It was my hope that for my second Goat Note, I would spend some time talking about our business, our goals, both current and future, and why we do what we do. However, last week we lost our sweet girl, Luna, and writing about her was more important.
To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Kristin Kimball (author of "The Dirty Life"), when you have livestock, you're going to have deadstock. The truth of that statement doesn't make it any easier. Using the word "loss" is an elegant way of phrasing something that isn't elegant at all.
Last Monday, I brought Luna in from pasture to put her in for the night. I gave her grain, which she ate enthusiastically, and scratched between her ears, behind her horns, her favorite spot. She was acting hungry, and happy for scratches, in other words, normal for Luna. Tuesday morning I went to do chores, and to take her and a couple of other goats out to their pasture area for the day. Right away, I could tell something was wrong. Luna didn't want to get up, and she was holding her head in a very odd position. She wasn't feeling well, and I had no idea what had changed overnight.
I finished up my other chores as quickly as possible, and checked on her again; there hadn't been any change. I called our usual vet, and it was at that exact moment that their phone lines went down. I called another local vet, and described exactly what I had observed with Luna. The vet advised me to make sure she had shade, access to some tempting food, water, and to give her some penicillin. When I went back out, I noticed she seemed wobbly on her legs, which I didn't love. I clipped a lead on her, and walked her to the big barn, with her baby. On the way to the barn, she sat down twice. As soon as I got her in the barn, I gave her a dish of grain, some baking soda, fresh water, and hay. I gave her the shot of penn, and a baking soda and water drench as an extra precaution (goats have complicated stomachs). I also gave her some molasses in hopes that the sugar might spike an appetite in her.
Because her legs weren't steady under her, I called the vet again. At this point, I was a little worried she could have ketosis. I've been lucky enough to not ever deal with ketosis or milk fever in real life, but any dairy person needs to be aware of these conditions. The vet didn't think that was likely, as she had kidded almost two months ago, but told me I could give her some molasses in any case. It wouldn't hurt her, and if her blood sugar was a little bit low, the molasses might perk her up. My mother in law and I took turns checking on her several times that afternoon, and at each point her condition appeared to be holding steady: either she was laying down, but had her head up, or she was standing and letting her kid nurse.
I was trying my best to be optimistic, I reminded myself that I had called the vet, followed her instructions exactly, and that the penn shot would likely need a few hours to really kick in. I also called my good friend, Tammy, as she has many years of goat experience. I had wormed Luna just a couple of days ago, and Tammy told me that there was a chance my wormer hadn't been strong enough to get rid of barber pole worms, if there had been any present. Sometimes, when you worm but the barber pole worms don't get eradicated, a goat can get anemic. Paul was also concerned if she had passed a worm load that she might be having issues with an electrolyte imbalance.
That evening, Paul and I went to do chores, and Luna was totally down. Her condition had rapidly deteriorated in a short amount of time, and by then, all the vets were out of the office. We still tried calling them, in hopes that someone would have an emergency line listed. That wasn't the case. Tammy advised me to give her b12, and also called our friend, and he brought us some extra electrolyte packages that he had. We drenched her with electrolytes, administered the b12, and gave her some more molasses, as well as more baking soda. When we left, she seemed to be feeling a little bit better, and we resolved to check on her later on, and take her to our usual vet first thing in the morning.
Paul went out at 12:30 am to check on her, found her with her head down, and she was bloated. He figured she had bloated due to laying down for so long, as she hadn't been earlier that day. He got a tube to try and get some gas out, and she ended up chewing through that tube. He then came and got me, and a better tube from his home brew equipment. We spent the better part of two hours tubing her, while I gently massaged her rumen, and expelling as much gas from her as we could.
However, none of it mattered. We had been working like demons to get her to daylight, so we could take her to the vet, and at about 5:30 am it became apparent that the tubing wasn't working, no matter how much gas we got out. Something was very, very wrong. We took the tube out, and I could see the light in her eyes starting to flicker. I sat next to her on the floor of the barn, dirty, tear streaked, and knew at that point all I could do was be there for her. I made myself stop crying, so that my voice would be calm for her, and I held her head. I scratched between her ears, behind her horns, her favorite, and said soothing things, and kissed her nose. I told her how much I loved her, and reassured her that she was, and always had been, such a good girl. I told her thank you, but mostly, I said I was sorry. I told her I was sorry that I didn't listen to the nagging voice in my head and throw her into the truck that morning, that I didn't know what had happened, and that I was the most sorry that I didn't know how to fix it.
She went very quickly, as one last favor to me. I forced myself to watch as she left, and put my ear to her chest to make sure her heart had stopped. When it had, I left the barn and sobbed from the bottom of my heart under the stars. We had been trying so hard to get her to daylight, and I could see the very beginnings of the sunrise to come in the east.
We put her baby in his own stall, with food and water, and shut the barn up. We would have to wait until that evening to bury Luna. We went home, slept for a bit, then Paul went to work. A little while later, I did chores, and went to work myself. I made sure Luna was well covered with a tarp. That evening, Paul picked a pretty spot in the orchard, took the Bobcat, and dug a hole. He made sure to save me her collar. Once she was in the hole, I apologized again, and we buried our herd queen.
We were able to determine that what happened was most likely a twisted gut, not an infection or anemia. Twisted guts aren't very common, but they can happen, especially when an animal has a complicated stomach. I had never seen an animal with a twisted gut, and Paul hadn't for a very long time. There wouldn't have been anything the vet could have done for us, aside from put her down, which I would have chosen to do.
Her baby had been a surprise for us this spring, and was too small to live with the other kids. However, we do have one little doe, named Snowflake, who is kind of a runt. She's older than him by several months, but not much bigger, and she's very sweet. We set them up a nice area in the barn, and gave them their own yard so they can browse and graze during the day. Luckily, he is a big and strong buckling and we were able to wean him and switch him to grain, and he is doing well.
Luna was the first little doe I got. At 2 weeks old, she was already tall with impressive horn buds, slightly frost bitten ears, and a permanent scowl on her face. The moment I saw her, I knew she had to come home with me. Most farmers would have gotten rid of her--she never got bred when we wanted her to and she made many poor decisions that usually involved getting her head stuck. I reminded her often she was lucky that I wasn't most farmers, and she was lucky I loved her so.
Losing an animal is never easy, but I have made sure to learn a few lessons well: It's important to listen to and trust yourself. Vets have lots of experience, and that should be respected, but you know your animal. I knew Luna was in bad shape, and instead of trying to convince myself that the vet knew best ,and if she wasn't worried, I shouldn't be either, I should have just told them (politely, of course) that I needed to bring her in. I also learned that I need to talk to my vet about worming options. I bought our wormer from our vet, never suspecting it might not guard against barber pole worms. I also learned what a twisted gut looks like, and that I need to get a stethoscope. If this ever happens again, I can listen to their rumen and if I don't hear any activity, I'll know something serious has happened.
Mostly, I'm thankful for Luna. She taught me all the ways goats can escape, get their heads stuck, and refuse to do what you want. I've been raising goats for about 4 years now, and Luna taught me some of the most important lessons that a farmer should learn. I hope she knows how much she was loved, and how much she will be missed. I hope she knows how happy I am that she was my friend.