Goats are browsers, preferring to nibble at the soft juicy parts of plants well above the ground. It is only when the animals have no option that they graze like sheep and cattle.
The feeding habit and adaptation of the goat has a lot of survival implications for the species. When we rear goats in confined space and in situations where the animal has to feed on the ground by grazing, we expose it to unfamiliar challenges.
Kioko, who has a herd of about 250 goats in Kitengela, came across some of the challenges recently.
I visited his farm in February at his request to review the health of his herd and advise on a management programme.
The animals were all in good health but I noted he would have to heavily supplement the feeding with feeds from outside the farm since the area was rapidly drying up.
He had started the farm in September last year. In his draft programme, I noticed the goats had been dewormed in the first week of February but there was no record of the dewormer used or the person who dewormed mentioned.
Normally, goats should be dewormed every three months but in cases of heavy worm challenge, they may be dewormed every two months.
In farming, issues of cost minimisation are critical because it is not possible to predict the final cost of the operation. I, therefore, advised Kioko to run the course of three months and deworm his goats again in May this year since the animals were healthy and thriving.
As part of our working plan, I also brought Mike into the picture. He is a reputed veterinary paraprofessional working in the area and running an agrovet shop.
In my practice, we always work with veterinary paraprofessionals. These service providers are closer to the farmers and they respond to the day-to-day disease control issues on the farm while we deal with complex matters beyond their technical scope such as disease control programmes, livestock nutrition, surgical interventions and difficult cases, among others.
This kind of work relationship between the veterinary doctor and the veterinary paraprofessional is what is envisaged in the training of these two cadres of veterinary service providers and the law on provision of veterinary services.
It is akin to the relationship between the doctor, clinical officer and nurse in human medicine.
VERY SENSITIVE TO WORMS
Before I left the farm, I agreed with Kioko he would always contact Mike before calling me for any cases on his farm.
Mike would in turn liberally contact me if he had difficulties on the farm or if he thought the case reported was beyond his scope.
Mike called me mid-March and reported Kioko’s goats were dying and many of them were weak and unthrifty. He had received the report that morning and since the problem appeared to be affecting the whole herd, he thought of reporting to me before responding.
We agreed he would visit the farm and brief me on site once he had assessed the situation. An hour later, he sent me a WhatsApp message with pictures of two goats showing long segmented worms recovered from intestines.
The picture caption read, “Kioko’s goats dying of tapeworms. No other problem detected.”
We fully discussed with Mike on phone and I was in agreement with his diagnosis and suggested treatment, an all-round dewormer that kills tapeworms, roundworms and flukes.
When Kioko came on the phone, he felt very disappointed, “But doctor, I can’t believe my goats are dying of worms when we just dewormed them a few weeks ago?” he exclaimed.
I empathised with Kioko but reminded him the reservations I had expressed during my visit to his farm regarding the efficacy of an earlier deworming.
The only reason I did not deworm the goats again was because he was sensitive to the additional cost and we agreed to take the risk and assume the deworming had been effective. Unfortunately, the worms had now revealed their presence and activity in the goats.
Mike dewormed the goats with a preparation that kills all types of worms. Due to the heavy infestation of worms seen in the dead goats, I instructed him to repeat the treatment after two days. The goats voided lots of tapeworms and no other type.
This was a good indication the dewormer used in the first place was only effective against roundworms – otherwise, these would also have been seen in some of the goats.
Goats are very sensitive to worms of all types. The worm parasites of goats are divided into three groups namely roundworms, tapeworms and flukes.
The worms most farmers know well about are the roundworms because their effects are seen quicker, especially diarrhoea, swollen jaw called bottle “jaw”, abdominal distension and fast death.
REGULAR AND DILIGENT DEWORMING
Tapeworms do not easily kill but they mainly cause poor growth. In large numbers, they may cause obstruction of the intestines with rupture and death.
In general, all worms eventually cause loss of blood (anaemia), low blood proteins, poor growth, decreased fertility, abortions and increased tendency of the animals to get sick with other diseases.
Death finally occurs due to the many complications the damaging effects of the worms cause to the body, including lowered immunity, bacterial infections and absorption of toxins due to the wounds the worms inflict on the stomach and intestinal walls.
Some worms migrate into body tissues such as the lungs, liver and even brain and damage these organs to the level they cannot function.
Animals with such worms will show signs of poor function of the affected organ. For instance, goats with the coenurus tapeworm that lodges in the brain will show circling, uncoordinated gait, irrational movements and bleating before they collapse and die.
When goats feed by grazing, they pick up worms very easily. Concentration of large numbers of animals in confined spaces also greatly increases the concentration of the worms in the environment and thus makes it easy for them to be taken up by the goats.
When animals take up worms, it is medically called infestation and not infection because the worms live in the tissues or the gut but not inside body cells.
Farmers should ensure their goats are well-protected from worm infestation. The best strategy for prevention is regular and diligent deworming using products that kill all the three types of worms.
There is a belief among farmers that any dewormer is good enough. This is a fallacy that must be avoided.
Dewormers also come with conditions of use due to their toxic effects on developing foetus and varying tolerance levels in different animal species.
For instance, sheep and cattle tolerate some dewormers at higher doses than goats.