Preventing coccidiosis in goats and sheep

Sheep and goat producers should develop a plan for the prevention of coccidiosis, a common cause of death in kids and lambs.

A clean pen can help prevent coccidiosis.
A clean pen can help prevent coccidiosis.

Coccidiosis is caused by a group of single cell protozoa species that are found in the environment. Some of these are non-infective, some moderately infective, and others are highly infective. Coccidia strains are species specific with some limited crossover between sheep and goats. Coccidia are always present in the herd or flock and most adult animals carry coccidian but are immune to the clinical disease. This immunity occurs more in sheep than in goats and is developed by lambs and kids about four weeks after exposure.

The life cycle of coccidia is quite complicated, has many stages of development and is 21 days in length. There is a gap between diarrhea symptoms and egg excretion so fecal egg counts are not always a good indicator of infection. Shedding of eggs only occurs at the end of the infection period after the damage has been done to the intestinal tract of the animal. Producers should not have to treat for coccidiosis if a prevention program is followed. Treating symptomatic animals is a poor approach and labor intensive because if you see clinical cases, there has already been subclinical losses and damage.

Cleanliness is the first course of action to take in the prevention of coccidiosis as oocytes are spread in feces. A clean barn is essential especially before lambing or kidding. Keep pens dry by using adequate bedding, prevent contamination of feed and water and do not feed animals on the ground. Feeding a coccidiostat as a preventative before known times of susceptibility is also encouraged.

  • Monensin (Rumensin) - approved for goats and effective day seven to ten of life cycle
  • Lasalocid (Bovatec) - approved for sheep and effective day seven to ten of life cycle
  • Decoquinate (Deccox) - approved for sheep and goats and effective day zero to 16 of life cycle

For prevention in young lambs and kids, treat the dams with a coccidiostat for at least 21 days prior to birth and continue to provide in kid or lamb feed for 60 to 90 days for additional protection. For prevention in growing animals entering the feedlot, feed a coccidiostat for 30 days after the animals go into the feedlot. Michigan State University Extension recommends feeding according to label instructions and working with your veterinary as some of these drugs are not labeled for both sheep and goats and may require off label use.

Coccidiosis is preventable in sheep and goats. Knowing the facts of how it is transmitted, and its lifecycle will help producers maintain the health of their animals.

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