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After a Drought: Parasites Abound!

Congratulations! You made it through one of the worst droughts on record. Now that the rains have come and the grass is green again, your worries are over, right? Wrong! Now your livestock are picking up all of the parasites that lay dormant all of those months of drought. Are you ready?

Many common internal parasites including brown stomach worm (Ostertagia spp), barber pole worm (Haemonchus spp) and Coccidia (Eimeria spp) will be more prevalent after a drought. To understand why, we need to have a basic understanding of the lifecycles. While two of these parasites are worms and one is a protozoan, they all have the same basic type of lifecycle. These parasites mature inside of the host’s body and either shed oocysts or eggs via the manure. During their normal lifecycle, these hatch and eventually result in an infective stage that travels up the forages where the host animal (cattle, sheep or goat) ingests it to continue the parasitic cycle.

The catch is that these require a specific temperature and moisture level in order to hatch. When moisture isn’t available, they go into a suspended state waiting for rain. During a drought, the parasites within the animals’ bodies are still churning out eggs and oocysts; however, those that land on the pastures aren’t hatching. They just build up. After an extended drought, the parasitic challenge can be dozens of times higher due to these all hatching at the same time after a good rain. This, coupled with short pastures, ensures infection to continue the parasitic cycle.

So what can you do about it? First of all, be sure to deworm with a product like Safe-guard® for control of internal parasites and provide a coccidia treatment to all of your livestock this spring. But don’t be surprised if your animals show signs of parasitic disease even when treated. The size of the challenge may be so great that treatments alone cannot prevent disease. Sanitation and management are going to be critical this year. Don’t skimp on high quality mineral and vitamin supplementation either! When it comes to supplementation, you really do get what you pay for. Trace minerals, particularly copper and zinc, are critical for the integrity of the mucosal lining of the digestive tract that these parasites are attacking. Additionally, they are key elements in other immunological defenses of the body. It is a well-known fact that well-fed animals recover much more quickly than livestock receiving a poor diet.

Since you know the parasite surge is coming, prepare now to give each calf, lamb or kid the best chance at survival!

Safe-guard® is a registered trademark of Merck Animal Health, Summit, NJ.