parasites in small ruminants, but only if the pastures are rested sufficiently long - at least 70 days since the last sheep and/or goats were on the pasture. In extreme cases where pastures are so severely contaminated, zero grazing (confinement) will offer relief from stomach worms.


Anti-parasitic drugs, called "anthelmintics" should be used wisely and sparingly to control internal parasites in sheep and goats. Frequent use of anthelmintics will enable the worms to become resistant to the drugs. It is also costly and may lead to a false sense of security. Sheep and goats should be dewormed strategically. The most important time to consider deworming a sheep or goat is prior to (or at the time of) parturition. When a ewe/doe lactates, her immunity to parasites is compromised. She is also the primary source of infection to her newborn lambs/kids.

Deworming ewes/does prior to turning them out to spring pasture is also a good strategy because it helps to reduce the contamination of the pasture, as the worms resume their life cycle with the onset of good weather. Some veterinarians have advocated multiple anthelmintic treatments in the spring to control the "summer" explosion of worms that occurs in a normal rainfall year. Deworming the flock in the fall after the first frost is also a good strategy, since this is the time the worms will go into a hypobiotic state. Sheep and goats should be dewormed prior to moving to a clean pasture. Fecal egg counts may also be used to determine when the flock needs dewormed. Producers can learn to do their own fecal examinations, or they can take samples to a veterinarian or a state diagnostic laboratory.


Drug treatments should be targeted towards the animals that are the most susceptible to parasitism. These include lambs and kids, lactating ewes and does, and high-producing animals. Animals not showing symptoms of parasitism (e.g. anemia) may be left untreated. Animals which are more susceptible to parasites should be culled.

All sheep and goats have coccidia. Coccidia are single-cell protozoa that damage the lining of the small intestines. Since the small intestines is where nutrient absorption takes place, coccidiosis can permanently stunt lambs and kids. Coccidia are species-specific, meaning the coccidia species that affect sheep and goats are different from those that affect poultry and rabbits. Coccidia cause weight loss and ill health in lambs/kids and diarrhea, which may be streaked with blood or mucous. Affected lambs/kids may become weak and dehydrated and die. Whereas stomach worms are more of a problem with sheep and goats on pasture, coccidia are more of a problem in sheep and goats that are in confinement or under intensive grazing systems.

Outbreaks of coccidiosis are caused by poor sanitation, overcrowding (or overstocking), and stress. Consequently, coccidiosis can be controlled by good sanitation, clean water, not feeding on the ground, and not overstocking pens and pastures. Disease outbreaks can be prevented by administering Corid (Amprolium) in the water supply or by including a coccidiostat in the feed or mineral. Bovatec (lasalocid) and Deccox are both FDA-approved as coccidiostats for lambs. Rumensin (monensin) and Deccox are FDA-approved to prevent coccidiosis in goats. Outbreaks of coccidiosis can be treated with sulfa drugs and Corid. Severely affected lambs and goats will require supportive therapy (e.g. fluids).

Internal parasites of lesser concern are tapeworms and lungworms. Tapeworms, which are visible in the manure, are generally non-pathogenic, though they can cause weight loss and death in extreme cases. Tapeworms can be controlled by administering an anthelmintic from the benzimidazole family (e.g. Safeguard, Valbazan). Sheep and goats become infested with lungworms when they consume larvae from the pasture and the larvae travels to the respiratory system. The symptoms of lungworms are not easy to recognize, and only in extreme cases do lungworms cause severe respiratory distress. The same drugs which control stomach worms will also control lungworms.

Sheep and goats may also get external parasites. The sheep tick is called a "ked" and it can substantially decrease pelt value. Goats are more likely to get mange mites and lice. Sheep and goats with "snotty" noses may have nose bots, a parasite that gets into the nasal passages. These various "biting" parasites can be controlled by administering an anthelmintic from the Macrolytic Lactone family or Avermectin family (e.g. Ivomec, Moxidectin).


Giving Injections

There are three types of injections:

1) Intramuscular (IM) - in the muscle
2) Intravenous (IV) - in the vein
3) Subcutaneous - (SQ, Sub-Q) - under the skin

The leg and loin regions should be avoided when giving IM injections. IM injections can cause damage to the muscle tissue (meat). IM injections should be given in the heavy neck muscle near the back of the head. The needle should be inserted into the muscle with a quick thrust. Care should taken to make sure the needle is inserted in the muscle, not just under the skin. You should pull pack on the plunger to make sure they the needle has not been inserted into a blood vessel, as evidenced by blood appearing in the syringe. The medication should be slowly injected into the muscle.

SQ injections should be given behind the point of the shoulder, in the neck region, or on the side of the animal. A SQ injection is given by making a "tent' with the skin and injecting the solution under the fold of the skin, parallel with the muscle. The medicine should be slowly injected.. Sometimes IV injections are necessary to get medicine directly into the blood stream for a quick response. These are given in the jugular vein. Most producers rely on veterinarians for this type of injections.

For SQ injections, a ¾ or 1 inch needle should be used. A 1 inch needle is recommended for IM injections. For thin solutions, such as vaccines, an 18 or 20 gauge needle should be used. For thick solutions, such as penicillin, a 16 or 18 gauge needle may be used. Larger gauges may be necessary when drawing blood or fluid from an abscess.

Oral medication or a SQ injection is preferred to an IM injection and should be given, if allowed. Use the smallest gauge needle possible when giving injections.

A clean needle should be used (each time) when drawing medications or vaccines from a bottle. No more than 5 cc should be injected at any one site. You should not inject into a dirty or wet spot. Unhealthy animals should not be vaccinated. Each time you give an injection (or administer other animal health products), you should keep a record of it. Withdrawal times should be strictly adhered to.

Drenching (deworming)

Anti-parasitic drugs should always be administered to sheep and goats orally, even if a pour-on or injectable product is used. Single and multi-dose drench guns are available for administering oral medications to sheep and goats. You can restrain the animal by straddling it or standing beside it and placing your hand under its jaw. The syringe should be inserted into the corner of the animal's mouth and rested on its tongue. The plunger should be slowly pushed so that the medicine goes over the tongue. Once the animal has swallowed the syringe can be released. Care should be taken not to underdose animals. Weight should be obtained using a scale or tape measure to assure proper dosage. Underdosing leads to drug resistance.

Drug families should be rotated on an annual basis to slow the rate of drug resistance. There are three families of drugs which have been used to treat sheep and goats for internal parasites. They are the Benzimidazoles (white dewormers) - Fenbendazole (SafeGuard/Panacur), Albendazole (Valbazen), and Oxybendazole (Synanthic); the Nicotinics - Levamisole (Tramisol/Levasol), Pyrantel (Strongid), and Moratel (Rumatel); and the Macrolytic Lactones or Avermectins - Ivermectin (Ivomec), Doramectin (Dectomax), and Moxidectin (Cydectin/Quest). Only Fenbendazole and Rumatel are FDA-approved for use in goats. Ivomec drench, Valbazen, and Levamisol are approved for use in sheep.

Use of any animal health product which is inconsistent (species, route, or dosage) with its label constitutes "extra-label" drug use and requires a veterinary prescription and valid veterinarian-patient-client relationship. Exaggerated withdrawals should be used whenever administering a drug extra-label. It is important to note that many anthelmintics and other drugs are not approved for use in sheep and goats and require veterinary consultation.

Nutrition is one of the keys to healthy livestock

Nutrition is one of the keys to raising healthy livestock. Well-fed livestock are more resistant to diseases and parasites. Feed balanced rations and strive to have your ewes and does in a body condition score of 3+/5 at the time of breeding and lambing. Feed changes should always be made gradually, especially when increasing the amount of concentrate (grain) in the ration.

This article was written in 2003 by Susan Schoenian.

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