Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haemonchus Contortus

Here's a good one. Say it, "Haemonchus Contortus," and wave your wand... No, it isn't an incantation. It's a worm. It is also known as the Barber's Pole worm. Back in the day the red strip on a barber's pole indicated that he was skilled in blood letting. You could have the barber cut your hair and sick the leaches on you. Since this little worm is skilled in drinking blood, well, Barber's Pole worm is a fittin' name.

To call one a "blood-sucking parasite" is to call them a Haemonchus. These guys wrote the book on blood sucking. We in the southeast have a Haemonchus problem. We get rain, and then more rain, and then, well, more rain. Rain is good for hatching worms. That makes keeping goats and sheep a little tricky. This is the cycle: the animal poops the worms onto the pasture, they grow on the grass, and then they eat them again. Eeeeew, that's gross. That's life deary. At the Gooneybush we graze sheep, chickens, and cows on the pasture with the goats. Some species, like our Gulf Coast Sheep for instance, are immune to the Haemonchus. The Cows aren't bothered by them either. Here's the nice part. Both the sheep and Cows graze lower in the grass and eat the worms, they don't bother them, and this effectively reduces the number on pasture for the goats to get. This is called symbiosis, things working together to make life nicer for one another. So far we have not had a worm problem. Our pasture has not had goats or sheep for several decades. I guess the worms moved to greener pastures.

So why don't we just worm them? First of all we try and stay away from chemicals. However, I would kill them with semi-automatic weapons if it would work. Oh no, they would live and then come and strangle me, or infect me, in my sleep. There isn't much that can kill them, they laugh in the face of wormers and the like, they are resistant. Too, there are no new wormers being developed for goats - goat farming isn't big business in the states yet. Perhaps if Bill Gate's goat gets worms he will help fund some new research. I bet if President Obama's goat, or his family in Kenya's goats get worms, maybe he will enact legislation. We can only hope. One day goats will take their rightful place in this part of the world.

For now sheeping is more popular than goating. That can only mean that the sheep farmers have not ever met my goats. If they did there would be no contest, but plenty of mutton. I digress. Most of the sheep are susceptible to Haemonchus, and that means someone cares to help those farmers. There is some money to be made with sheep. It is important not to over use the wormers that we have. It is hoped that careful use will keep them working a little longer, even though they don't work so well. So knowing which sheep really need wormed, truly need wormed, is very important. You can't just worm them routinely anymore, if you do, those wormers will be completely useless in no time. So, the parasitologists put on their super hero capes and made a test that makes finding Haemonchus in our critters so much easier. That's good news for goats because for the most part, what's good for the sheep is good for the goat. In case you ever wonder which is goat and which is sheep: tail down is a sheep, tail up is a goat. Sometimes the wool gives it away, but there are some dead-ringers in both groups. You might need this skill one day.

Here is why I am so proud. UGA's parasitology lab has aided in developing this test. They have some lean mean parasitologists there. In fact, our personal vet and friend, Mike Dzimianski, works in that lab. We are so proud of him and his colleagues. Thanks guys.

Don't be hatin'. You have to admire these worms, even if you love goats and sheep as much as I do. Listen to this. They know through their ESP worm gifts when the momma goat or sheep,from whom they are intimately associated with, is going to give birth. They know that her new little babies will be great hosts for their little worm babies. So they roll the dice, "Baby needs some new intestines" they say as they double up the egg count. They know that her little one is going to be right next to mom all day, eating the grass where she just pooped. Momma goat is their personal vending machine. Their goal is to get their babies to the ground before momma sheep or goat delivers hers. Genius! This strategy could work in business, school, all of life. The moral of the story? Just get there first, don't work for a living, use someone else's resources...mwahahahah (diabolical laughing.) Wait a minute. I think Congress beat us to that one.

This has been a science minute from the Gooneybush Farm

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