Dealing with Coccidiosis in Sheep, Goats, and Calves

One of the pleasures of spring is watching young animals at play. Healthy, vigorous young lambs, kids, and calves race and spring into the air. But suppose that instead of this scene, you walk out and find that your young animals look empty and lethargic, their coats are rough, and they have diarrhea. What is wrong? It might be intestinal worms, but a more likely possibility is that the young stock are infected with coccidia. Coccidiosis is a parasite infection caused by the protozoan organism coccidia (also known by the scientific name Eimeria). Since immunity to the infection develops over time, young animals are more susceptible to infection and disease. It is normal for adults to harbor small numbers of coccidia without any signs of disease, and they are likely a source of infection for their offspring. Medications that work in fighting intestinal worms will NOT kill coccidia. Therefore, recognizing coccidiosis and understanding how to manage livestock to prevent or minimize illness is important. Probably the first sign of a problem with coccidiosis is diarrhea: hindquarters and tails may be coated with manure. Along with that, animals may show decreased appetite, listlessness, weakness, and abdominal pain. Conditions that may lead to coccidiosis include keeping young stock in conditions that are crowded, wet, or unsanitary. Animals that are under stress fro

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9 thoughts on “Dealing with Coccidiosis in Sheep, Goats, and Calves

  1. I have a couple questions:

    1) Can one prevent or limit exposure to coccidia through grazing management/pasture rotation?

    2) Does coccidia infestation increase (or decrease) in a multi-species grazing situation, particularly with poultry involved?

    1. Sarah, great questions. Coccidia are species-specific, so the poultry won’t impact the other grazers in that way. Clean water tanks and feed troughs and good sanitation in holding areas help prevent coccidiosis, and good grazing management/pasture rotation will help by reducing exposure to manure. Keeping stress low helps the immune system, as does good nutrition. Coccidia are shed by mature animals; the goal is to keep the young animals from ingesting too large a dose that overwhelms their developing immune systems. Wet conditions are conducive to coccidia infection, by the way, so be alert for symptoms after a rainy spell.

  2. Here is more about sericea lespedeza:
    http://www.wormx.info/#!slcoccidia/c170d
    It is true that it can be invasive in some situations. It was already present on our farm, and the sheep and goats are grazing it hard enough that it is declining every year. For those who already have sericea on their property, using sheep or goats will help get it under control, while possibly giving a health benefit to the animals.

    I had not heard that apple cider vinegar works; I am curious, too, about the dose.

  3. Please don’t recommend sericea lespedeza. It quickly becomes invasive in natural areas and native pastures and is being considered for noxious weed status in several states.

    1. Do you have references for this? I have heard the “ACV” advocates often claim just about everything under the sun can be healed or treated by ACV. I am sure it is great for many things but would love to see some data. Thank You.

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