by Katie Navarra

Parasite control based on fecal egg counts is recommended for livestock as resistance to anthelmintics continues to be problematic. Basing treatment on the results of fecal testing can be costly in large herds. Whether done by a veterinarian or sent to a laboratory for evaluation there is a fee for the service. However, the supplies are readily available and with basic training, livestock owners can learn to run fecal tests on their farm.

“It gives me the flexibility to test the animals three to four times a year,” Emaly Leak said. Leak owns Autumn Hill Llamas and Fiber in Duanesburg, NY and works for New York State’s Department of Health. “I especially like to test in the spring when things warm up and after a female delivers. Those are two times parasites are more likely to be present.”

She uses the Modified Wisconsin Sugar Flotation Method to evaluate fecal samples from any one of her eight llamas and two alpacas. This method was developed by the University of Wisconsin’s Parasitology Laboratory and is the most commonly used.

“This method uses a sugar or salt saturated solution, which causes the eggs to float to the top of the sample,” she said. “Using a centrifuge speeds up the process. I can have results in just a few hours.”

On May 16, Leak demonstrated how to prepare a sample at a Cornell Cooperative Extension on-farm workshop hosted by Sweet and Savory Farmette in Buskirk, NY. The 7.5-acre farm is owned by Thom and Nikki Allgaier, with Nikki specializing in the livestock. They currently have 18 alpacas.

She used a four-gram fecal sample to demonstrate. Using a sugar solution she showed attendees how to prepare a slide and use a microscope to identify and count the number of eggs present. The number of eggs counted is the number per four grams of feces, so the number counted is divided by four to find the eggs per gram (EPG). She cautioned that individual animals may naturally have higher EPG counts than other animals and that a deworming program shouldn’t be based solely on the results of one EPG.

“If I have an animal that has a high level but never shows signs like weight loss, diarrhea or are less energetic I might not treat them. I look for trends,” she said. “If a female has had low numbers and then they double or triple after a baby, then she needs to be treated.”

The equipment—a centrifuge and microscope—and the supplies for preparing slides are readily available online. Livestock supply companies carry the items needed to perform on-farm fecal testing.

“I still send samples out to be tested every now and then just to make sure that what I’m seeing is accurate,” Leak said. “It’s a good checks and balance.”

Because camelids are stoic and don’t show many outward signs of infestation, running a fecal test a few times throughout the year is ideal to catch parasites before an infestation occurs. However, Leak said that diarrhea, lethargy and weight loss can signal a parasite problem. She has a scale in her barn and weighs the herd bimonthly.

She also monitors the color of her animals’ eyelids for signs of the barber pole worm (haemonchus contortus). If the inner eyelid color is pale she runs a fecal test to determine if the animal has a high load of parasites.

Parasite prevention and management does not equate to fecal samples with zero EPG. That is the biggest change in thinking as the industry has moved away from rotational deworming to an approach based on fecal egg counts.

“It’s important to retain a population of parasites in your herd that are still susceptible to medication,” Leak said. “You’re never going to have no parasites in an animal.”

Parasite prevention is as important as treatment in an infested animal. Leak said sheep and goat producers have developed highly effective rotational grazing practices that can be used with camelids as well.

“Letting animals graze the grass tall rather than to the ground is one way to decrease parasite numbers in the whole herd. It also keeps the barn lots drier,” she said.

For livestock owners interested in learning more about performing their own fecal testing, Leak periodically offers one-day workshops on her farm. For more information contact her at 317.979.2669.