Many homesteaders know that goats bust the myth that they are pesty critters causing annoyance and trouble. However, while goats are endearing, loving, social creatures they can bring pests – pests both to you and them.
Ticks, lice, mites, and flies: each menace has the potential to wreak havoc on our goats’ health. Thankfully, goats are naturally clean animals, making them less susceptible to these external parasites than cattle and sheep.
Still, recognizing external parasites, knowing how to prevent them, and what to do if your goat does become infested, is an important part of goat husbandry. Let's look at common goat external parasites and what we can do about them.
What Are Goat External Parasites?
Parasites are organisms that feed off another organism (called a host) without providing any benefit to the host. Goats can have both external and internal parasites. Regardless of their location, these pathogens steal blood, nutrients, and vitality from their host causing scores of ailments from anemia to neurological trauma, even death.
Common external parasites vary across the country, but the most common include:
- Nasal Botflies
General Prevention and Treatment
It’s true that each of the above parasites must have a customized system of attack in order for treatment to be effective. However, prevention is quickly becoming more important as regulations in the last few years have made it very difficult to find external parasite chemical treatments for goats. Due to these circumstances, I would do the following.
If your goat is infested with an external parasite, check in with your vet for a proper diagnose and treatment.
If your vet is not knowledgeable about goats or you’re confident in your ability to diagnose the goat, go to Jeffers Pet Supply online. Click the drop-down box for goat and type in the parasite you want to treat.
If your goats are healthy or have a minor case of external parasites, then build-up their health with fresh forage, clean water, quality hay, and natural minerals like kelp and sulfur.
If I notice one of my goats have lice, ticks, mites, etc., I separate them and treat them with an all-natural product that works with their own immune system and allows me to continue giving their milk or meat to my family.
With that background, let’s look at the two best across-the-board prevention methods.
1. Rotational Grazing
Rotational grazing is both the best and the least mentioned prevention method. It disrupts the lifecycle of parasites and is what they do in the wild as they continually move around while searching for grazing.
In addition, goats on rotational grazing are much healthier without chemicals, pour-on or insecticides.
2. Balanced Numbers-to-space Ratio
There is nothing wrong with big numbers if the herd is given a large area to roam. On the other hand, 5 goats crammed in a small dirt pen are prime targets for nose bot flies and lice, as much as a herd of 100. No one – not even goats – can maintain healthy stress levels when crowded together for more than a few hours at a time.
Stay ahead of the parasite game by moving your goats and keeping them as happy and stress-free as possible.
Now let’s learn how to identify and treat each parasite.
Common Goat External Parasites
1. How To Identify Lice
Probably the most common external parasite is lice. Though visible to the human eye, you'll need a magnifying glass or microscope to identify the type of lice. Excessive hair loss, rubbing, scratching, or mangy, clumps of hair are the common symptoms of lice.
Lice are true Trojan horses; they find their way into a herd by hitchhiking on new arrivals. Quarantine all new goats or sheep for two months followed with a thorough examination before initiating them into the herd.
2. How To Treat Lice
– Shave The Hair
Yes, just like with people, any treatment will be much more effective if your goat's coat doesn't shield the lice. A sturdy pair of dog clippers should do the job.
Sulfer is both a natural preventative and treatment for lice. In her book Natural Goat Care, Pat Colby states that a goat fed adequate amounts of sulfur will not have lice. If lice is currently a problem, shave the goat and sprinkle her with sulfur every two to three days until the lice are gone.
– Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth or DE cuts soft-body organisms like lice. Be careful not to inhale it and rub it in thoroughly and generously. Repeat every two-three days until the lice are gone.
1. How To Identify Ticks
Here in the Midwest, ticks are a health threat to anything that is warm and pumps blood. Ticks carry several diseases that are serious to both goats and humans.
For those fortunate souls not familiar with ticks, these are somewhat oval pests smaller than a pencil eraser and in various shades of brown or grey.
Ticks climb onto the host when they need a blood meal to molt through their growth phases. On goats, ticks especially like to infest the underside of the legs, udder, ears, and horns or horn buds.
2. How To Treat Ticks
To remove ticks, fill a jar or container with 70% rubbing alcohol and grab a pair of tweezers. Carefully remove the ticks and place them in the rubbing alcohol. Treat any infected bites with lavender essential oil.
– Herbs and Minerals
Feed your goats sulfur, garlic, and copper sulfate to discourage ticks from sucking the blood (these products taste disgusting to ticks). You can also shave them to the skin and spay them with vinegar spray, diluted as two-part water and one-part vinegar.
– Chickens and Guineas
Backyard poultry, especially Guinea Fowl, are the best tick prevention I've ever known. I can tell exactly where they have been by the almost total absence of ticks. Plus it's an all-natural prevention method.
1. How To Identify Mites
Also known as mange, mites are tiny goat external parasites that feed on the skin or burrow into the skin. As they eat, a toxin is released that causes severe itching and a dull, matted coat. Ear mites are the most common mite species in goats, causing oozing, drainage from the ear canal.
2. How To Treat Mites
– Shave The Coat
As mentioned above for lice, shave the coat down to the skin so you can treat them better.
– Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil kills ear mites. Measure a tablespoon and inject into the infected ear with a syringe (with the needle removed).
– Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil in a spray bottle or applied directly to the affected area with a cotton ball works well.
1. How To Identify Nasal Botflies
Nasal botflies have a disturbing lifecycle. Adult flies lay their larvae in the nostrils which in turn climb into the nasal passages.
Symptoms don't show until this larvae almost reach the adult stage. Nasal drainage, excessive head shaking, and signs of distress such as teeth grating and loss of appetite are possible symptoms of bot fly infestation. If fully developed adult bot flies are in the nasal passage the goat will shake its head and snort into the ground.
2. How To Treat Nasal Botflies
Botflies are the one external parasite I would not use herbal treatment on. Natural remedies take too long and some suggest that common dewormers such as Ivomec do work. Consult a vet as the treatment would be different from deworming for internal goat parasites.
There are natural preventatives that help keep flies away. Among supporting good stock health, hang up fly strips in your goats' housing and encourage natural fly predators such as bats and wasps.
1. How to Identify Fleas
Yes, goats get fleas too just like one of your dogs or cats. Similar to our pet companions, fleas are tiny, flat, black or brown parasites well-known for their jumping abilities.
Also, a female flea can lay up to 25 eggs a day, so timely treatment is of the essence.
2. How to Treat Fleas
– Shave the coat
Fleas travel right next to the skin. Shaving the coat allows you to apply treatment right in the fleas' path.
– Natural Insecticide
– Clean The Barn
Fleas love to hide. All cloth goods, hay, and straw must be disposed of and crevices and crannies swept and cleaned to rid your goat's living area of fleas and their eggs.
We've seen how these nasties are pests to our goat friends, but they are to us as well. Not only do external parasites cause stress, but many of them are also transmittable to humans. Yuck!
What're more, external parasites lower our goats' immune system until they simply can't defend themselves any longer. Best case scenario the goats are miserable and their milk, meat, and fiber production fall. Worst case scenario…well, we don't want to talk about the worst case.
External parasites are a concern but good health will almost eliminate all of them. All efforts spent to maintain excellent herd health will be your best ally against a multitude of parasites.