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Condensed Tannins vs. Better Genetics & Management to Combat Worm Problems

We started a project in 2007 (worm resistant breeding) to see if we could dramatically reduce the worm problems that had been occurring in our herd. The worms had built up a resistance to almost all of the dewormers and no new dewormers were projected to be coming. We reviewed all of the recent research studies we could find and developed a program to include almost every tool we could find in reducing the worm problems.

One of those tools was to include browse in your pastures that contained Condensed Tannins. Those included  Sericea Lespedeza and Chicory. After several years, we have decided to quit trying to raise browse with Condensed Tannins and continue our focus on identifying better worm-resistant genetics and other management tools.  This article is offered to discuss why we made that decision.

Browse with Condensed Tannins

In 2007, we ordered several bags of  Sericea Lespedeza seed, which is very expensive. The individual seeds are extremely small. We are big amateurs at preparing a pasture and planting new browse seed. We had purchased some Crimson Clover seeds earlier to try and grow fall browse that had high protein content. It also was a very small seed. We broadcasted the seed across several of our sub pastures that contained Coastal Bermuda  grass. The Crimson Clover did great and popped up everywhere. We did the same thing with the Lespedeza and saw nothing. We had read that you need to have limited grazing on the first year of the Lespedeza in order to allow it to get a good start. We left one pasture vacant for almost one year but could not find anything coming up that looked like what we though it should look like.

The second year, we finally found a few sprouts that we believed was lespedeza. However by the end of the second year, it was almost impossible to find in the one spot it had been seen before. The third year we found a few more plants in a little bigger area but by the middle of summer it was almost impossible to find those few plants again. This is a plant that is listed as an invasive plant that can take over an area and be next to impossible to get rid of.

Many people have told us you can take this seed and throw it out on the poorest soil you have and it will grow. I believe that may be true. When I talked to the people selling the seed, I asked about planting it with the Bermuda grass. They said it might have a difficult time competing with the Bermuda when first planted. However other web sites discussing lespedeza and how to plant it, state it can be broadcasted. It seems to me the pastures would have to really be prepared in such as way that nothing else is growing there. That is something I can't afford to do and really don't have the capability of doing. I can't just wipe out all of the browse in a pasture and then allow it to set for a year hoping the lespedeza will come up. I need all of the pastures I have for good rotation and if it did come up, I have to look at if that really is the best long range plan for reducing any worm problems.

If you look at the research papers on lespedeza, it states goats grazing on lespedeza have shown reduced worm egg counts while they are grazing on it in a pasture or eating in an a hay form. However, when the lespedeza is removed, the worm egg counts go back up. That is a big drawback with me. That means if I had lespedeza for our goats to browse, they would potentially have less worms. However, when I  sell an animal none of that protection goes to the new home unless they also have lespedeza. That means the lespedeza is only a temporary patch for the problem at a specific farm and that does not move the industry along toward helping the serious worm problem across the world.

Better Genetics and Management Programs

While we were trying to get the Condensed Tannin Plants growing in our pastures, an amazing thing happened. Our worm problems started to decline dramatically each year over the last three years and that is without the Condensed Tannins. The link above to "worm resistant breeding" discusses the approach we took and why. The monthly health checks of each animal, deworming by exception, proper culling and focusing on specific genetics have completely changed the quality and health of our herd. This year had some heavy rain in the spring and especially heavy rain in the fall. Each time my wife said the weather was really going to bring out the worms and the worm problems. It did not. Worm eggs have to have good moisture and warm temperatures to allow them to spread. While we would see a little jump in worms with some animals, by far, all of the other herd did not require deworming and they continue to look healthy and fit.

Here is a note we received on October, 2009 from a breeder in California that had purchased some of our genetics from another California breeder.

"My name is xxxxxxx and I live in xxxx, CA. I visited your website today and noticed the picture of Choctaw Chick and your statement about her bloodline having a clear genetic worm resistant trait. I am a happy owner of a Maul Bold Warrior daughter. She was produced by a doe named AABG/LOID Headlines who is here in California.  I wanted to write you and tell you how pleased I am with this doe. I can attest to your claim about worm resistant bloodlines. This particular doe gets wormed about once a year. I have to say she has never shown signs of needing it but since I don't do fecal counts, I do it just because in early spring around kidding time when the grass is wet.  I have never had a problem with this doe. She is the easiest keeper I have. Her coat is always slick and shiny and she is almost never dirty. Which to me is another sign of worm resistance -  A goat that always looks clean and bright"

We love to hear things like this. The key point for us is lespedeza may help reduce worm eggs while it is available to the animal but better genetics for worm resistance follows the animal no matter where they go and very likely can show up in the offspring. That is exactly what we are finding.

Many of the offspring from our "high worm resistance" Does, also show signs of being resistant to worms.  We have identified many animals that are high worm resistant and have been able to validate their offsprings are showing the same thing. The email mentioned Choctaw Chick that was shown on our web site. She is now around 18 months old and never been dewormed. When you look at her, she has a very healthy coat. Her dam was Susie Q and she has only been wormed 3-4 times in  3.5 years. Susie Q's sister is Mascott and she is the same way.  Mascott's kids are showing the same thing.

 Our focus has become selecting the genetics with "high worm resistance" and not the ones that may do best in the show ring. When Susie Q and Mascott were born, we were just starting our program for improving the genetics. If we had not been in that program, I don't think we would have kept them. They were both beautiful Does but they were not as big initially as some of our other Does. One research paper mentioned that animals with an immunity to worms may be somewhat smaller because the immunity requires protein. So some protein may go to building up the animals immunity instead of faster growth. We would prefer to have animals that have limited to no worm problems than trying to see how wide and long we can breed them to be.

Summary

In May, 2008, we needed to dewormed 20% of our herd. May, 2009 only 2% of the herd needed dewormed. We have sold some great animals, and some show quality, that just did not do as well as other animals in handling worms. We are hearing back from breeders that have some of our genetics that their animals are showing worm resistance. We have no idea if that is an exception or a trend. We know that every farm has different worm issues, different weather, and different management styles. We certainly don't claim that animals coming from our farm will do better against worms on a different farm. Here is what we can state.

We have monthly records of each of our animals that show the status of their eyelid color, if they were dewormed, status of their coat, body and hooves.

We can assure breeders that they will not be getting animals with super worms that are resistant to dewormers. If you read some of our articles on "Refugia", you will see that we believe in having some worms in our pastures that have not come from heavily dewormed animals thus causing them to be highly resistant super worms.

We have clearly documented how we manage our herd to try and minimize worm problems.

We have decided that is is better to breed for better worm resistant genetics than to try and raise specific plants with Condensed Tannins to possibly reduce worm eggs only while the browse is available. We will continue to be focused on the long term strategy with our breeding program and, as always, we will require that all goat features be financially justified and not judge justified.