Barber pole worms in sheep and goats, a real hazard after a wet spring

Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

FAMACHA scoring your sheep or goats can help you identify which ones require deworming and which ones do not.

FAMACHA scoring your sheep or goats can help you identify which ones require deworming and which ones do not.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – The warm, humid conditions this spring favored the survival of barber pole worms, the number one issue facing sheep and goat producers in the southeastern United States. A sheep or goat can die in a little over a month from blood loss to these worms, if not treated, said Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Barber pole worms are blood-sucking parasites that live in the true stomach of sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas. The worms can cause diarrhea, poor appetite, lethargy, anemia, bottle jaw and even death.

Barber pole worms have a very short life cycle which allows them to multiply rapidly. In as little as 35 days, eggs shed in the feces of animals can hatch, complete larval development, mate, begin sucking blood and laying the next generation of eggs.

“Barber pole worms can be controlled by chemical dewormers, but their overuse has reduced their efficacy,” said Dr. Fernandez. Good management techniques help prevent infection in the first place. Rotational grazing can reduce the number of parasites livestock consume, he said. Moving animals from one pasture to the next prevents the larvae from being eaten so the larvae eventually die.

Avoid overgrazing. Leave at least 3, preferably 4 inches of grass on your pastures when rotating to the next one. Don’t put hay or feed on the ground. Instead, use a feeder that makes animals eat with their heads up. Keep them from grazing or eating close to the ground so they will consume fewer parasites, advises Dr. Fernandez.

Ranchers cannot get rid of all the worms in their herds or flocks no matter how hard they try, said Dr. Fernandez. Resistance to dewomers is a natural occurrence so even with deworming, some parasites will always survive. That is why only animals needing deworming should be treated.

“Ranchers can determine which animals should be treated by using their FAMACHA score,” said Dr. Fernandez. “Keep track of the ones requiring repeated dewormings and cull them from the herd.”

Plants that are high in condensed tannins, such as sericea lespedeza, chicory, sainfoin and birdfoot trefoil can help control barber pole worms. Copper oxide wire boluses can help reduce infestations. Chemical dewormers still work, but check which ones work on your farm.

Resistance to dewormers must be addressed on a farm by farm basis. The Fecal Egg Count Reduction Test (FECRT) can help identify which dewormers are still working on your farm.

“Perform your own fecal egg counts or have a veterinarian do it,” he said. You can learn how to conduct a fecal egg count and the FECRT by reading Extension fact sheet FSA9608, “Fecal Egg Counting for Sheep and Goat Producers” found online at

For more information on barber pole worms, FAMACHA scoring or other livestock-related problems, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Program offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


2 thoughts on “Barber pole worms in sheep and goats, a real hazard after a wet spring

  1. Where can you get copper oxide blouses? What Wormers do you recommend to kill barber pole worms in boer goats? Thanks you had a very good article!!

    • Thanks for your comment. Please see Dr. Fernandez’s answer below:

      The boluses are made by at least 2 companies: Santa Cruz and Copasur. Copasur can be found on ValleyVet’s and Jeffers’ websites. Santa Cruz has its own website.

      The answer to the dewormer question is “it depends”. You need to know the dewormer history of the animals. Use the one that has been used in the past until it is no longer effective. If unknown, I would start with Ivermectin and keep a close watch for 2 weeks. If they continue to become more anemic, switch to Cydectin. Watch closely for 2 weeks. If that doesn’t work try Prohibit. You must be careful with Prohibit and dose exactly by weight as it can be toxic if overdosed.

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