Barber Poles: The Dreaded Parasite

Barber Poles: The Dreaded Parasite

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Anyone keeping goats, especially those in the hot, humid south, knows the devastation barber pole worms can wreak within a herd over a short time. First, a doe dies, then her kid. A week later, the buck goes down. Upon examination, the cause of death is the dreaded barber pole, despite a consistent deworming regimen. After decades of use of all three classes of dewormers, barber pole resistance to anthelmintics runs high, leaving many goat farmers and hobbyists considering abandoning the species. However, with a change in management practices and attention to detail, controlling barber poles doesn’t have to be a losing battle.

Think outside the box.

To win the battle against barber poles (BP), forget the conventional wisdom of deworming every goat within the herd, on a schedule, according to seasons. Also, forget rotating dewormers. These once tried-and-true methods no longer work in a majority of today’s herds. When they appear successful, success is usually short-term. The reason: resistance. Continuing to deworm any species via these now-outdated conventions increases dewormer resistance. Selling these herds to new farms furthers the spread of resistance across the entire industry, creating a severe need for goat owners everywhere to adopt new conventions in the fight against barber poles (and all the other nasty parasites inside our goat herds).

Barber poles reside in nearly every goat herd and require careful attention to parasite loads and pasture management. Photo credit: Faith Cook

Know the enemy.

As with all livestock, the key is understanding the basic biology of both host and parasites. Knowing how and where eggs are released, which stage is infective, mode of transmission, and environmental requirements should form the foundation of any parasite management program of any species, and barber pole management is no exception.

For example, the conventional recommendation to deworm does at or shortly following kidding is based on biology. Both kidding and lactation suppress the immune system, thus reducing the doe’s ability to stave off high BP loads. However, biology doesn’t stop with the does. The addition of warm spring temperatures coupled with spring rains increases the survivability and emergence rate of barber poles throughout the pasture and kidding barn, further increasing the potential for lethal BP loads within the herd. This perfect storm scenario is why there are blanket deworming recommendations at breeding/kidding. However, this standard drenching of every doe also continues the cycle of resistance and requires modification.

Implement targeted treatments

Modifying parasite control programs to reduce anthelmintic resistance requires replacing blanket deworming with targeted deworming. Targeted deworming, or deworming based on individual parasite loads, relies on FAMACHA scoring, body condition scoring, and fecal egg counts (FEC). Treatment is given only to goats with a high FAMACHA score or who display poor body conditioning and high FEC. All others are closely monitored on a weekly/biweekly schedule for changes indicating a high BP load. This reduction in dewormer usage not only reduces resistance but allows for the efficacy of current anthelmintics for a longer time.

Tall forage is best for reducing the ingestion of barber pole larvae. Photo credit: Faith Cook


One of the significant advantages of targeted treatments is that the farmer becomes familiar with which animals exhibit the highest incidence of BP resistance. Studies have found resistance to various parasites can be partially genetic, so these are the animals around which to build the herd. These are the animals that don’t need as many treatments and who continue to exhibit exceptional heath. Those who do not meet these criteria are culled via euthanasia, sold to another unsuspecting farmer (don’t do this!), or moved to an isolation area for the duration.

Pasture management.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of controlling barber poles is pasture management, yet pasture management is one of the most important aspects of BP control. Here’s why: Barber poles infest the goat upon ingesting infested forage. The infective larvae reside on the bottom three to four inches of forage, moving about in the moisture provided by rain or dew. Should the moisture evaporate, the larvae die. Should the grass be cut to the ground, the larvae die (or go dormant if it doesn’t dry out sufficiently).

Farmers can use this information to better protect their herds by keeping goats on tall forage and providing plenty of browse such as trees and bushes via pasture rotation before the current forage is eaten too low. These elevated food sources are not only what goats prefer, but because they aren’t eating forage close to the last four inches, the incidence of larvae ingestion is kept to a minimum. This is why rotating animals on and off forage at specifically timed intervals successfully reduces parasite loads.

However, pasture rotation is just one aspect of pasture management. Maintaining low stock rates across acreage allows for fewer eggs to be released over a larger area, which slows the rate of larvae consumption during foraging. Raised locations for consuming feed pellets and hay/straw further reduce the risk of goats consuming parasite-infected feces along with their feed. Another good option for backyard goat owners is sweeping or shoveling feces to keep curious goats from nibbling feces-laden grass; anything to keep goats from foraging close to the ground.

Feeding on the ground encourages the consumption of barber pole-infested feces, bedding, and forage. Photo credit: Faith Cook

Alternative dewormers

When developing a deworming program, don’t overlook the newer, non-traditional options such as copper oxide wire particles (COWP), the various pre-packaged herbal options, and even some forms of pasture forage such as sericea lespedeza, to name just a few. Studies vary in the efficacy of each one, and more studies are needed to understand these alternative options better. However, these options are worth exploring as many alternative options show promise. Yet, if in doubt, stick with the traditional dewormers until all other elements of the deworming program show sufficient improvement to warrant exploring a little further with these newer alternatives.

The dreaded barber pole is possibly one of the most difficult parasites to manage in the goat industry, particularly in the hot and humid southern regions. However, with attention to detail and a change in how farmers approach parasites in general, barber pole loads within our goat herds can be managed successfully, allowing our herds to thrive and farmers to prosper.

Originally published in the May/June 2022 Goat Journal and is regularly vetted for accuracy.

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