FAMACHA can help address internal parasite challenges

The perennial problem of pasture dwelling parasites in grazing sheep and goats is a significant obstacle during the summer months that can transform otherwise healthy animals into sickly patients in a short amount of time.


July, August and September are traditionally months of heavy Haemonchus contortus (also called the barber’s pole worm) infections for sheep and goats in Ohio. To deal with the problem of these internal parasites, many sheep and goat producers around the state are learning the benefits of the FAMACHA system.


The FAMACHA system is an eyelid scorecard that can help a farmer make a decision to treat or not to treat the animal with a chemical dewormer that is important for minimizing parasite resistance to chemical dewormers. It was developed in South Africa.


“The FAMACHA system is not a cure-all, or a silver bullet for dealing with internal parasites. It is one tool that can be a part of an overall parasite control strategy. In order for this tool to be effective it must be used correctly,” said Rory Lewandowski, Ohio State University Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA. “To begin with, the FAMACHA scoring system is only useful when dealing with the Haemonchus contortus parasite. The Haemonchus contortus is the parasite of greatest concern to pasture based sheep and goat production, so FAMACHA matches up with this concern. The Haemonchus contortus parasite is a blood sucking parasite and heavy infestations result in anemia. The symptoms of anemia show up in the color of the membrane of the eye. In the FAMACHA system that eyelid color is matched up with a scorecard that ranks color on a 1 to 5 scale. A dark red eyelid membrane color is a 1 and indicates no significant anemia. A white color is a 5 and indicates severe anemia. The light red, pink and pinkish white colors in between indicated by scores 2 through 4 indicate increasing levels of anemia that generally correspond to the parasite burden the animal is carrying.”


This FAMACHA system can be used to help make strategic decisions about selectively deworming animals on the farm. The specifics of the treatment depend upon the specifics of the animal in question, though there are some general rules with FAMACHA.


“In general, if an animal scores a 3, 4 or 5, it is treated with a chemical de-wormer. Selective deworming is important to minimize parasite resistance to chemical dewormers,” Lewandowski said. “FAMACHA should not be used to make a decision to either treat or not treat the entire flock/herd.”


The FAMACHA system is labor intensive because each animal must be handled and scored and its success depends on regular use of every seven to 10 days during the summer months.


“Due to their smaller blood volumes, lambs and kids with heavy infections can go from apparently healthy to death’s doorstep in 10 to 14 days. This means that animals should be FAMACHA scored every 7 to 10 days during this period,” Lewandowski said. “I know that because of lack of handling facilities, or because of where animals are located in a pasture rotation system, it becomes problematic to score every animal every 7 to 10 days. I hear livestock owners say that they grabbed a couple of animals out on pasture and looked at their eyes. This quick spot check of a couple of animals is used to determine the parasite burden of the flock or herd. This is not a correct use of the FAMACHA system and is not likely to provide accurate information.”


FAMACHA is part of an overall system of parasite management strategy that takes into account the biology and lifecycle of the parasite.


“As a tool, FAMACHA can tell you when a parasite infection problem is developing, and which animals should be treated and which animals do not need to be treated,” Lewandowski said. “It can be a tool to slow down parasite resistance to chemical dewormers. It is a tool that is most effective when used within an overall parasite control strategy.”


A workshop to teach sheep and goat farmers how to quickly and easily identify which animals to treat for a damaging internal parasite will be offered June 28 by livestock experts with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.


The course will focus on how to use the FAMACHA diagnostic system to identify sheep and goats infected with the Haemonchus contortus parasite.


“It’s a valuable tool because this parasite is the most damaging internal parasite for sheep and goats and needs to be effectively and efficiently controlled,” said Clif Little, an OSU Extension educator. “I think more producers should be using it because it’s a great technique and just makes perfect sense for both small and larger operations.”


The workshop runs 6-9 p.m. at the Eastern Agricultural Research Station at 16870 Bond Ridge Road, Caldwell. The station is part of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).


Participants will receive information on how to use the FAMACHA tool, a FAMACHA scorecard and a certificate of completion at the end of the course.


Registration is $20 per person or farm and is limited to the first 20 participants or farms. For more information, contact Little at 740-732-5681 or little.16@osu.edu. A registration form can be found at http://go.osu.edu/famacha.




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