Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Candle burning

There is a candle burning in our woods tonight.
It lights the departure of our first milking doe, Maggie. Over the last few weeks we've known that something was wrong with Maggie. She has been our herd leader. The strongest and smartest doe in the group. Recently she had been bloated and looking obviously uncomfortable. The course of action for bloat is usually feeding the goat oil to help lubricate the rumen and help the feed pass through. It seemed to help but temporarily, but then she would be bloated again. I thought that she was eating too much, or the new hay disagreed with her. I tried giving her oil again and penning her up so I could monitor her hay intake. I called a friend and local goat expert who said I'd done about everything he would recommend. I called the vet who suggested I take her temperature, but thought it sounded like bloat.

A goat's temperature should be around 103, and Maggie's was 106. We gave her antibiotics. The next morning her temperature had dropped to 99, which is too low. It remained low for the following days. We continued the antibiotics and also administered an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. By now she was in her stall with fresh water and a small amount of hay. All along she also had access to a multivitamin and mineral supplement along with baking soda. I was trying to get her to ingest some probiotics and vitamin B supplement by sprinkling them on a small amount of grain, but she wasn't interested.

On Monday when I checked on her she wasn't able to stand up. The vet came out and gave her calcium right into her bloodstream along and some oral probiotics. She said her rumen sounded as though it was working fine. Maggie was alert and excited about food. The vet said that she didn't think Maggie was going to make it much longer and said I should make her comfortable and give her whatever she wanted. The vet said it was something serious, as she was not responding to the antibiotics, but didn't know what the problem was. I gave Maggie alfalfa, calendula flowers and kale and broccoli leaves much to her delight. The vet sent in blood samples to test for everything we could think of. The results were due back tonight. Over the last few days I'd noticed that Maggie wasn't peeing or pooping. I gave her 60 ml of peanut oil twice yesterday at five hour intervals and again this morning, hoping to push whatever it was through.

Talking to the vet today, we decided that she must be impacted in her rumen. The vet said that the oil should show results in twelve hours or less. We were feeling desperate and decided to operate tonight and figure out what was causing the problem. First the vet opened her up on her left side where her rumen is located. She quickly found the problem which was and impacted abomasal. Not good. The abomasal is the fourth compartment in a goat's digestive tract. The vet said that it felt like a football four times the size that it should be. She couldn't get to it to find what was blocking it. So she stitched up Maggie's left side and opened up her right side. All along Maggie is under with injectable anesthesia, shaved in both spots and poked with lots of Novocaine.

On the right side of Maggie was a little trickier as all of her intestines were in the way but we quickly found the abomasal and the intestine leading from it. There was a big firm flat area and we decided she should cut into it and see what it was. It was just food. Not what we were hoping for. I thought that maybe Maggie had eaten some insulation out of the side of her stall. But we didn't find any insulation. The next idea was that we stitch her intestine back up, and feed her a bunch of mineral oil and hope that it would loosen the inside of the abomasal. All along the vet had been exclaiming that Maggie's rumen, her intestines and all of her organs looked angry, red, inflamed and irritated. She had been quite frank that she thought there was a good chance Maggie wasn't going to make it. I had been trying to prepare myself over the last few days, but was feeling rather optimistic while she was operating. This same vet has performed two emergency operations on our dog, saving her life both times. I kept thinking that she would fix the problem, stitch her up, and we'd be injecting lots of antibiotics and pain reliever over the next week. Well, while the vet was stitching up her intestine, another part of her intestine burst and shot blood and intestine juice into my left eye. Lovely. I was concerned about my stinging eye, but hadn't seen the greater picture. Maggie's intestine was so irritated and worn out that it was falling apart in the vets hands. She tried to stitch up the new hole but it was just getting bigger and was really, just, falling apart in her hands.

She said that it was time to put Maggie down. If we tried to finish stitching her up, when she woke up she was going to be miserable. I probably wouldn't be able to get the mineral oil into her. And dying by internal infection and leaking intestine would be a horribly painful death. I held Maggie's head in my arms and cried as Tamara put the lethal injection into her neck. I kept my hand on her pulse as it faded away and felt so sorry. Maggie was our first doeling. I thought we'd have many more years together, and can't help feeling as though there was something I could have done better or sooner to keep her healthy and alive. I failed Maggie. I failed to read her symptoms and what she was trying to tell me. The only thing that would probably have helped was feeding her a lot more oil, but sooner. It was probably too late by now.

It is my understanding that in the Fairbanks area it is legal to take your dead livestock to the dump. I cannot fathom dumping my dead animal amongst a pile of trash. Digging a hole on our property is hard work, not easy loose soil, but Dustin dug a nice big hole in the ground in the dark tonight. We slid Maggie in. She landed in a nice position, with her head turned and resting comfortably on her body. It seemed a shame to cover her with dirt. She was such a beautiful creature. It was a decent burial though. We left a candle burning for her, in the dark night.
Above is a picture of Maggie, about five months old. I use to let her and Noah run around and play together (before she started knocking him over- which is what she would do to him these days if she had a chance). Below is a photo of Maggie and Lew the first day that we got them. We had shipped them up from Washington. After bringing them home from the airport in their kennel, they had a great time exploring their new home.

Maggie was a great doe. I am most disappointed in that I thought we'd have a much longer relationship together. She gave us a doeling and a buckling this spring and we are keeping them both. Her daughter is named Zuri. She is the spitting image of her dam. Her son is named Zoro. We had been intending on selling him as a neutered male. It is a good thing that we kept him as he is out of Maggie and Lew.

I knew when we started raising goats that I'd be seeing them all die, but really (naively) had thought that they would all live long, productive, healthy and happy lives first. I am learning the hard way. Animal husbandry is more brutal and real than I could have imagined. Entering the world of goat husbandry I felt a false sense of knowledge and confidence. The confidence of someone who read the book thoroughly and feels prepared for the test, but has no real life experience. The older I get, the less I know. The same applies to my goat experiences. I am realizing that I never knew as much as I thought, I need to know much more, and hopefully I will learn from these hard and rutheless losses.

By the way, in case you are worried about the candle starting a fire. It is in a cleared area, on wet dirt and in a tall glass candle that should put itself out if spilled.


dinkleberries said...

I am sorry, both for Maggie and for you, I am always thankful for the new life that must emerge even as it feels our hearts are buried with those that go over the rainbow bridge. That was devastating to read but I appreciate you sharing.

In Pat Coleby's book, Natural Goat Care, she says "Bloat is caused by potassium and magnesium being unavailable -- generally in an overly rich pasture where clover is dominant." She also says that after relieving the gas, giving seaweed meal along with a dessertspoon of dolomite mixed in a cup of raw cider vinegar will help replace the missing mangesium and potassium.
"With bloat, prevention is easier than the cure -- or death. Have the paddocks analyzed as soon as possible and top dress with the necessary lime minerals. Do not use chemical fertilizers under any circumstances. If the bloated goats are still feeding on the paddock that caused the trouble, make sure that all the necessary minerals are in the ration. Seaweed meal should be ad lib as usual."

I use her mineral mix myself, and have not since had any further trouble with bloat.

Emily said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll have to check out the book and mineral mix. I don't think bloat was the main issue, but rather a side affect of some bigger problem. Thankyou, Emily