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Flock of sheep: Link to photo information
Sheep and goat producers can avoid spending money on de-worming treatments, thanks to an eye-color chart developed in South Africa and tested here by ARS researchers. Click the image for more information about it.

Eyeing a Test for Barber Pole Worm

By Luis Pons
February 15, 2006

A test in the form of a plastic card featuring pictures of the eyes of sheep may help thwart the spread of barber pole worm, Haemonchus contortus, a parasite of small ruminants that’s becoming increasingly resistant to the chemicals used to control it.

The test, called the FAMACHA eye color chart, can help sheep and goat producers save money by allowing them to deworm only the animals that need it, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) animal scientist Joan Burke. This would slow the spread of chemical-resistant parasites through more efficient identification, treatment and removal of infected animals.

Barber pole worms are microscopic, blood-sucking pests that thrive in heat and humidity and induce fatal cases of anemia and “bottle jaw” disease in animals.

The worms' increasing resistance to control chemicals--a result of widespread use of treatments--now threatens the entire goat and sheep population of the eastern United States, according to Burke, at ARS’ Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark.

The test is named after its developer, South African livestock parasitologist Francois “Fafa” Malan. The chart shows five high-resolution photographs that focus on shades of redness of the inner eyelids of sheep. Pale inner eyelids can be indicative of the parasite’s presence.

Burke, who’s working with the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (SCSRPC) to find the most effective ways to use the test, warned that using the actual chart, and not copies, is essential for gaining accurate results.

The test was 92 percent accurate in a study Burke and other collaborators conducted on sheep and goats in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Information on obtaining the test is on SCSRPC's website, Nonveterinarians can purchase the chart only after being trained in its use.

Read more about the research in the February 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.