An insidious killer responsible for the deaths of both mixed breed, backyard nannies and purebred, prize-winning show goats, the barber pole worm survives by sucking blood from the bodies of infected goats. Learn to identify signs of barber pole worm in your goats so you can provide prompt treatment and prevent serious complications, including death.
Also called Haemonchus contortus, the barber pole worm is a parasitic gastrointestinal nematode capable of infecting goats of all ages and breeds. A single female barber pole worm typically lays 5,000 to 10,000 eggs per day, according to North Carolina State University. (See reference 1, symptoms) Once laid, these eggs exit the body of the host goat in the feces, contaminating the ground, grass and bedding on which the feces lands. When a goat ingests infected feed, bedding material or grass, the larval barber pole worms mature and secure themselves to the lining of your goat’s abomasum (its stomach), surviving by sucking your goat’s blood.
As a blood-sucking nematode, the barber pole worm causes blood loss in infected goats. Unfortunately, as an infestation worsens and increasing numbers of these worms attach to the lining of your goat’s stomach, severe blood loss develops. Over time, this blood loss becomes chronic, causing the host goat to become anemic, as its body’s red blood cells dwindle. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, a severely infected goat could bleed to death in a matter of hours. (See reference 2, damage caused by the barber pole worm)
The most obvious sign of a barber pole worm infestation is anemia, characterized by paleness of the mucus membranes on your goat’s gums and the insides of its eyelids. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, other signs that could point to a barber pole worm infestation include diarrhea, lethargy, an unthrifty appearance (marked by a failure to thrive and grow) and bottle jaw, a distinct physical condition associated with Haemonchus contortus infections that involves the build up of fluids along the infected goat’s throat. (see reference 2, damage caused by the barber pole worm)
Due to the rapid development of anemia in barber pole worm-infested goats, prevention generally proves to be a less costly method of dealing with these nematodes. Avoid stocking large numbers of goats on limited pastureland; as a general rule of thumb, try not to keep more than three or four goats per acre. Clean water bowls, feed buckets and hay troughs raised up off the ground provide an essential way to keep infected feces from contaminating your goats’ feed and water supply. Monitor the status of your goat pasture grass; shifting your goats to a fresh pasture once the grass gets below approximately 6 inches in height keeps the goats from consuming the most heavily infected grass.
Barber pole worm infestations in goats are most likely to get out of control when your goat experiences extra physical stress, such as immediately after giving birth or following a move to another goat herd. Develop the habit of testing a fecal sample on your goats during these stressful times so you can identify those animals that suffer from a worm infestation. Take a fecal sample to your veterinarian for testing and to purchase an appropriate wormer medication for treatment.