When it came to raising sheep and goats, we started by following conventional wisdom, which is to deworm on a regular schedule. However after observing the animals and doing some research, HWA and I started to feel uncomfortable with routinely pouring poison down their throats. Last year we attended an all day seminar on Healthcare for Small Ruminants, held at a local, respected university vet school ,and came away committed to reducing, if not totally eliminating, our need to deworm.
It is important to understand the life cycle of the parasites. For most intestinal worms, the adult lives in the animal and its eggs are expelled with fecal matter. The eggs hatch into larva which crawl up the blades of grass, to be ingested by the animals, reinfecting them. This cycle takes about 6 days. Larva can live about 30 days on the grass but if not eaten in that time will die.
A simple solution then, seemed to be rotational grazing. By moving the sheep and goats to new pasture every few days, and not returning them to any area for 6-8 weeks, the cycle is interrupted.
The solution may be simple; the implementation however is more complicated. Until now we’ve relied on our physical fence to keep them confined to their pasture. In order to cordon off sections, we turned to electric fence. After researching several brands, we settled on Gallagher SmartFence, which is a form of temporary electric fence that is fast and easy to take down and set up again. For a power source we chose solar.
The strands of electric fence come on a reel that looks not unlike a harpoon. The stakes are included on the post and as the fence is reeled out, each post is pressed into the ground. When taking the fence down, the handle is turned to roll the strings back onto the reel.
Initially we had to train the sheep and goats to the electric fence, by setting it up inside a section of physical fence. That way, even if they got through, they couldn’t go anywhere. Once they respected the fence, we tested them by confining them to a section of pasture. For two weeks they did not breach it, so we felt confident we could use it independently of the physical fence.
As it is summer, we have to make sure they have access to shade and water – challenging to be sure. For now we are confining them to areas that have at least one tree and are close to water sources. Our ultimate goal is to have portable shelter and water.
Below you can see the large area created by the electric fence, inside the chicken yard, which had become quite overgrown. The area is approximately 60′ wide by 105′ long, making use of the entire 330′ of wire. It includes the tree in the background of the photo. 9 sheep and 3 goats have “mowed” this area quite effectively in only 2 ½ days (when they started it was all as long as the grass you see in the foreground).
And, here is how the area looked after they had spent a full four days here:
Our plan is that rotational grazing combined with dung beetles will allow us to completely forgo the use of chemical dewormers.