This post is primarily for other goat owners interested in performing their own fecal exams at home in an effort to better manage their herd's internal parasites. We will go step-by-step through performing a fecal, what the needed supplies are, where to acquire those supplies and finally what in the heck are you actually looking at and for?
***Disclaimer: I am NOT a veterinarian. I am however a Certified Veterinary Technician with over 19 years of experience and have seen my fair share of fecal samples in that time. I do perform my own fecal exams on my goat herd and feel confident in my ability to teach you to do the same. With that being said, lets get started!
Supplies You Will Need:
Disposable Paper Cups
Sandwich sized ziplock bags
Kitchen Scale with ability to measure in grams
Fecal Flotation Solution (Can Purchase on Amazon)
Tongue Depressors/Craft Sticks (Can Purchase at WalMart)
Syringe to Measure Fecal Flotation Solution
Strainer (Can Purchase at WalMart)
McMaster Slide (Can Purchase on Amazon or directly through Eggzamin.com)
Transfer Pipettes (Can Purchase on Amazon)
Microscope with Moveable Stage and at least a 10X objective (Can Purchase on Amazon)
Puppy pads are nice to have, but not required
Start by gathering about 10 fecal pellets from each individual goat you are going to perform a fecal on. It's not accurate enough to just gather fecal pellets from the ground as you won't know how long they have been there or to whom they belong. The reason to fecal test is to identify those individual animals in your herd who need to be dewormed. Did you know 20% of your herd is usually responsible for 80% of the worms in your pasture? By identifying those individuals, you can decrease the amount of deworming you need to complete, thus saving money and preventing the worms from becoming resistant to your dewormers.
Gather 10 fecal pellets into your ziplock bag and label each bag with the animal's name.
Once all fecal samples are collected, take 2 cups per each animal you have a sample for and write their name on each of the 2 cups. Write the animal's name on one end of a tongue depressor as well. It's important to use separate cups and tongue depressors for EACH animal so you don't have any cross-contamination.
Cups on scale and zeroed out. 4 grams of feces in cup 26 mLs of fecal solution drawn up
Place the cups on the kitchen scale and tare/zero it WITH the cups on it. Measure out 4 grams of feces into the cup. It's helpful to use the craft stick to get the fecal pellets out of the bag in a controlled manner. Draw up 26 mLs of the fecal flotation solution.
Solution added to feces Feces dissolved in solution Strainer Feces after being strained
Add the fecal flotation solution to the cup and use the tongue depressor to thoroughly smash and dissolve the fecal pellets until you have a soupy solution. Next you will utilize the strainer over the second cup and pour the soupy solution through the strainer and into the second cup. The second cup should now contain the poop solution with the larger pieces filtered out.
Filling the pipette Loading first side of slide One side loaded Both sides loaded
Now we need to use our pipette to suck up some of the fecal solution with the feces dissolved in it and load the fist side of our slide. You'll want to stir the solution and suck up some fluid while the fluid is still in motion. Hold your pipette parallel to the table and gently squeeze to fill the chamber. You want to avoid air bubbles as much as possible. Stir the solution again and fill the pipette again to fill the second chamber. Once both chambers are filled, you need to let them sit for 10 minutes to allow any parasite eggs to float to the surface of the slide.
Microscope 10 X objective you will use Ovals are coccidia Barber pole egg
After allowing 10 minutes for the parasite eggs to float to the surface of the slide, place your slide on the microscope and focus on the blue lines of the grid that is engraved on the slide. Once you've focused the microscope, methodically start working your way through the grid system counting every parasite egg you see inside of the grid. Be sure to differentiate the types of eggs you are counting. For instance, 6 coccidia and 3 barber pole rather than just 9. Once you've counted all the eggs on one side of the slide, record that number and repeat on the other side of the slide. Once completed, add the number of each type of parasite together.
For example, if on the first side of the slide you observed 15 coccidia and 2 barber pole and on the second side of the slide you saw 12 coccidia and 0 barber pole, you would have a total of 27 coccidia and 2 barber pole.
What does this mean though and what do you do with these numbers?
When doing fecals on our goats and managing parasites, the goal isn't to have no parasites at all as it is in our companion animals like dogs and cats. We have to understand that livestock are almost ALWAYS going to have some burden of intestinal parasites. What we want to achieve as responsible herdsmen (and women) is a manageable load of worms that are still susceptible to our dewormers.
We need to accept the fact that we may never eliminate all of the worms from our animals.
A low number of worms are actually a good thing. Animals develop resistance to the worms that they have and don’t let any more get established. Resistance can be natural; some animals are just hardier than others. Resistance can be genetic; they pass their resistance (or lack of) to their offspring.
Back to our example of 27 coccidia and 2 barber pole, we need to do a little bit of math to figure out how many parasite eggs of each type we have in each gram of feces. The calculation you want to use is the total number of each type of egg multiplied by 25. This will give you the number of eggs per gram. So in our example above, we have:
27 coccidia x 25 = 675 coccidia oocysts per gram of feces
2 baber pole x 25 = 50 barber pole eggs per gram of feces
What do we do with this information?
This is a bit of a tricky question to answer as it depends on each individual goat and your herd. Younger animals, pregnant does and does who are lactating we treat at a lower worm burden than the rest of our herd as they are under more stress and more susceptible to parasites. In younger animals, their immune systems are still immature and developing and usually unable to keep a coccidia infection in check.
It's important to also look at the bigger picture and not just reach for a dewormer based on fecal exams alone. You also need to take into account the individual animal and their health status. Are they showing symptoms of a heavy parasite load (diarrhea, thin, pale eyelids/mucus membranes, etc). Are you dealing with a youngster or pregnant doe?
Commonly used limits to establish treatment against parasites:
Liver flukes any number of eggs found in feces
Lung worms any number of eggs found in feces
Barber pole worms >500 eggs/g feces
Coccidia >1,000 oocysts/g feces
A caveat here is if I'm dealing with a younger animal, a pregnant animal or a lactating doe who is showing symptoms of a worm burden (diarrhea, rough hair coat, etc) and her levels of parasites fall below the above mentioned levels, I will still treat with an appropriate dewormer as she is showing symptoms of not handling her worm burden. I will not treat my entire herd as this unnecessarily exposes worms to a specific dewormer and we know our dewormers are not 100% effective any longer. I do not want to expedite resistance to dewormers in my own personal herd.
I won't go into specific dewormers for specific parasites or dosing. Suffice it to say that you need to have accurate weights on your goats before deworming so you do not underdose them. Most dewormers are very safe and it's better to slightly overdose than to underdose. Follow up fecals in a couple of weeks are recommended to ensure the dewormer you used did it's job. You want to see a 95% or better reduction in the egg counts which would indicate the particular dewormer you used is still effective. The recommendation nowadays is to deworm with 2 dewormers from 2 different classes at the same time (not mixed in the same syringe, but can be given back to back). Speak with your veterinarian to determine which dewormer is appropriate for your particular area and herd. Remember, not all dewormers treat all worms, there are specific dewormers for specific species of worms.
If you utilize your goats for meat or milk, it's important to note that there are withdrawl times that must be observed. Each dewormer will have different withdrawl times for milk and meat utilization. Some dewormers are not labeled for use in goats, but can be used in goats off label under the direction of a veterinarian.
Fecal exams are a useful tool in the battle against intestinal parasites in our goat herds, but they are only one piece of the picture we need to look at when making decisions as to which goats to deworm when we are managing our herds. By routinely monitoring fecal egg counts, we can dramatically reduce our use of dewormers, keep the dewormers we have effective for as long as possible and select breeding animals based on parasite resistance to strengthen our herd for years to come.