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The FAMACHA system

The FAMACHA® system is a methodology to slow the development of drench resistance in barber’s pole worms of sheep and goats. It is based on minimising the need to drench all animals in the mob or herd at the same time, so leaving more worms in refugia (not exposed to a drench).

The system was developed at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and uses mucus membrane colour (specifically the colour of the conjunctiva inside the lower eyelid of the animal) to indicate the extent of anaemia in each animal caused by the barber’s pole worm (Haemonchus contortus). The mucus membrane colour is rated 1 to 5 (1 being red with no evidence of anaemia, and 5 being pale/white with severe anaemia) and is used to determine whether specific individuals or the whole mob should be treated with an anthelmintic (drench).

The system uses individual scoring, identification of individual animals requiring treatment when a mob treatment is not required, a record of the number of each score to determine whether the entire mob is drenched, and culling of animals that require frequent drenching.

In Australia, the overall FAMACHA® system is not considered feasible on most commercial enterprises due to the labour requirements involved in frequent scoring during high-risk barber’s pole times. However, WormBoss recommends the scoring system to smallholders of sheep and goats in regions with barber’s pole worm as an indicator of the need to drench each individual.


Smallholders should assess the FAMACHA® score of each individual animal weekly during periods of high barber’s pole worm risk, reducing to monthly during periods of low risk. It can be used in conjunction with other indicators of the need to drench (see the Smallholders program).

FAMACHA® scoring is a well-established process involving checking the mucus membranes inside of the lower eyelid (conjunctiva) and comparing it to colours on a FAMACHA® card. The colour of the conjunctiva reflects the amount of red blood cells in the animal.

The FAMACHA® card has 5 blocks of colour: 1 is a red, 2 is a red-pink, 3 is a pink, 4 is pink-white and 5 is white. Scores of 1–2 are recorded from healthy sheep and goats (though goats tend not to get the deeper score 1 red that sheep do), and 4–5 from goats suffering anaemia.

As a general guide, animals with a score 1 or 2 do not require a drench, but those with score 4 or 5 should be drenched. Animals at score 3 may or may not be drenched depending on the situation. Animals that are young, lactating, in poor condition, or on poor feed should be drenched when they reach score 3. Strong adults (not lactating) in good condition, and on good feed may be left undrenched, but check them again in another week.

To check the eye colour, press firmly, but gently, directly onto the closed upper eyelid, pressing the eye into the socket just a little, while pulling down on the skin of the lower lid (the video listed below provides a good demonstration of how to do this). The pressure on the eye is not painful and will help to cause the conjunctiva to bulge at the bottom. The nictitating membrane or third eyelid may also come out from the inside corner of the eye and spread across the eye, this should not be scored as it is generally paler.

The card is held close to the conjunctiva and the colours on the card are compared to the conjunctiva. The score that most closely matches the colour of the conjunctiva is chosen.

The FAMACHA® cards are printed with very specific colours. If you print one from the internet your printer may not generate the correct colour and may cause you to score incorrectly one way or the other. Note also there is a copyright on the cards, and so it is, in fact, illegal to print and distribute them without permission.

Worldwide, the cards are available in association with training (some skill and practice is required to score accurately). In Australia, email Dr Sandra Baxendell regarding training and cards.

More information on FAMACHA score in goats:

Online FAMACHA© Certification (University of Rhode Island)

Video: Why and how to do FAMACHA® Scoring by Anne Zajac, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, published by University of Rhode Island.

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