Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Sad Side of Farm Life

My gut told me she wouldn’t make it through the night. My gut is seldom wrong. I dreaded yesterday’s morning chores like the plague not only because of the physical cold, but more because of the cold hard facts of farm life, namely death.

KitKat struggled for two weeks. It started the morning after Rosey’s pups were born. My thoughts had been consumed by weather reports and Rosey’s post partum, following a full day and half the night birthing proposition. I was exhausted, but woke up early to the sound of grunting puppies when out my window I spot my mama goat Kitkat, trying to give birth.

For a girl who’s always let nature do her thing, I was now being handed my second shot at midwifery in as many days. A baby was hanging in its embryonic sac, KitKat was pacing to get it out. She walked toward me as I raced to the gate. Oddly, she didn’t seem to be in pain, but this was not the way my other goats had arrived. I hit my knees and gently pulled out baby, sack and all, working fast to clear its little mouth as I had done the day before for Rosey’s first pup. But it was too late. I had no way of knowing how long she’d been pushing. She began licking the lifeless body, and I began to cry, not at all certain how long to let this go on before taking it away.

I went for a towel, got her some chow and held the other goats at bay while watching her eat (which she did rather quickly I might add --good sign of “will to live/moving on”-- goats being better at these things than humans). I called the vet who confirmed that the oxytocin I had on hand for dog emergencies, would work for a goat. He gave me the recommended dosage in case there was another baby inside of her.

If anyone had told me I’d one day be good at giving shots, I’d have said you have the wrong girl. I’m over that now. I injected the solution and waited for what I hoped would be one last contraction. She felt it coming, looked up at me, then walked slowly to her stall, I prayed, to birth something living. Instead, she was leading me to another baby she’d lost earlier. Stillborn twins. It made absolutely no sense. She was a perfectly healthy goat, fully to term. Both babies were large enough to have survived.

A neighbor with goats told me there’s no way of knowing, but odds are good she got butted, triggering premature labor. She was my alpha…one of two larger goat mamas. But now she would slip into last place for having lost two babies and being weakened by the process.

She appeared fine at first, but two days later when TJ started roughhousing, pawing at her and knocking her down, I knew he was sensing something I was not. I had seen him do this once before when another goat had lost a baby. It scared me to see him playing so rough--keeping her agitated and exhausted. But a fellow farmer told me this was the nature of a Pyrenees. The theories on why this happens with a breed trained to protect goats are varied. One theory is goats need to keep standing after traumas like losing a baby. Once down, they’re hard to get back up, so the Pyr is working to keep them active and on their feet. Another suggests the dog knows the goat’s not going to make it and tries to hasten the process, so as to save resources for the remaining, healthier goats in the herd—It’s the "survival of the fittest" encoded in its genes.

All I know is TJ got scolded a lot that day. It may’ve been his nature to paw a weakened creature, but it was my nature to nurture it back to health. I penned her up separately, started her on a diet of egg yolks and goat’s milk (a powdered supplement I keep on hand in case bottle feeding becomes necessary). KitKat had come with a baby when I bought her last summer so I put that baby with her (baby meaning a 8 – 10 month old goat, not a newby). They seemed to take comfort in being together.

The next day was fine. It was the following that got us as the temperatures took a nosedive. Her appetite was strong, but her legs were growing weaker. I carried her outside by day when temps allowed…back inside at night, never leaving her alone without the protection of me or a stall door between her and TJ.

Diagnosis: severe anemia. The vet started her on serious doses of B12 and antibiotics. I added liquid iron to her chow to build back her red cells. But as the week progressed I watched her life force fade in strange juxtaposition to the 7 puppies in my basement, growing fatter and more active with each new day.

It’s the hardest part of farm life for me: death is a big part of it. Who doesn’t pray for perfect births and healthy babies, but it seems nature lives to remind us who’s in control (and believe you me, it’s not us). Best I can tell, my job is to ease the suffering when I can, and let the life I’ve been blessed to share, for whatever window of time I’m allowed to share in it, know beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was loved.

This picture was taken 4 days ago (the only day warm enough to be outside writing). It was KitKat feeling a little weak, but a maybe a little special. Today, she’s with her maker, as I struggle to process the pain and self doubt… not at all sure I have what it takes to be a farmer after all.

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