Your goat kids have successfully arrived and are being raised by mom and growing great – what could possibly go wrong? A parasite, a single celled protozoa called Coccidia, can infect your beautiful little babies and in many cases can kill very quickly. The first year that I raised goat kids, I really didn’t think it was a huge problem. But then one of my larger thriving kids started having very bad diarrhea and it soon spread to all my other kids. Coccidiosis infection had arrived at my small farm and I fought a battle with it for about 3 weeks. I did not lose any kids, but many people do. I decided to do whatever it took to try to prevent infection by this nasty parasite from then on.
Goats and Coccidiosis – what is it?
If you do a Google search for Coccidiosis or Coccidia, what you will find may scare you. Words such as “deadly scourge” and “severe dehydration and death” are scary to animal owners. A Coccidia is a single celled parasite that can be found in all goats. It actually can be found in most mammals and birds, with each having their own parasite species. Having Coccidia in the lining of the goat’s stomach does not mean that they are suffering from the Coccidiosis disease, it is only when the numbers of this parasite are greater than the goat can handle. A healthy mature goat will not be affected by small numbers of parasites, but a young kid can easily have their system be overwhelmed and quickly die.
The life cycle of Coccidia is very complicated but will not fully manifest itself to disease until about 14 days. That is why kids under 2 weeks will not be infected. Eggs from one goat are passed out with the feces and are ingested by another goat. Before being ingested the eggs require an incubation time outside of the goat that requires oxygen and moist heat. Once ingested, they grow in the lining of the goat’s stomach and multiply. Infection usually shows symptoms of extreme diarrhea, listlessness, lack of eating, tenderness in the abdomen, and hunched back.
Prevention of Coccidiosis through cleanliness
Management of disease by way of prevention is always best. In the case of Coccidiosis, if we look at the way it is spread, we can gain some lessons on cleanliness. Goat kids are just like human toddlers – they will put just about anything into their mouths. Look around your barn and just imagine what they will be putting into their mouths or chewing on. Before kids arrive, I have the barns cleaned all out, get as much air and sunlight in as possible and keep it very dry. Remember that the eggs need warm moist air to incubate so you need to keep everything as dry as possible. This reason alone is why many people choose to have their kids born during months that the temperatures are below freezing.
Don’t allow your goats to be fed near or on the ground and don’t keep any feeders where kids can jump into them. Remove and clean anything that may have been stepped in to reduce the spread of eggs in the feces. Remember – clean, dry and out of reach!
Prevention of Coccidiosis through supplements
Once infected the only conventional medicine that can effectively treat and kill the coccidia, is sulfa drugs (not a dewormer). Sometimes they are hard to find locally (ask me how I know!) and they are nasty tasting and smelling. Most Sulfa drugs are in powder form and are mixed with water then drenched down the back of the kids throats. The kids absolutely hated this done to them and I don’t blame them. One of the kids never warmed up to me after this, I had lost their trust by forcing this nasty medicine on them.
After that first season, I discovered an herbal system that can be used to prevent infections of Coccidia and other parasites. There are several out there, but the one I chose and still use is Molly’s Herbal formula. The dry herbs come mixed together like powder. I mix them with molasses to make little balls and feed them to the kids starting at 2 weeks old (remember they can’t get infection before 2 weeks). Sometimes it takes a little coaxing to get them to eat the balls, breaking them up into small pieces will help. Usually they take one bite and love the molasses flavor enough to devour the whole thing down. So much better than a foul smelling drug! Click here to view the schedule and dosage of using these herbs.
I have not had an infection of Coccidiosis since my first year. If I can prevent disease, I will work very hard to do so. This concludes Part 2 of this series. Don’t miss Part 1 on timing of your kidding. Part 3 is coming up!