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Are Essential Oils a Solution for Parasites in Cattle?

Are Essential Oils a Solution for Parasites in Cattle?

Parasites, or internal nematodes, can pose a significant threat to a beef producer’s bottom line. According to Kansas State University, economic loss to the livestock industry due to internal parasites has been estimated at more than $3 billion annually.

Parasites impact cattle performance by robbing nutrients from the animal, reducing nutrient absorption and feed intake and overstimulating the immune system.

Managing Parasites in Cattle

Every farm has a different dewormer program, but developing a strategy can help avoid parasitic resistance. Not every grazing animal requires a dewormer every spring, every fall or every six months. Discuss any dewormer program with your veterinarian first.

It’s recommended by Kansas State University to administer dewormers strategically to infected animals to reduce reinfection, parasite resistance and pasture infestation.

Recent research suggests that essential oils can help manage parasites without developing parasitic resistance.

Related: 5 Management Tips to Overcome Parasites

Increasing Parasitic Resistance in Livestock

Parasites are resilient. Kansas State University details how parasite eggs can survive in environments for long periods, including droughts and winter months. Even worse, adult parasites can go inactive or dormant as a survival mechanism in the animal, further perpetuating their existence throughout the year.

Parasites can also become resistant to dewormers. Kansas State University emphasizes that dewormer resistant parasites are a real and increasing concern in the industry today. As dewormers are over-or incorrectly used, parasites that live through the treatment go on to breed and pass on those resistant genes to their offspring. Because of this, standard dewormers are becoming less and less effective today.

Research on Overcoming Parasites with Essential Oils

Essential oils are being increasingly tested and utilized in the livestock industry to determine their effectiveness in managing parasites naturally without developing resistance.

Research from Louisiana Tech University found that Regano essential oil feed supplementation in lamb rations kept parasite eggs at levels similar to those of lambs receiving a commercial dewormer. Results from this study suggest that oral administration of Regano through daily feedings may serve as a dewormer for producers focused on decreasing the use of medications. It also decreases the need to frequently handle, and subsequently stress, lambs.

Another study conducted in Maine on four organic farms found that Regano 500 essential oil feed supplementation in sheep and goats helped reduce coccidia parasites in fecal samples of treated animals by 39% in sheep and 51% in goats. Additionally in goats, the parasites Trichostrongyles and Haemonchus Contortus were reduced 100% in treated animals compared with untreated animals.

Why Do Essential Oils Help Manage Parasites?

After parasites are ingested, they pass through the rumen until they reach the gastrointestinal tract, where they latch on to the gut wall and begin robbing nutrients from the animal. It has been researched and documented that parasites find essential oils and their properties irritating as they encounter them in the gut, and thus pass through the animal without latching on. It is also shown that essential oil properties help lessen parasite larvae and manage infestation rates on pasture.

With any parasite program, the goal is to maintain the economic threshold of the cow or animal, not reach zero. Cattle will eventually build immunity to parasites, but younger calves with weaker immune systems are more susceptible and need protection.

Additionally, essential oils can have secondary benefits other than just managing parasites. Studies show that essential oil feed additives and water additives can help improve feed efficiency, immunity and help maintain the overall health of an animal.

For more information contact Ralco’s ruminant nutritionist Dr. Jeff Hill by calling 507-337-6916 or emailing

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