Preventing coccidiosis

Parasites are the leading cause of death in goats. Although people usually think of intestinal worms immediately, coccidia are intestinal protozoa that can cause death in kids, as well as diarrhea and overall poor body condition. Just as over-reliance on drugs has caused problems with dewormer resistance, some people are seeing drug-resistant coccidia. In both cases, this happens because people use drugs more often than is needed or they use drugs rather than management to keep their goats healthy.

With only three types of drugs available to treat coccidiosis — sulfa drugs, amprolium, and toltrazuril — it is not hard to find yourself with a resistance problem. Like other health issues, including worms, you will never be able to get control of it by only using drugs. You need a coccidia prevention plan based upon management.

Prevent infection

First, you have to eliminate the source of infection as much as possible. All adults have some level of coccidia in their intestines. Kids get infected when they nibble on soiled bedding, hay, or other food. This is why many people who bottle-feed will house all kids separately from adults. Even then, coccidiosis is a common occurrence in most herds with bottle-fed kids. It can be spread from adult areas to kid areas on the bottom of your shoes because stepping on poop in unavoidable.

Years ago when one of my mentors tried to impress upon me the importance of a clean barn, I thought she was nuts. Seriously, how can you keep a barn totally clean? I cringe when I think of what my barn bedding used to look like — lots of exposed goat berries. Today, I tell all of our interns that if they don’t think a stall is clean enough for them to sit in, it needs more straw. In other words, cover up all the exposed poop.

Since goats poop little berries, most of it slips through the straw. You don’t wind up with a lot being exposed if you give it daily attention. Depending upon how many goats are in a stall overnight, we usually need to add one or two flakes of straw every day or two. If you have lots of poop all over the bedding every morning, you either need more bedding or you simply have too many goats in that space.

Excellent nutrition

Second, kids need the antibodies in their mother’s milk because they are born with a very immature immune system. I’ve heard far too many people talk about cutting back on bottles or separating kids from their mother nightly when they are only a few weeks old.

They assume that since the kid is eating hay or grain, they don’t need the milk that much. That’s just not true. Milk has an entirely different nutrient profile than other foods. It contains easily digestible protein and calcium for their fast-growing bodies.

A well-fed kid will increase its birth weight three to ten times by the time it’s two months old, depending upon breed. The larger breeds don’t seem to multiply their weight as much as smaller breeds. My Nigerian dwarf kids grow from 2 – 4 pounds to 17 – 24 pounds, increasing their birth weight by seven to ten times in two months, while my friend with Kikos only sees her goats triple or quadruple their birth weight by the time she weans at three months. But milk is far more than simply a way to get nutrients into a kid. It’s the cornerstone of good health.

When I was new to goats, I gave kids a maximum of 24 ounces of raw milk a day because that was the most common practice at the time. Through years of experimentation, I’ve learned that Nigerian dwarf kids do best if they’re getting 32 to 36 ounces a day of raw milk either with mom or in a bottle.

If bottle-feeding baby goats, you need to split this into three or four bottles throughout the day to avoid diarrhea. People who want to get kids down to only two bottles a day as quickly as possible wind up giving the kids less milk than they need because kids will get diarrhea if they drink too much milk in a single bottle.

At 24 ounces a day, kids will grow well, but you might have a problem with coccidiosis. At 16 ounces, the kids’ growth will be slow, and they will have big problems with coccidiosis and worms. People who bottle-feed at that level or use milk replacer also start kids on coccidiostats at three weeks of age. This is why I don’t let a first freshener feed triplets (I bottle-feed one) and why a doe has to have a good milking history for me to even consider letting her raise quadruplets. Even then, I weigh the kids daily for the first two weeks and weekly for the first two months. For a Nigerian dwarf doe to adequately nourish triplets, she needs to produce at least 4 pounds a day (1/2 gallon) for good growth. The more she produces beyond that, the healthier the kids will be.

Weighing kids regularly is the key to overcoming coccidiosis problems in your herd. Since we started weighing kids daily in 2014, we have had one case of coccidiosis in a kid. And when helping others who have kids with challenging problems with coccidiosis, being underweight is always part of the picture.

Far too many people think they can eyeball their kids’ body condition to know they are getting enough milk. But when we started weighing kids, I discovered that the scale will tell me I have a problem long before my eyeballs and hands would have known. I want to see my ND kids gain an average of 4 ounces per day. If a kid is not hitting that target, we supplement them. No one has eyeballs or hands sensitive enough to be able to see that a kid is gaining only 2 ounces per day versus 4 ounces per day, yet that is the difference between merely surviving and thriving.

When I had this conversation with someone last year, she insisted that her doe had been successfully raising quads. I asked her to weigh them. She reported back that their weights varied from 14 to 24 pounds. Obviously, someone was getting way more than his fair share while his “little” sister was terribly under-nourished. 

Also, after weighing kids regularly, I realized that I was not really happy with the idea of selling them if they were less than 20 pounds. For more than a decade I had followed the common practice of selling kids at two months, even though I sometimes worried about the kids because I just didn’t feel like they were big enough. But I had never heard anyone talk about using weight as guideline for weaning. However, it makes far more sense than simply picking a random date on the calendar. Virtually all of my kids do hit that 20-pound goal by 8 to 10 weeks of age, and I sleep much better at night after selling kids when they are 20 pounds or heavier.

Unfortunately, I get a lot of messages from people who have kids with chronic coccidiosis, which weigh only 10-15 pounds at three to four months of age. In this video, I show you some of the spreadsheets where we track kids’ weight gain, including quintuplets that doubled their weight before they were two weeks old and also hit that 20 pound mark by two months of age.


Avoid stress

Stress is the third part of the coccidiosis picture. If goats are stressed by weaning or moving to a new farm, they are more likely to have a problem. For this reason, we never wean doelings that are staying on our farm. We separate them from their mothers overnight starting at two months of age so that we can milk the dam in the morning, but they spend the day on the pasture with each other. By doing this, we no longer have a problem with coccidiosis or worms in our doelings, and they usually grow fast enough to breed for kidding as yearlings.

What NOT to do …

Most of the drugs that are sold to treat coccidiosis also have instructions on the label providing dosages for using the drugs as a preventative. This is a bad idea because if you are giving one of those drugs, and your goats get coccidiosis in spite of it, then the coccidia is resistant to that drug.

Remember, there are only three different types of drugs in the US, so you need to avoid using them as much as possible. You want those drugs to work when you really need them. If you know you have a chronic problem, have not been able to get a handle on the management yet, and you want to use a chemical preventative, you can use a feed additive or medicated feed. These alternatives have a completely different mode of action than the drugs that are used to treat an active infection.

People often worry about kids dying from coccidiosis, but the reality is that a low-grade chronic infection can be just as devastating. It can do permanent damage to the intestines so that the goat will always have trouble absorbing nutrients and will never grow to its full potential.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Years ago, seeing diarrhea-covered kids seemed an inevitable part of spring. But by changing our management practices, kids with coccidiosis have become the exception rather than the norm.

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35 thoughts on “Preventing coccidiosis”

    • Thank you for sharing this information. When I first started raising goats, I went through some very difficult loses due to having little knowledge myself and not being able to find helpful accurate information. I love your site. You are a wealth of information.

  1. Are you saying a well fed kid of any breed should increase its birth weight 7-10 times by two months old? So my 8-pound Sable newborns should weigh 56-80 pounds at 8 weeks? I feed my kids milk free choice and do intense rotational grazing with their pens (to virtually eliminate risk of parasite exposure) and have never, ever come anywhere close to that kind of growth rate. I don’t know that such a statement can be broadly applied to all breeds.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. Even though I used to have LaManchas, I sometimes forget that I’m writing for an audience that has other breeds. I’ve edited the post to include weight gains of larger breeds.

  2. I agree they need that milk! Bottle babies seem yo be more vulnerable. I prevent cocci in my bottle babies by using cinnamon. I start adding it to their bottlea when they are about 1-2 weeks old. About a 1/4tsp per bottle. IF I get a case of actual cocci I treat them at least 3 times a day with a larger dose of cinnamon, if its really bad it can be given every 15 minutes. Never had to gjve it that often.
    I figured this out several years ago. Had a bottle baby I brought home, he got diarrhea, so I did a fecal. I quit counting eggs at 130, treated him with cinnamon for 4 times a day for 3 days. Diarrhea was gone with in 24 hours and ran a second fecal on the 3rd day and he had less than 10 eggs on the slide.. I also give electrolytes when babies especially get diarrhea.
    My momma babies rarely get it. Most feed pans are up off the ground and hayracks too.
    I enjoy reading your page. Its nice to read common sense goat info.

  3. Hi Deborah,
    Do you recommend starting young kids on a feed that includes a coccidiostat? What is the “mode of action” of a coccidiostat? I understand the object is to reduce cocci not to eliminate them. What is the difference between Rumensin and Decoquinate? What are the pros and cons of each? Are both toxic to horses and donkeys?? I, too, would like to know how cinnamon affects cocci!?
    Thank you for the information.

    • Drugs should NEVER be a routine part of goat management, and medicated feed is a drug. Drugs should only be used when necessary. The only time I use medicated feed is when weaning bucklings that are not in excellent body condition because the stress of weaning will cause an increase in the coccidia, resulting in coccidiosis. This is why I work so hard to be sure my kids get plenty of milk from mom — so that they grow big as quickly as possible, which is really important for any kid that will be kept as a buck because he’s going to have to be separated from mom by 2-3 months. A big healthy buckling can handle the stress of weaning just fine.

      Coccidiostats do not kill coccidia. They simply slow down reproduction so that you don’t get an overabundance of them, which is what leads to coccidiosis. Rumensin and Decoquinate are just different brands of coccidiostat, and this study showed no difference in their efficacy:
      Both are toxic to equines.

      I can’t speak for the person who posted the comment about cinnamon, but I have not been able to find any research in mammals on cinnamon and coccidia, and since I’m on a university faculty, I searched the academic database. There is a study published with chickens in Portuguese that used oregano, rosemary, cinnamon essential oil, and pepper extract, but I can’t get enough info from the English summary to even figure out how much cinnamon they used. There is also a study done in vitro, which means in test tubes, so who knows if that would translate to goats or any other mammals. You can kill lots of things in test tubes, but it doesn’t actually work in living creatures.

  4. What you posted is so true~ I have also eliminated problems this way…. I just want to add though that if there is ever a problem, while treating, giving 3×60 cc of blended banana/ apple juice(twice a day) will offer a natural electrolyte as well as stool thickner… can easily save animals while being treated. Give it until animal is recuperated. I use a 60 cc syringe with the poin cut off so sucking up blended mixture is easy; I place the syringe directly into the mouth to the back teeth and with head level, squeeze gently as the goat swallows. After a couple servings the goats will come running for it… they love it

  5. Thank you great information!!
    How can I tell if my goats have this parasite???
    They have had their immunizations, I only have 3 wethers, that are a year old
    Registered Pygmies. I got them when they were 4 weeks old and bottle feed them, they have been routinely dewormed and eat medicated grain from Purina, Timothy Grass, have Goat Minerals, Salt Blocks, And Mineral Block In their pen.
    Durning the day they are outside , pen is cleaned 1-2 times a day.
    At night they are placed inside for safety that cage is cleaned daily and bedding is replaced daily.

    • All goats normally have it, and it’s fine. It’s only a problem for adults if they are otherwise sick and their immune system is suppressed. I’ve only had one or two adults in 17 years need to be treated for this. There is not an immunization for this, and it is not a worm.

      You should NOT be giving dewormer on a regular basis, or it will stop working when you do need it.

      Medicated grain is for coccidia, but it should ONLY be given during times of stress, such as weaning. If given long term, it has been linked to vitamin E deficiency, so you should stop giving that to them.

      Also, no salt block — that will cause them to consume less of their minerals, which have salt in them. They should have loose minerals — not a block because their tongues are soft, so they can’t get enough from a block.

      More is not always better, and you could be killing them with kindness. All wethers need is a good grass hay, a loose mineral free choice, and pasture and fresh water.

  6. Hi, I have a problem I don’t know what to do about. I determined that my goats (myotonics approx.8 months old) were probably copper deficient, which Iam treating. But, in addition, they have bloated looking bellies. They are not in any distress but their bellies right up next to the spine looks bloated. It also seems like they aren’t gaining muscle like they should. Thank you!

    • That’s a great description of a hay belly. They are stuffing themselves because they are essentially starving due to parasites, probably worms, which are either sucking their blood (barber pole) or consuming the food in their digestive tract. If you pull down their eyelids and they are pale pink or white inside, that’s barber pole worm. If the eyelids are bright pink or red, they are not anemic, so it’s probably a different roundworm. All of the roundworms are treated with the same dewormers though. Here is more info on deworming:

  7. Just thought id share a tip; when you want to wean kids, you might try securely putting bandaging micropore tape around the dam’s teats. be careful not to be too tight so circulation is not cut off. you can remove it gently when milking. it worked quite well for me because although the kid was confused and couldnt drink, he wasnt stressed as he wasnt separated from his mom.
    i dont claim it will work for everyone, but it did for me; i have had goats only 3years but havent had a case of cocci in kids in this time

    *i dont recommend duct tape/other tapes as they completely stop air reaching the teats. also, clean the teats thoroughly before taping them and make sure its dry.

    • You didn’t mention what age you’re weaning or how many goats you have, and that can make a huge difference. Weaning at two months is riskier than weaning at six months when the kid’s immune system is more developed. Having only 3-4 goats puts your kids at less risk than having 20 goats. Having goats on pasture puts them at less risk for coccidiosis than keeping them in a barn most of the time (which is the opposite for worm risk).

      Another reason we quit weaning kids is because we realized that within a few days of not letting kids nurse, the doe’s milk supply would fall dramatically — sometimes by as much as half. So we realized that if we just let the kids keep nursing, we could get almost a much milk and only need to milk once a day — in the morning after having the kids separated overnight. A European study explained what we learned from our goats — when kids nurse, they cause the release of oxytocin. That does not happen when we milk a goat, which means we will get less milk because oxytocin is responsible for the milk ejection reflex. This is why you may have felt like a goat was holding back on you. She’s not doing it on purpose, but you’re right if you think that you’re not getting all of the milk. That inhibited milk ejection does seem to diminish with time, but by then, the supply is down. So letting the kids continue to nurse is a win-win for the kid and us.

      Taping teats does reduce stress on kids, but there is the risk of the tape coming off and being swallowed by a kid, which could end badly.

  8. Thanks for pointing these out!. its true that i have a small herd only, that makes it much easier to keep things clean and probably accounts for less parasite load overall. Also, i dont usually wean kids until they are about 3 months old, only once did i wean a 2 month old when his dam became accidentally pregnant again, so that might also have a hand in coccidia prevention. although i never had a problem yet with the tape thing, i will be more cautious when using it again. now that you mention the risk of accidental swallowing,that does sound scary! i got this advice from a breeder but never considered the risks….

    • For future reference, there is no need to wean kids when a doe get pregnant until she is three months pregnant. Just because you saw a goat get bred when her kid was only 2 months old does not mean she got pregnant. It’s not impossible, but the odds are against a doe getting pregnant again when she’s nursing two month old kids. Although there are rare exceptions, most does dry up when they are 2-3 months pregnant.

  9. thanks for the advice! I would not normally have weaned the kids that early, but the mom was also a bit underweight and needed to be dewormed etc….i thought the kid would put more strain on her. She did turn out to be pregnant with twins later on. good to know that its rare

  10. Hello
    Our 2 new kids have Coccidiosis. One had scours and we took fecals to our vet and our vet prescribed Corid. Today is their last treatment. We cleaned the heck out of everything and it was a new goat house and large pen, so it wasn’t our lack of cleaning/care. They are both acting normal and playing, eating, and drinking. We have probiotics, but I can’t get vitamin b until next week. We have some brewers yeast and I read that a very small amount may help. What should we do next? Another fecal? What preventative care can we do? Kind of overwhelming first week of goat ownership. Thank you!

    • I am so sorry to hear this! It definitely wasn’t your fault if they were diagnosed with coccidiosis the first week. If the diarrhea is gone, they should be fine. And since you’ve cleaned everything, they shouldn’t have any trouble with it again. I have never given brewer’s yeast to a goat, so I have no idea what kind of effect it might have, positive or negative. If the kids are otherwise healthy, I don’t worry about vitamin B. A goat with a healthy rumen produces its own thiamine, which is what Corid depletes, and I have not heard of an otherwise healthy goat having a problem after a 5-day treatment at the prescribed dose.

      Congratulations on your new goats! I’m sure they’ll steal your heart in no time. Feel free to pop in here anytime you have questions!

  11. I love reading your blog!
    I am learning!! I get goat fever every spring and am actually almost ready to take the leap of faith!
    I have 3 acres and would dearly enjoy pair of mini Nubians on my property !!
    Thank you for all this great information!

  12. Hello Deborah
    Once again a great article, thank you.
    In regards to keeping the poop covered with fresh straw. What about barns that use stall mats and don’t use bedding? We have such a small property (1/3 acre ) that we are trying very hard to drastically reduce the manure pile. The floors in the barn are made of patio stones and up until now the bedding was simply the wasted hay ! The size of the manure pile was huge. We have finally won the battle of wasted hay 🙂 but now the floor is virtually bare and berries all over the place. Should I simply sweep 2 x day?

    My second question is in regards to using medicated feed. If the kids have gained weight well and are in good body condition. What would you feed them in order to get them used to eating grains for weight gain in prep for weaning? We tried figuring out a creep feeder system (huge fail lol) the kids just kept eating the moms feed. I didn’t mind that except we were feeding a dairy ration and I worried it would be bad for the males.

    Third and last for today ……what kind of a scale system do you use? We just used the bathroom scale with my husband holding the kids. This worked decent to make sure they were gaining but it sure isn’t accurate enough to see if they are gaining ounces per day. We tried a kitchen scale but it was too small and they wouldn’t stay still enough for the digital read out to give a reading.

    • I cannot imagine NOT using bedding with your goats. That’s really not an option. You will likely wind up coccidiosis problems in kids. Plus you’ll have poopy udders with pee on them. Your goats should be outside all day long unless it’s raining or snowing, so they should be fertilizing your pasture and yard most of the time. In cases like yours, I usually suggest that you give away your barn waste. There are usually local gardeners who are very excited to come pick up free fertilizer.

      There is nothing wrong with kids eating mom’s food. Growing kids need the same type of nutrition that milking does needs. And that’s how they learn to eat. Growing kids should also have alfalfa because they can use the high calcium when they are growing fast. Feeding them grain is NOT going to make them gain weight in preparation for weaning. Their weight gain will slow down dramatically when they stop nursing. This is why I don’t wean kids (does and wethers) that I am keeping. I cannot stress strongly enough that MILK is the thing that puts weight on kids. There is NO food in this world that will put weight on kids better than milk. It is nature’s perfect food for growing babies.

      We use a digital kitchen scale when they are first born, then we use a hanging dairy scale with the kids in a bucket. We used to use a human baby scale until it broke. Here’s a video that shows you how my husband weighs kids on the digital scale. He weighs them about halfway through.
      I do it differently. I personally tuck their feet under them and then set them on the scale (or in the box or basket) in a prone position. So, they are like, “whoa, what’s happening?” for enough time that I can get a reading before they stand up. The younger they are, the better that works. After I do it four or five times, they get faster. Hope this helps!

    • We use a digital kitchen scale when they are under 10 pounds. I tuck their feet under them so they just sit there trying to figure out what’s up long enough for the weight to register before they try to stand up. We used to use a human baby scale until it broke. Once they are over 10 pounds, we use our hanging dairy scale with the kids in a bucket. When they are too big for that, we just hold them and stand on a human scale and subtract our weight.

  13. I have a 5 month old Kiko/Saanen doe that developed diarrhea about a month ago. Aside from the diarrhea she was eating, drinking, acting normal, and had a normal temp. Vet treated with Corid at the time and she was doing great, until today she has diarrhea again.
    She has quality free feed alfalfa as well as rotational grazing. No recent change in food other than a small amount of spent barley given 2 days ago. I’m at a loss and want to avoid using Corid again if possible.

    • Did you treat with thiamine when using the Corid? If yes, then you counter-acted the mode of action of the Corid. Corid kills coccidia by depleting their thiamine, which freaks out a lot of people because they think their goat will become thiamine deficient. But goats produce their own thiamine in a healthy rumen, so unless you overdose or use Corid long term, you really don’t need to worry about thiamine deficiency. If so, you can always treat AFTER the coccidia has been eradicated.

      There are MANY reasons for diarrhea in a goat. Coccidia is the most common reason for kids 3 weeks to 5 months, so your doe is on the outer edge of that. I personally loved using sulfa drugs when they were over-the-counter because they would take care of coccidia AND bacterial infections. Sulfa drugs are now by prescription, so I’d suggest asking your vet for a sulfa drug since you already treated with Corid and it didn’t work.

      The final thing to think about is that chronic coccidiosis is usually only a problem in kids that are underweight. If she weighs quite a bit less than other kids her age, you might want to supplement her with more high protein goat feed and/or alfalfa hay or pellets to increase her protein level and help her grow. It is also something to think about in the future. Kids should be weighed regularly for the first month or two and supplemented with a bottle if their weight falls behind other kids their age.


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