Years ago we learned that Native Americans used pumpkin to cure kidney infections and rid the body of worms, and the leaves of the pumpkins may be crushed and rubbed on as a fly repellent. Not only this but pumpkins are safe for livestock to eat. So we contacted some friends who had a pumpkin patch and asked if after the pumpkin patch season was over if we could buy some of their left overs. They were thrilled to have someone help clean up the unwanted pumpkins and when we returned home with pickup truck loads of pumpkin we were delighted to find that the flock was equally delighted to have fresh pumpkin! That winter we made sure they had a steady supply of pumpkins in their feed area. With each new pumpkin they made games of rolling it around and breaking it open.
But, fresh pumpkin is a seasonal thing. And what is actually helping with parasite management in the digestive tract is a compound found in the pumpkin seed called cucurbitin. Cucurbitin affects parasites by paralyzing them so they can no longer attach to the body and they are expelled from the digestive tract naturally.
The primary factor in parasite management is pasture rotation. The parasites tend to live lower on the grass stem so grazing the animals on tall grass and moving them to new pasture when (or before!) the grass is 5″ tall not only benefits the grasses and the soil, but it is a critical component in preventing the flock from re-entering the parasite life cycle. If at all possible, having a mixed species flock and herd grazing through the same pastures is another road block in the parasite life cycle, as most parasites are species specific. Another very critical component in parasite management is the overall health of the flock/herd – robust animals are naturally less affected by parasites they might pick up and provides an environment where the parasite is less able to thrive as the immune system fights their presence. An animal that is under stress, under nourished, or otherwise ill will not have the natural ability to resist the parasite colonizing their system. Proper pasture rotation and flock health are the two most important ingredients in parasite control. Pumpkin seeds, and other supplements, are just that – supplemental.
This week I began to notice some loose manure and an obvious sign of tapeworm in the pasture. Tapeworm is not a new parasite to us, and the vets have identified the tapeworm that our flock often has as a type that is more commonly found in cats. Well, that was weird! But the best guess we can come up with is that the wild rabbits that live on our property are the guilty parties in bringing these parasites into the sheep fields since the cats don’t share the sheep spaces. But what was my first go-to upon observing this change of manure status in the pasture? First I caught the muddy sheep and looked at their FAMACHA score. Everyone showed a nice deep red color and I noted that the lambs still have milk goiter, so I know they are still healthy. Next I made sure that the free choice kelp and mineral mix feeders were not empty. Then I purchased 10 pounds of raw pumpkin seeds and added them to the supplement bar under the flock canopy. I caught the ones I with the muddy hindquarters and gave them a dose of probiotics for good measure, and we’ll repeat the process for a few days as they remain in this “buggy” pasture. By the time their bodies should be finished expelling the offending parasites, the sheep and goats will move on to a fresh new pasture.
If you’re interested in parasite control success stories from larger producers, this PDF is very helpful. Remember, healthy animals come from healthy pastures.