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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week



Permalink How can I prevent coccidiosis in sheep?

Answer: Coccidiosis is a parasite infection caused by the protozoan organism coccidia (also known as cocci or by the scientific name, Eimeria), which causes damage to the animal’s intestinal tract so that food is not absorbed well. Recognizing coccidiosis and understanding how to manage livestock to prevent or minimize illness is important for the health and well-being of your animals.

The importance of prevention cannot be understated. Make every effort to reduce stress on the animals and improve sanitation and living conditions. Dry bedding (replenished often with additional fresh, dry bedding) is helpful. This allows the mothers to lie down on clean places, keeping udders and teats cleaner, which helps reduce mastitis and lower the risk of coccidiosis. Gravel or wood chips added to lots promotes dry areas. Provide shelter if weather is cold and rainy, handle animals calmly, and be aware that as the season progresses, numbers of coccidia are building. Clean water and feed troughs, and disinfect feed troughs if possible, to lessen exposure to cocci. Exposure to small numbers of cocci is actually beneficial, as it encourages the building of immunity. On the other hand, exposure to large numbers increases risk of infection.

Once you have an infection, it is necessary to consult with your veterinarian to devise a treatment plan. The plan may include the feeding of ionophores, treatment with sulfa drugs or amprolium, and/or using alternative treatments. Note that livestock that are treated with ionophores or other medications that are not approved for use in organic production systems cannot be certified organic. If it becomes necessary to use these medicines on a certified-organic animal to achieve effective treatment, that individual animal will lose its organic certification. Note also that most medications are not labeled for sheep or goats and, therefore, consulting your veterinarian is essential. Be sure to follow instructions carefully when using any treatment. Using medications in the wrong way will waste money and time and not solve the problem. For example, medications designed to act on early stages of the life cycle to disrupt the parasite (prevention) will not cure established infection. Also, preventive medications must be used at least 30 days before kidding or lambing to prevent the mothers from infecting the young. To be effective, preventive medications must also be used well before weaning to protect the young stock during that stressful event. Again, follow label instructions. Failure to follow all directions will greatly reduce the impact of the drugs. And keep in mind that using medications improperly can lead to residues in the animal. Be sure to follow dosage instructions and withdrawal times.

To learn more about both prevention and treatment options, consult the ATTRA publication Coccidiosis: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment in Sheep, Goats, and Calves.

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