Year after year, despite various changes in management, we would encounter lice in late winter and early spring in our goats. I found dealing with it incredibly frustrating since none of the effective methods were compatible with our goal of natural care. So each year I would resignedly use one of the powdered concoctions on them, hoping maybe next season I’d come up with a solution.
All that changed last year, in 2018, when I re-read Pat Coleby’s book Natural Goat Care (aff), one of the few goat books I have that I recommend to people. It finally clicked. In NGC, Pat talks about how important sulfur is:
“…animals receiving the correct amounts of sulfur in their diet will not get lice.”
For a problem that plagues many producers, that’s a pretty bold statement. There are so many products dedicated to eradicating lice that it’s hard to believe a simple mineral deficiency can be at the root of it all. Over the past few years since, I have come to believe that it is true. Here’s how we’re–finally–effectively treating lice in goats naturally.
I get asked specifically what products I’m talking about so I’m putting shortcuts up here at the top for easy reference:
- Animed MSM (aff), purified feed grade sulfur, available at the feed store
- Yellow sulfur powder (aff) topically, available in the plant section as a fungicide or online
Natural Treatment for Lice in Goats: It’s All about Sulfur
In the book, Pat goes on to recommend 1-1.5 teaspoons of sulfur per day until lice are gone. I’m a big fan of letting the animals decide what they need and not so much a fan of having to measure out amounts, so my method was simply to add MSM powder free choice alongside–but not mixed into–their minerals. It was obvious from the outset that they were deficient and they gobbled it up for a few days before settling in.
…but sulfur is going to cause copper deficiency in my goats!
Yes, sulfur is a copper antagonist, which means it can inhibit uptake of copper, but sulfur is also a vitally essential mineral, “for production of cystine, cysteine, methionine, & biotin; essential to co-feed with non-protein nitrogen for amino acid production,” according to Free Choice Minerals and if your animals have lice, they are showing you that they are deficient in this important mineral. My research and personal experience both agree that when a mineral is fed by itself–never mixed in other minerals–and not forced on the goats, they will take only what they need. We run into problems with imbalances because we believe the science of minerals is settled and all goats all the time need the exact same minerals. As a result of this arguably faulty belief, a blended mineral mix is offered that removes the animal’s free will and choice in getting what it truly needs. The goat knows what it needs. If we provide that and step out of the way, amazing results occur.
In addition to oral sulfur fed free choice, I went to the feed store and got plant quality sulfur and applied that topically every few days for a couple of weeks. A very readily available brand is “Bonide Sulfur Fungicide.” You can pour it in an old spice container or dump it into a junk sock and sort of bop it onto them. I like the spice container because I can shake-shake-shake up against the grain of their hair while I’m keeping them busy with grain or a favorite treat. After that first year, we switched to pure organic yellow sulfur powder found online and I use that in a salve to combat mites – see recipe further down the page.
Between these two treatment methods, the lice disappeared and didn’t come back. As I update this in 2022, I’ve never had a case of lice in years when I put out MSM powder in fall and leave it for a couple of months.
If you have an active outbreak of lice, you’ll want to do two things. First, dust everyone in the herd topically with yellow sulfur powder. This is essential for eradicating the existing lice. Dust liberally from tail to poll, being sure not to go past the poll to avoid getting sulfur in ears or eyes. You can dust the bedding too, but I haven’t found it to be necessary.
Second, get out a bowl of MSM powder, starting gradually so they don’t intake too much in the beginning. A safe rule of thumb is Pat Coleby’s recommendation of 1-1.5 teaspoons on the first day for each goat, increasing daily until they are satiated and no longer consuming it. Leave a small amount out for the next few weeks, then remove it until next fall, when you can do this same process again but leave it out for a couple of months.
After 3-5 days, dust everyone once more with sulfur and you’ve likely kicked your lice outbreak. I’ve never needed to dust more than twice.
Natural Treatment for Mites in Goats: Make a Topical Salve
Mites are also very easily treated with sulfur, but we need to smother them so the application is slightly different.
First, melt coconut oil and while it is liquid, add a generous amount of sulfur powder. A loose estimate is about 1/4C sulfur to 1C coconut oil. If you have them, myrrh gum powder and lavender/tea tree essential oils can be added, but sulfur is the real workhorse here. Stir well as long as you can while it re-hardens. Apply this liberally to areas where mites are an issue – feet, outside of ears, etc. You can apply twice daily for 2-3 days, break for 2-3 days, then apply again. This salve works well for staph too and I sell my own recipe of it in the shop here.
The more I learn, the more I truly believe all living beings can fight off just about anything if given the nutrition their bodies need. If we can prevent disease through nutrition, we will reap the rewards generationally with improved health and longevity.