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Posted: 10/31/2023
Sheep on farm in winter

How to Prevent Lice in Sheep & Goats

For being wingless and flat with “incomplete development,” lice can create a complete mess in livestock operations. These ectoparasites exist in more than 3,000 species (mostly those that affect birds) and impact a large number of livestock including sheep and goats. Here we’ll uncover the kinds of lice and how they harm animals, as well as what you can do to help.

Herd of Angora goats

Different Types of Lice

One of the two main groups of lice is Biting Lice (Mallophaga): also called chewing lice, these creatures come with unique mouthpieces to chew skin, feathers and hair of animals. While one species of chewing lice affects sheep along their backs, three lice species are more prevalent in goats (mostly on the neck and shoulders).

Body Louse are a type of biting lice specific to fur or fleece infestations in sheep and goats, especially Angora goats. These creatures attack different parts of the animal depending on the time of year, but infestations often spike in severity during the winter while animals are more stressed. Louse attach eggs to the animal’s hair and they hatch between 7 and 10 days before living up to several weeks.

The other main grouping is Sucking Lice (Anoplura): these parasites feed on blood by breaking through the skin of an animal, usually cattle, swine, sheep and goats. The African blue louse is often found on sheep loins, backs, ribs and shoulders, or on the upper neck and head of goats. Other types of lice are confined to hairy areas of the feet, and some are dispersed across the entire animal.

Can Livestock Lice Transfer to Humans?

Lice are usually host-specific which means they attack the same species, but some do attack both goats and sheep. In general, lice don’t transfer to humans. If you’re handling a heavily infested animal, it’s possible some could temporarily transfer to you from the animal, but human hosts aren’t as welcoming of environments as livestock lice need to thrive. Head lice and body lice in humans are an entirely different species that have adapted to us but rest assured that livestock lice can’t reproduce on our bodies in the same way.

How Do Lice Affect Sheep & Goats?

Lice harm both animal health and productivity. From reduced weight gains and milk production, to damaged wool, these parasites definitely suck a lot out of our efforts. The livestock begin experiencing irritation and discomfort after lice begin feeding on them, and often go to great lengths to itch/scratch against fence posts and trees to find relief. Instead, they lose hair and hurt their skin, even creating wounds and sometimes secondary infections. Occasionally, animals scratch so intensely that they damage structural posts in the process! The animals then begin to eat less, which leads to reduced weight gain and lower milk production. In severe cases, sucking lice take enough blood from the animals to cause anemia or even death.

New animals joining the flock can transmit disease to otherwise healthy animals when they arrive with lice in tow, but lice may also transfer when animals make direct contact with one another.

Prevention Strategies for Several Species

Prevention measures can save you time and money in the long run versus finding and treating a raging infestation. First, inspect any new animals before they enter the group pen. Also check your existing animals regularly for signs of hair loss or general skin irritation. You’ll know there’s a problem when you see that excessive grooming and itching we mentioned earlier, or you see dull, matted hair coats. If you notice patchy skin, take a closer look at their hair. If you discover crawling lice and/or eggs attached to it, separate and treat the infected animal(s) immediately.

Another smart prevention strategy involves maintaining regular grooming and shearing practices. Grooming keeps the fur/fleece clean and also removes lice eggs. Look closely at the neck and other areas lice like to spend their time. Do shear carefully – and clean the equipment – as it's possible lice can travel from one animal to another on the clippers.

Selection of lice products

Lice Insecticides Our Customers Swear By

There are several insecticides you can deploy to stop the cycle of reproduction and limit the chances of wide-spread infestation. Consider trying one or more of these highly rated insecticide products with your flock:

  • GardStar 40% EC Permethrin Concentrate works as a highly active insecticide and repellent to fight lice and sheep keds, as well as many other pests like several flies, mosquitoes, gnats, mites, and ticks. Use it on a variety of animals or around the facility (in milking rooms, on backrubbers, etc.). There’s no milk withholding but notice the 5 day slaughter withdrawal for swine.
  • Compared to the previous product, Permectrin II Animal and Premise Insecticide Concentrate only contains 10% permethrin, yet it delivers up to a 30-day residual effect – and it’s safe for a variety of species. Use it around your premises to help fight lice along with several varieties of flies, ticks, mites, fleas, mosquitoes and more. Use Permectrin with a sprayer and adjust the settings based on the desired concentration of spray mix. Always read the label for complete instructions and concentration recommendations.

  • For a low-volume dosage that maximizes pest control, try Ultra Boss Pour-On Insecticide. This synergized formula offers lice control from January to April (all season long) with just one application, but it also works against horn flies, face flies and sheep keds. It’s safe for sheep, lactating and non-lactating dairy goats, as well as lactating and non-lactating dairy cattle, beef cattle and calves, and horses. Customers also like that there’s no slaughter withdrawal or milk discard.
Remember, always talk to your veterinarian for prevention and treatment measures specific to your flock.

Don't Let Lice Populations Effect Performance

Lice will suck the profits and performance out of your animals, leaving them with dry, patchy coats and leaving you with plenty of frustration. Yet, parasite prevention and management is possible when you turn to PBS Animal Health! Our wide selection of sheep and goat pest control products like those listed above gives you options and reliable resources to turn to. Shop now!

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