5-Point Check for Parasites

Episode 95
For the Love of Goats

If you’ve listened to previous podcast episodes on parasites, you have heard us talk about the 5-point check, but what exactly is it? How can you use it to determine when you need to use a dewormer?

Quite simply, the 5 things to check are:

  2. Body condition
  3. Poop
  4. Coat condition
  5. Bottle jaw

In this episode, I’m talking about how you can use this information, which you can get for free, to keep an eye on the parasite status of your goats.

I also talk about which worms cause which symptoms, and how different combinations of symptoms can mean different worms.

To learn more about using dewormers correctly, check out our previous episode with Dr. Michael Pesato, discussing the newest recommendations of the American Consortium of Small Ruminant Parasite Control.

Listen right here…

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Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Today’s episode is brought to you by Goats 365, my membership program for people who are living with, learning about, and loving goats three-hundred and sixty-five days a year. Basic members get access to six courses covering housing, fencing, parasites, nutrition, and health, as well as things like composting goat manure and the basics of starting a goat-based business. Premium members also have the opportunity to attend live online meetings via Zoom to talk about their goats. Visit Goats365.com to learn more.

Deborah Niemann 0:49
Welcome, everyone! I don’t know why I have not done this episode sooner. I typically tend to write a lot of my articles and get a lot of my guests because I find myself answering the same questions over and over again. And honestly, this is a question I answer multiple times a week. And that is: What is the 5-point check? So, if you’ve seen what we put out on Facebook and in the website, if you happened to catch Episode 68, “Current Dewormer Guidelines” with Dr. Michael Pesato at Mississippi State University, or Episode 47, “Genetic Resistance to Worms” with Andrew Weaver, PhD, at North Carolina State University, or some of our other episodes that we’ve done on worms, you might know that fecals are no longer considered the gold standard for deciding whether or not to use a dewormer. A lot of that is based on Dr. Weaver’s research; he was one of several people who did an 11-year buck study, where they found no correlation at all between fecal egg count and whether or not a goat was sick from worms.

Deborah Niemann 1:56
In fact, because I also talked to Susan Schoenian about this in another episode, she said some of their best, healthiest goats could have been walking around with worm counts of 2,000—which would give a lot of vets a heart attack, if they saw that in a goat. Like, that’s crazy high. On the other hand, you might have a goat with a worm count of only 300, and they are not in good shape, and they really need a dewormer. The other thing about doing fecals is that you have to do it. You know, you have to go out there, you have to collect the poop, it has to be fresh; if it’s not fresh, the eggs have probably already hatched, and so you might think your goat’s fine when it’s really not. So, doing fecals is work. If you are taking them to the vet, it can add up really fast if you’ve got more than two or three goats. And so, what they recommend now instead of doing fecals is that you do a 5-point check. That is something that any goat owner can do on their goats on a regular basis. And really, you don’t even have to lay your hands on the goat to see a lot of this. I’m going to talk about what all five points are today, so that you know exactly how this works.

Deborah Niemann 3:09
So, the first one is the one that everyone is probably very familiar with already. And, that’s FAMACHA. And, that’s where you check the eyelids for anemia. Now, this only really gives you good information about barber pole worm. Coccidiosis can cause anemia, too, but barber pole worm is the main worm that causes anemia. It’s the one that causes most of the deaths in sheep and goats in the United States. Because, anemia can kill a goat so fast. And, the barber pole worms are very, very prolific egg layers. One female worm can lay 10,000 eggs a day. And so, they’re not hatching inside the goat. But, that means that they can get a pasture full of worm eggs and larva, and the larva is what infects the goat. You can imagine, if a worm is laying that many eggs every day, that they’re going to fill that pasture up with larva really fast. And so, if your goats are out on grass, especially if it’s short grass—you know, only a couple inches, that’s where the larva are—they can wind up with enough worms inside of them to make them very anemic and very sick, very quickly.

Deborah Niemann 4:16
So, I know for myself in the beginning, and a lot of other people, the first time you have a goat die from worms, it happens very suddenly. You’re shocked. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did this happen? They were fine yesterday.” And, it’s just because you don’t know exactly what to look for. So, most of us are not walking around pulling down the eyelids of our goats. But, that is something that you can do very easily. If you know you have a worm problem, and you’re trying to overcome that, you should do that every week. We don’t have a worm problem anymore. You know, we did 15 years ago; we were losing goats to worms, because we were dealing with complete dewormer resistance to all of the dewormers on the market. So, we had goats that were dying back then. And so, we were doing FAMACHAs very regularly so that we would not get an ugly surprise when we walked out there in the morning. But, we don’t have problems anymore. At this point, you know, we’ve got around 25 adult goats in our herd. And this year, I think I’ve treated two goats with a dewormer. Last year, I treated one goat with a dewarmer. So, if your management is good—and we talk about this in other places on the website and podcasts. If your management is good, you really should not be having a problem with worms; you shouldn’t have to be using dewormers very often at all.

Deborah Niemann 5:36
So, the first thing in the 5-point check is the FAMACHA score; that is scored from 1 to 5. And, the way you remember what’s good and what’s bad is, just like A1. A 1 is the best. That’s like a nice, bright red eyelid. You pull down the eyelid, and it’s a nice, bright red. If you’ve got a newborn baby goat, that’s a great place to look to see, because baby goats are usually born with the brightest red eyelids that you will ever see. The other thing is: Get FAMACHA certified. Part of Goats 365 is FAMACHA training. And, when you go through that, you can get the FAMACHA card so that you’ve got something to compare it to. But, in the meantime—or you know, if you haven’t had that—you know, look at what your newborn baby’s eyes look like, because they tend to be very bright red.

Deborah Niemann 6:26
So, a 2 is still red, just not quite as dark-red. So, just think 2B. And then a 3, it’s getting lighter; it’s, like, pink. And so, we’re like, “I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.” You know, if the goat is pink, then you’re gonna look at some of these other parts of the 5-point check that I’m going to talk about in a minute, to decide whether or not to use a dewormer. Also, look at the fact, like, is this a goat that just gave birth? If she just gave birth within the last couple of weeks, and she has a score of 3, then she should probably be dewormed, because nursing or producing milk is causing her body to be stressed; it’s a big demand on her body. And so, she could use a little help from a dewormer to fight that off.

Deborah Niemann 7:11
And, while we’re on the topic, so that people don’t have to ask this in the comment section: Number One, it’s not going to hurt the kids if you give the mom a dewormer. And Number Two, you’re not going to deworm the kids by giving the mom a dewormer, which I have also been asked. So, like, there will be residue in the milk, but it’s not enough to make a difference one way or another. It’s a small amount.

Deborah Niemann 7:33
The next score, then, is a 4. So, think “4 is a grade of D. 5 is a grade of F.” 4 is light pink, and five is white. It’s like the color of a piece of paper. And, if it’s white, that means that, you know, if they drew blood on your goat, the PCV would be, like, below a 17—which is dangerously anemic. The scary thing about white eyelids—because I’ve had goats with white eyelids that were pink in three or four days. On the other hand, I had one goat who had white eyelids; it took him three weeks to recover. So, all you know at that point is that it’s somewhere below 17. If it’s 16, they could be pink again, you know, in just a few days. But, if they’re down into single digits, they could be dead when you walk out there tomorrow. So, without doing an actual blood test, you would not know how dangerously anemic they are once they’re white. Just know that, once they’re white, you need to bring them inside, off of the pasture, so that they’re not consuming any more larva. Keep them in the barn until they’re pink again. That is basically my rule. I don’t want them picking up any new larva that’s going to add to their worm load until they’ve been able to recover from the worm load that just made them so sick.

Deborah Niemann 8:53
So, that’s the FAMACHA score. Now, we’re gonna confuse things a little bit with a body condition score. Now mind you, the people who created the FAMACHA score and the body condition score we’re not talking to each other. Because, body condition is also scored on a scale of 1 to 5, but it’s different. With the body score, 3 is considered perfect. 3 is the ideal body condition. If the score gets smaller, if it’s a 2, that means the goat is underweight. If it’s a 1, that means the goat is emaciated. So, you’re talking very skinny goat. If it’s a 1, it’s skin and bones and near death. On the other side of that 3, if you go up, the number gets bigger, 4 is an overweight goat. These are the goats, when somebody sends me a picture of one of these goats, I usually say that it looks “very well-loved.” It’s a little bit nicer than saying they’re “fat.” And, it usually is because they are very well-loved. They’re being overfed. And so we, you know, usually talk about the feeding habits and what the goat is eating, because it’s eating too much if it’s a 4. 5 is obese. And, these are the goats that’s gonna have trouble getting pregnant, might have some other health issues and stuff, because it’s so overweight.

Deborah Niemann 10:08
I want to add one more thing about body condition. And that is that a goat with a big belly is not fat; that is not a goat that’s got a body condition score of 4 or 5. Body condition scoring, you do that by running your hands down the spine, checking the brisket, the goat’s chest, to see how much meat they have on their bones. There are a lot of underweight goats that have a body condition of 2 that have a big belly. And, you see this sometimes with kids, that you wind up with, it’s called a “hay belly.” And, this can happen when they have a really bad case of parasites, because they are starving. They’re anemic. So, they’re eating, eating, eating, eating as much as they possibly can to help them, because they feel like they’re starving. And so, their belly is just huge all the time, because they’re stuffing themselves so much, but they’ve got a really bad case of worms. So, you really should put your hand on the goat and feel the bones. Make sure that there’s, like, plenty of meat on the bones. Don’t just look at the goat from across the pasture and go, “Oh, that goat’s got a big belly. It’s so fat.”

Deborah Niemann 11:15
This can also happen with older does. I say they “lose their girlish figure.” It doesn’t happen very often. But, you know, sometimes after the fourth or fifth kidding, they just look like they’re walking around with saddlebags hanging down on both sides, because their belly just never shrinks back to its original size and shape. And again, those goats are not fat; they can actually be underweight, but they’ve got a big belly just because they’ve lost their girlish figure.

Deborah Niemann 11:45
Obviously, if a goat is a 4 or 5, you do not need to treat it. In fact, this is one of the things that kind of drives me crazy about fecals. I had somebody recently send me pictures of two goats, who I would classify as “very well-loved,” looking at their photos. And he said, “Yeah, we just got fecals on these goats, and the vet said that they have worms, so we should give them dewormers.” And, I’m looking at those goats and going, “Those goats could stand a little stress in their lives.” Like, there’s no way I’m gonna give a goat a dewormer if it has a body condition that’s over 4. And, if it’s got some of these other symptoms, I would be looking at, like, other possibilities. You know, like, “Okay, if the goat has diarrhea, let’s see if there’s another reason for diarrhea besides worms.” It’s your goats that have body scores of 2 or 1 that you need to be worried about. 1, very worried.

Deborah Niemann 12:41
Now, of course, it could be something other than worms. It could also be a disease, like Johne’s. There are, you know, wasting diseases that cause goats to lose body condition. But, this is just one of the 5-point check. And, we’re not going to say that, like, “Oh, worms is the only reason that any of these things can happen.” So, don’t think that, either. But, you know, if you’ve got a goat that’s get white eyelids, and a body condition of 1, that sounds like a goat that’s probably severely parasitized and needs to be treated with a dewormer.

Deborah Niemann 13:13
The third part of the 5-point check is that you’re going to look at the coat condition. Now, a lot of people might think like, “Oh, well that’s to let you know if they’ve got external parasites.” You know, like, if they, you know, have rubbed hair off so that they have bald patches on the skin, that means that they’ve got external parasites. And it could. But also, a lot of times the coat looks really rough if they have internal parasites, too. So, look at the coat condition.

Deborah Niemann 13:39
Number four is poop. You want to see nice, round goat berries, or pebbles, or alpaca and llama people a lot of times call them “beans.” Basically, you want nice, hard, little round poop. You don’t want it to start sticking together and looking like dog poop. And, you certainly don’t want diarrhea. I’ve occasionally had people say, “My goat is constipated.” I’m like, “Okay, what do you mean?” And they say, “It’s pooping like a dog.” That is actually one step towards diarrhea. Pooping pebbles like that, that would be, like, the human definition of constipation. So, what is constipated for us is normal for a goat. It’s because there’s very, very little moisture left in those fecal pellets. That’s why they are pellets. When they start sticking together, that means that their body is retaining more water, and then the more water that their intestines are retaining, the looser and looser those stools get, until you wind up, you know, with pudding poops or ultimately watery diarrhea. And, those can be symptoms of worms.

Deborah Niemann 14:44
Barber pole worm, which is the one that causes anemia, usually does not cause diarrhea; it can cause, you know, the logs. Those logs can also be caused by fresh spring grass. So, like, if you see this in, you know, March or April, like you’ve just turned your goats out on fresh green pastures, they’re going from a very, very dry diet of hay to a very high-moisture diet of the spring grasses. And actually, my sheep in the spring, when they make that switch, they have runny diarrhea. Like, every last one of them. I don’t really see that issue with my goats much. But, I’m just pointing that out, that like, you need to know what’s normal for your animals. So, like right now, my goats are all on dry hay. They should all be pooping pebbles. If one of them suddenly had poop sticking together, like in logs or diarrhea, then I would immediately suspect worms.

Deborah Niemann 15:41
Diarrhea is most likely to be caused by other roundworms. So, like all of the most problematic worms for goats, most of them are going to fall into the roundworm family. Barber pole worm is Haemonchus contortus. That is a roundworm, but so is bankrupt worm and brown stomach worm; those are also roundworms. So, if you have a goat that has, like, a very poor body condition, and the FAMACHA is good, but it’s got diarrhea, and it’s an adult, then it is possible that it could be the brown stomach worm or bankrupt worm. And, this is where a lot of vets can say, “Oh, well yeah, you should treat when they’ve only got a fecal egg count of 300 or 400,” because that’s the kind of fecal egg count that you could see with a goat that has a high level of one of those other roundworms, because they are not the prolific egg layers that the barber pole worms are. So, this is also why you don’t need a fecal to know what kind of worm it is.

Deborah Niemann 16:40
Plus, you just don’t need to know what kind of worm it is, because all the dewormers kill all the roundworms. And, the only intestinal worm that’s not killed by all the dewormers is the tapeworm, and the tapeworm is the one you can see in the poop. So, if it looks like the goat has rice or noodles in its poop, that is tapeworm. And interestingly enough, tapeworms don’t really make goat sick. We have a whole episode on common but unimportant worms, and we go into detail there about how the tapeworm does not really make good sick. Theoretically, if the tapeworm level got so high that it could cause an intestinal blockage and kill a goat that way, that is really it. And, a lot of people are like, “Oh, my goat had tapeworms, and it was really sick.” Well, okay. Do a fecal in that case, if you really want to know, but the tapeworms are not making the goat sick. If it has a high tapeworm level, it could also very well have a high barber pole level, or a high bankrupts level, or one of the other worms that actually we know does make goats sick. So, you can get all the information that you need, like 99% of the time, from the 5-point check—especially in adults.

Deborah Niemann 17:48
Now, in kids… The number one cause of diarrhea in kids from three weeks of age to five months of age is coccidia, which causes coccidiosis. You know, a lot of times, as soon as kids get diarrhea, people instantly treat with a coccidia drug. If the diarrhea does not go away within two or three days, then that’s probably not it. And the other thing is, kids can also get diarrhea from infectious causes. So, like, they could have a bacterial infection that’s causing diarrhea, or a viral infection, or something else. So, if the coccidia drug does not work in two or three days, then it is time to take a fecal to the vet. And, if it’s not a worm load that’s causing the diarrhea, you know, then you need to do more extensive testing on that poop to find out if it’s some kind of an infection.

Deborah Niemann 18:41
Number five in the 5-point check is bottle jaw. And, I want to stress that if you have a goat with bottle jaw, yes, that is absolutely a symptom of parasites. But, it isn’t actually a symptom of how severe it is. We had so many goats die in the early years from worms, and I only ever had two goats that had bottle jaw. And, neither one of those goats died. Like, I treated them, and the bottle jaw went away, and they were fine. They were actually a couple of the least sick goats I ever had with parasites. So, it doesn’t necessarily equate to “Oh my gosh, they must be really sick because they have bottle jaw.” But, bottle jaw is definitely something that indicates parasites.

Deborah Niemann 19:25
Now, what is bottle jaw, and where is it? Bottle jaw is a swelling that is under the jaw, from like the hinge of the jaw to the chin, because it looks kind of like there’s a bottle under the jaw. It is really easy to distinguish it from CL, which is an abscess that’s, like, going to be over behind the hinge of the jaw. And certainly, if that round abscess bursts, you know it is some kind of an infectious abscess. The other thing is that swelling in the middle of the throat could be an enlarged thyroid; that would be a goiter. And so, that indicates iodine deficiency, usually. So, those are other possibilities of swelling around the neck, throat, and jaw. And, if you see pictures of them, then it’s very obvious what you’re dealing with.

Deborah Niemann 20:21
So, hopefully that is going to give you some good information on how to know how your goats are dealing with parasites. Hopefully, your goats will always have excellent scores on all 5 of these points. But, now you know, just by looking at them and putting your hands on them, whether or not they need to be treated, or whether you need to possibly contact the vet for additional assistance. I hope you found this information helpful today!

Deborah Niemann 20:53
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

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6 thoughts on “5-Point Check for Parasites”

  1. How do you judge coat condition? I have a 10 month doeling whose coat is soft and fuzzy, but 2.5 year old mother’s coat is much coarser. Is this normal, and if so how long does it take for kids to out grow their ‘baby hair”? Thanks for a great article!

    • Hi Caroline
      The answer to your question will depend.
      My kids have sleek shiny coats by the time they are between 6-8 months old. I typically kid in December-January and live in Texas where our summers are very hot, so by June to July I see sleek shiny coats that are typical of healthy Nigerian Dwarf goats. Bucklings will of course have longer and denser coats than the girls.
      Appearance will vary depending on time of year kidding happens and the regional temperatures. If I were up North and kidded in May, it would likely be the following late spring before seeing sleek shiny coats, because winter cashmere would come in as baby coats were being replaced and cause the coat to be fluffy/fuzzy for extra seasonal warmth, then that would shed out when it heats up.
      Coarse, sparse, brittle, and dull coats are not what we want to see. It is normal for adults to get fluffy during the colder months and then that will shed out as it gets warmer. If they are really holding on to the winter coat as it warms, causing a ragged appearance, that may be a sign of copper deficiency. Especially if there is also coat fading present.
      I hope this is helpful for you!

  2. Hi. This was really useful because I’d been checking eyelids by just looking at the visible part, which look nice and pink. I didn’t know about pulling down a little on the eyelid to see the inner part. So I did that and they are very red, but if I hadn’t known they were supposed to be so red I would have thought they had really bad eye irritation.

    • Hi Fran!
      This is the exact reason for posting these 🙂 We are so very happy that you found the info so helpful!

  3. I currently have a pregnant doe with a FAMACHA score of 3. All other points of the 5 point check are good. The only issue I’ve had is copper deficiency that was treated with bolus. My question is, what could be causing her score of 3 and what should I do for her, if anything? Are there other reasons for anemia in a healthy goat? She is a Nigerian Dwarf.

    • Hi Carie!
      A FAMACHA score of 3 is the “should I or shouldn’t I treat” score. I personally do not treat otherwise healthy pregnant does with a score of 3, especially during the winter (assuming it is cold conditions where you live) because there are much fewer infective larva on pasture this time of year. But there are certain situations that would possibly cause me to consider treatment, such as, is she a first time mom with multiples, is she a super lactater that typically loses body condition due to large milk production, is it a time of year where temps are rising and moisture is increasing enough to support infective larvae on pasture?
      These are things that I look at individually with my pregnant does. A score of 3 in a pregnant doe does warrant more frequent monitoring of her score, especially during the last few weeks of pregnany and during the first 6-8 weeks after giving birth.
      I hope this helps 🙂


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