A Serious Risk
If you’re caring for small ruminants such as goats and sheep (or camelids such as llamas and alpacas), you will need to become very familiar with the internal parasites they are prone to, including the very dangerous bloodsucking barber pole stomach worm (Haemonchus contortus). Due to its seriousness, part of your regular goat, sheep, llama, or alpaca health care protocols should involve evaluating them for signs barber pole worms. Luckily for these species, the FAMACHA test was created to do just that.
What Is The FAMACHA Test?
The FAMACHA test was originally developed in South Africa as a tool to determine which goats and sheep should be selectively dewormed based on their estimated degree of anemia. While not all anemia can be attributed to the presence of barber pole worms, it is the most common cause of anemia in small ruminants, especially during times when they are grazing on pasture. Though the test was designed to identify individuals who should be dewormed, it is highly recommended that you work closely with your veterinarian or other trained professional to create a deworming protocol that makes sense for your residents.
The test itself consists of comparing the color of the resident’s mucous membranes with one of five colors on a laminated color chart. These color categories can help you quickly determine whether an individual looks anemic and the potential progression of the condition, provided that their membrane discoloration is not related to eye disease, irritation, or other factors. It is a relatively simple process and should not pose any risk (beyond annoyance) to any residents if performed correctly.
How Do I Obtain The FAMACHA Test?
The FAMACHA system requires non-veterinarian users to be trained and certified in its use before they are allowed to obtain a FAMACHA card. A certified instructor or veterinarian can perform this training. Here is a list of certified FAMACHA instructors in the United States. If you are not in the United States or there are no certified instructors near you, ask your veterinarian or local governmental department of agriculture about where you can obtain training.
Alternatively, you can receive FAMACHA certification online here! Simply follow their online course and submit a practice video demonstrating your newly learned skills.
You should work closely with your veterinarian to determine the most effective way to implement the FAMACHA system, including how often to perform the test. Using FAMACHA testing haphazardly or only when you are concerned about an individual is not going to be useful. Regular scoring (along with proper recording keeping) will give you data to establish a baseline of what an individual’s healthy FAMACHA score looks like (as some residents naturally may have paler mucous membranes than others), and will allow you to recognize any changes in mucous membrane color that could be a sign of anemia due to a barber pole worm infection.
In addition to helping you determine how often you should perform FAMACHA testing, your veterinarian or other experienced professional can also help you create a deworming protocol that is appropriate for your residents. Likely, rather than deworming individuals based on FAMACHA score alone, you will use the test to identify which individuals should have their feces tested with a quantitative fecal float. If possible it is also helpful to collect a small blood sample to check the individual’s packed cell volume (PCV), which will tell you how anemic an individual is.
Any diagnostic results, whether it is only a strongyle count or also a PCV, as well as an individual’s history, clinical signs, and their current and recent FAMACHA scores should then be communicated to your veterinarian so that they can make a deworming decision based on as much information as possible. Identifying which individuals should be dewormed is a very complex decision. The more information you can gather, the better your deworming protocol will be.
In some instances, you will not be able to wait for diagnostic results before treating the individual. If an animal has a high FAMACHA score, or a significant increase in their score and also has diarrhea, bottle jaw, is lethargic, or is showing other concerning signs of illness, contact your veterinarian immediately. They may recommend immediate deworming and, if not already done, blood work to assess the individual’s degree of anemia. Severe anemia is a life-threatening emergency- the animal may need hospitalization in order to receive a life-saving blood transfusion.
In order to ensure that any deworming treatment performed was effective, you will want to recheck the individual’s strongyle count 10-14 days after treatment. Be sure to keep accurate records so that you and your veterinarian can calculate by what percentage the strongyles decreased which will let you know if the treatment can be deemed a success and will alert you to any signs of drug resistance. In some cases further treatment may be advised.
Can I Use FAMACHA With Other Species?
Although camelids were not originally a targeted species for the FAMACHA scoring system, it has been determined to be effective in their health evaluations. FAMACHA is not an effective tool for any other species.