Methods of Preventing and Eradicating Lice

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A great source of discomfort to goats is lice. Whether it is the biting or sucking variety, lice cause itching and irritation in addition to general discomfort and restlessness. Though the lice that bite goats are specific to the species and do not live on humans, the thought of them being present on your goats is often enough to make your skin crawl regardless.

By keeping a close eye on your goat herd, it should be fairly easy to tell when lice make an appearance and start to become a problem. Behavioral changes usually occur and along with them you will see excessive scratching and rubbing, sometimes to the point of hair loss. If left untreated, weather patterns may eventually eradicate lice, but that depends a lot on your climate and the fact of the matter is that weather can be unpredictable. Rather than leave it to chance and risk anemia, conquering lice is a matter that should be taken on quickly.

A trusty standby means of ridding goats of lice is by shaving. Since lice do enjoy having a place to burrow that shields them from light, a goat with a nice, long coat makes for a happy home. If you remove the comfort of that coat and the shelter it provides, lice have a tendency to hit the road in search of better digs. However, after shaving goats, you must take care to then keep them safe from the elements as well as from getting sunburned.

Another option for tackling lice problems involves the use of insecticides. Pyrethrins are a class of organic compounds created from the chrysanthemum flower. These flowers are dried and the resulting powder used as an insecticide with other chemicals sometimes added, so be sure to read labels if you wish to stay away from this. Also be careful when administering and do so in a well ventilated area. Pyrethrins work by infiltrating the nervous system of lice and other pests and are not known to remain in the body of goats or to be present in milk and can therefore be used on lactating goats. Other options include using Co-Ral 1% dust or even cat/kitten flea powder which is effective but still safe on goats and kids.

Methods of Preventing and Eradicating Lice - GPS1504 - flickr-162.jpg
Photo: Flickr

Gaining in popularity is the use of essential oils for various health purposes, but they are useful as insecticides as well. Some are said to be capable of killing lice while others may only repel, but as long as your goats are free of lice, essential oils can be deemed a success. Some of those with insect repelling properties are lavender, lemon, geranium, rosemary but tea tree and neem are said to be most effective. Another side benefit of using essential oils is that many of them smell good in addition to solving lice problems.

Also reportedly used with great results is food grade Diatomaceous Earth although the safety of this product has been debated in many circles. Though some swear by it, others are wary of it, so be sure to read up on it and determine if it is something you're willing to try. By dusting common areas with DE, you are essentially creating a hostile environment for insects of many types, including lice. DE works by dehydrating their bodies and destroying their insides. It can cause irritation if inhaled but many people feed it to animals without issue. In the event of a lice infestation, a light dusting can be applied to goats but take care to avoid eye contact and inhalation.

The key thing to remember when dealing with lice is that many treatments will kill or repel adults without doing any harm to eggs. That means reapplications will be necessary in order to truly solve the problem. These reapplications need to be based on the life cycle of lice and therefore should be repeated every 10 days or so until the problem has been fully eradicated.

What methods do you prefer for keeping your goats free of lice? Which have you found that work better than others? Let us know in the comments!

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September 17, 2015  •  08:39 AM
Thanks for this information. I didn't know goats got lice! So other than constant scratching or rubbing against things are there physical symptoms that we can see? I have four young wethers and they love being brushed. What do I have to look for to see if they have lice? And is this lice catchy - can I get it when I hug my goats?
September 17, 2015  •  10:54 PM
Had this happen to me this spring!treat the goat,week or or so later bathe *IF it's warm out*,then later before I retreated,gave her a good bath,shaved her,when dry retreated her.I retreated couple more times,kept her bedding clean and lots of brushing.
February 26, 2017  •  10:40 PM
I have a 1 week old bottle fed boer goat, he has lice. Is it safe to use Tea Tree oil on him? Should it be diluted in mineral oil? is it safe is he licks it on his hair?