Answer: It is necessary to consult with your veterinarian is necessary to devise a coccidiosis treatment program, which 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 not be labeled for sheep or goats (work with your veterinarian for off-label use) and are not allowed in certified organic production.
Alternative Treatment Options
Organic producers may not use any of the treatments listed above on organic animals. Those wishing to avoid using medications have some intriguing possibilities to explore. These include the following alternatives:
• Sericea lespedeza and other condensed tannin-containing plants, such as birdsfoot trefoil, acacia, sainfoin, panicled tick clover, pine bark, and quebracho
• Oregano oil
Use of these natural compounds offers organic producers some options to mitigate the effects of coccidia. Conventional producers may also want to consider these natural alternatives because overuse of conventional compounds may lead to resistance.
Sericea lespedeza has been shown to be effective in managing the barber pole worm and coccidia. Grazing standing lespedeza works, but if baby animals are born early in the year, sericea is not growing yet. In that case, sericea pellets (similar to alfalfa pellets) can be an effective tool. Unfortunately, these pellets are not widely available yet. The manufacturer, Sims Brothers, does not have the capacity yet to fill all orders for the pellets. Sericea hay is also effective and may be more available. See the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats: Sericea Lespedeza for more information. One difference in using sericea to control cocci rather than barber pole worm is that the effects of the sericea are long-lasting for controlling coccidiosis, while the barber pole worm “recovers” after the host animal no longer has access to the sericea. Feeding of sericea lespedeza should occur approximately two weeks before weaning to four weeks post-weaning to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative long-term effects, such as a potential mineral deficiency.
Pine bark has been ground up and added to feed supplement at the rate of 30% of the diet and fed to goats. The result was not only lowered numbers of gastrointestinal parasites and coccidia, but also increased gains and improved feed efficiency. Using pine bark in combination with sericea seems to be even more effective.
A caution for those using condensed tannin (CT)-containing plants: researchers have observed that the use of tannins may bind minerals, causing deficiencies. Dr. Joan Burke (ARS) has documented reductions in the trace minerals molybdenum, selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese. Also, perhaps because of mineral problems or lower intake or some other factor, lambs and kids do not gain as rapidly after six to eight weeks of the sericea diet. To overcome these problems, you may wish to increase mineral supplementation (being mindful, however, of possible toxicity) and offer a more diverse diet. Providing pastures that include a variety of plants will improve animal intake. However, if the amount of sericea eaten is not high enough, then anthelmintic benefits may not be realized. As with all nutrition, it is important to strike a balance.
Oregano oil may be helpful in controlling coccidiosis in some instances. Producers in Maine conducted an on-farm research project (ONE08-088) using Regano (oregano oil) on sheep and goats on four different farms. Oregano oil works by the same mechanism as ionophores, like monensin. The Maine project used young stock, beginning at four weeks of age, and fed test groups Regano with their normal ration at the rate of 2 grams/100 pounds daily. A total of 26 goats and 56 lambs were on the study. Coccidia were reduced in treated animals by 39% (sheep) and 51% (goats).
Two of the producers who participated in this study were pleased with results and planned to use the product again. The other two producers did not have such a positive experience. Note: Even though this treatment reduced coccidia in test groups, the reductions were not anywhere near the 95% level considered effective for dewormers. The report of this study is online here.
To learn more, and to access the references and studies mentioned here, consult the ATTRA publication Coccidiosis: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment in Sheep, Goats, and Calves.
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