BACKGROUND: The barber's pole worm, Haemonchus contortus, is one of the most economically important parasites of small ruminants worldwide. Although this parasite can be controlled using anthelmintic drugs, resistance against most drugs in common use has become a widespread problem. We provide a draft of the genome and the transcriptomes of all key developmental stages of H. contortus to support biological and biotechnological research areas of this and related parasites. RESULTS: The draft genome of H. contortus is 320 Mb in size and encodes 23,610 protein-coding genes. On a fundamental level, we elucidate transcriptional alterations taking place throughout the life cycle, characterize the parasite's gene silencing machinery, and explore molecules involved in development, reproduction, host-parasite interactions, immunity, and disease. The secretome of H. contortus is particularly rich in peptidases linked to blood-feeding activity and interactions with host tissues, and a diverse array of molecules is involved in complex immune responses. On an applied level, we predict drug targets and identify vaccine molecules. CONCLUSIONS: The draft genome and developmental transcriptome of H. contortus provide a major resource to the scientific community for a wide range of genomic, genetic, proteomic, metabolomic, evolutionary, biological, ecological, and epidemiological investigations, and a solid foundation for biotechnological outcomes, including new anthelmintics, vaccines and diagnostic tests. This first draft genome of any strongylid nematode paves the way for a rapid acceleration in our understanding of a wide range of socioeconomically important parasites of one of the largest nematode orders.