Are your goats constantly biting and scratching themselves to the point where they are rubbing themselves raw? If your goats are behaving crazier than usual, it’s possible they have lice. For me, just the word lice brings back childhood trauma of my elementary school lice outbreak, so imagine how your goats must feel.
But don’t panic! We’re here to help you identify what kind of lice your goats have and eradicate them. We even found a natural treatment that can help your farm stay chemical free!
Keep reading to learn how to treat your goats for lice so they can return to their usual frisky selves.
I Know They Make You Itchy, But What Are Lice?
If the last time you thought about lice was in elementary school, then you probably don’t know a lot about them. And that was just fine– until your goats got lice. Unfortunately, in order to treat lice competently, it is essential to know exactly what they are and how they reproduce.
I know lice are gross, but understanding the different types of lice that may be infecting your goats will help you to choose the best treatment option. And with an awareness of their life cycle, you can properly implement the treatment options. Finally, knowing how lice spread can help prevent reinfection in your herd.
So let’s get over our squeamishness and talk about ectoparasites.
Types of Goat Lice
Ectoparasites are a type of parasite that lives outside the host that it feeds on. Fleas are an example of an ectoparasite. Lice are another. Lice are ectoparasites that can infest all kinds of animals, including humans. Luckily for us, lice are species specific. That means we can’t catch goat lice (and vice versa, that can’t get lice from us).
There are two main types of lice that can infect your goats– biting lice and sucking lice. Honestly, their names pretty much tell you the main difference between the two kinds (biting vs. sucking), but we’ll explain how to identify them so you can know which type is infecting your goats.
You can identify lice on your goats with the naked eye, though you may want a magnifying glass to look more closely to determine which kind of lice they are. Biting lice are bothersome but less dangerous than their sucking cousins. Biting lice are lighter in color, grayish or tan. They also have broader heads.
Sucking lice, on the other hand, have narrow heads that pierce the skin. These are your vampire lice that survive by drinking your goat’s blood (super gross). Like ticks, their bodies engorge from the blood they drink, and they are darker in color than biting lice. Sucking lice can leave wounds that can become infected. The blood loss eventually causes anemia.
Both kinds of lice will deposit their eggs, or nits as they’re called, along the hair. The nits may be easier to identify than the adult lice on your goats. They are small, white spots glued to the individual hairs. You’ll probably see the nits before you identify any adult lice.
The Lifecycle of a Louse
Understanding the lifecycle of a louse (louse is the singular of lice– like mouse/mice) is an important step to getting rid of this itchy parasite. A louse begins its life as an egg, referred to as a nit. Nine to twelve days after it was laid, the nit hatches. It passes through three nymphal stages before it becomes an adult. Once it is an adult louse, around day 28, it reproduces and then dies (1).
When you discover a lice infestation, there are lice at varying stages of the lifecycle present. Most treatments do not kill nits, only hatched lice. Therefore it is necessary to repeat the treatment after two to three weeks to kill any new lice that may have hatched.
How Lice Spread
Lice don’t fly or even walk too far. For the most part, they are pretty content to hang out on their host. One reason for that is they don’t survive long without being able to eat. If they go longer than about 24 hours without food, then they die. Despite this, lice do spread. So how does it happen?
Lice are generally spread by contact. This can happen when your goats are huddled up together, especially in cold winter months when lice are most common. All it takes is one goat to contract lice, and your hold herd can quickly become infected. If you notice a goat, or goats, with lice, you want to quarantine them from the rest of the herd.
Getting Rid of Lice
Now that we know what lice are and how they reproduce and spread, let’s talk about how to treat goats for lice. Cause that’s what you really want to know, right? How to get your goats to stop itching.
I’m all for natural remedies whenever possible, but even I admit sometimes you need to resort to chemical means to eradicate a nasty pest. So we’ll cover both natural techniques and the chemical methods that work best. We’ll also talk about how to prevent lice from returning.
Natural Lice Treatments
When it comes to lice, going with a chemical treatment is probably the best bet for fully eliminating this persistent parasite. That being said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t natural treatments that can help mitigate the severity of what you are facing.
One super effective, fully natural treatment is to use a lice comb. Just like on a human, you can help your hairy goat friend by combing them with a fine tooth comb. This is an excellent step to take in the time you need to wait between chemical treatments.
You can try washing their hair with vinegar first. The vinegar is said to help unglue the nits from their hair. After you have finished brushing, rub them down with Tea tree oil diluted in a carrier oil, like coconut oil.
Another natural option is to shear your animals. Lice can not live without the presence of hair. If you remove all their hair, then viola, your lice problem is cured. Shearing can be especially effective for long haired goat breeds, like angoras.
Unfortunately for us organic folk, the best lice treatments involve using chemical insecticides. Chemical treatments can be applied either topically or orally.
You will need to administer these treatments twice, usually two weeks apart, in order to ensure you kill any lice that may have hatched after the first treatment.
It’s challenging to know which insecticide to use as most are not explicitly labeled for goat use. Cylence and Ivermectin are popular, topical insecticides used to treat lice on goats. However, neither is officially approved for goats, so knowing the correct dosage can be unclear. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian before applying any insecticide to your goats.
The longer you keep animals, the more you will realize the healthier they are, the less susceptible they are to parasites. One of the best ways to help prevent lice is to ensure your animals have access to the best hay for goats. Proper nutrition is the key to healthy goats.
Since lice spread by contact, you want to make sure your goats have plenty of room to move around. While a certain amount of snuggling is ok, overcrowded conditions can contribute to a lice outbreak in your herd.
Finally, make sure you quarantine any new animals you may acquire. You may not notice the lice at first glance. But bringing an infected animal into your herd is a surefire way to spread these itchy parasites.
In the end, you can also watch this video, where other lifehacks will be described:
While your first instinct when you see lice may be to run away screaming, I promise lice on your goats aren’t the end of the world. Using a combination of natural remedies like lice combs, vinegar, and tea tree oil can help mitigate the severity of your infestation. Still, to really eliminate these pesky parasites, a chemical treatment is best.
Consult with your veterinarian to find out which treatment is best based on the type of lice your herd has. And remember, your lice problem won’t vanish overnight, even with treatment. It takes at least two applications to eliminate all the lousy lice fully.
- Lice: What They Are and How to Control Them. Retrieved from: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/lice-what-they-are-and-how-to-control-them#
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.