Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lessons from the Goat Guru

Whew...it's been quite a week, which is why I haven't posted in a while. The Owens had a goat show to attend this past weekend, which meant that Jacob and I had to work extra long hours just to get the basics done. Saturday morning we woke up at 4:30 so that I could do a farmer's market in North Asheville. It was a spectacular day, and the cheese practically sold itself, but I don't have to tell you what waking up at 4:30 does to you. Let's just say that by 2 I was feeling a little crusty (perhaps that's a bad word, but it describes the feeling), and we had to milk goats that night. The next morning was a little better. We woke up at 6:30. In a way, getting up that early is nice. I feel like I have the world to myself. But then, I am a college student, no stranger to the later hours, and it's hard to break that night owl, coffee-guzzling habit.

We've had three baby goats die this past week. That's a strain in itself. Last week Jacob and I noticed that one of the little baby billies had a swollen face. It's lower jaw was incredibly puffy. My first thought was that a bee or maybe even a snake had attacked it, but I called Chris and she said it was probably parasites. Parasites are a very common thing among grazing animals. Obviously, anything that eats grass eats everything that lives on the grass. When the weather gets hot and there's a humid spell with lots of rain, the parasite eggs hatch inside the animal. They can remain dormant for long periods of time, so an animal can have parasites without it being an issue, but when they hatch they wreak havoc on their system. It's really just a matter of catching the problem in time and medicating the animal before the parasites are so bad that the animal dies. And, as we found out, the aftermath of the parasites can be worse than the parasites themselves.

We seperated the sick goat from the herd, and moved him to a seperate pen with a buddy (goats are very social animals--if you isolate one it can get stressed enough to die). Chris brought the medication, and we just had to wait to see if we had caught it in time. At this point, the goat was still standing and eating, but by the next day it was down. It still seemed to have an appetite, though, so we hadn't given up hope yet. We fed it molasses water, which is slightly more nutritional than sugar water since it has some minerals and iron in it. What happens when the parasites are killed is that the animal must expel them from its system, and the sores where the parasites sucked have to heal. This is a huge stress on the animal's system, and for a goat kid it's even worse. Well, that night we moved the kid to the front porch where we could watch him better. We tried to feed him again, and he ate like he had an appetite, but then he got choked, and couldn't seem to catch his breath. I tried hitting him on the back to dislodge whatever was blocking his windpipe, but it wasn't working. He made such pitiful noises--gargling and coughing (they sound creepily human when they cough and cry)--that I had to leave and get away from the sound. I couldn't stand the thought that I was watching him die. I sort of surprised myself. I never thought I would react that strongly to a dying animal. But he didn't die then. He managed to get over his coughing spell, and he made it through the night.

The next day we both had to work, so we were going to move him back to the pen. Jacob went to pick him up and threw out his back. So, there lay Jacob, unable even to roll over, and there lay the goat, who at this point could no longer lift his head. I was beginning to feel remarkably depressed. So, I sat feeling helpless for a few minutes, until I mustered enough ire (for what I don't know--cruel fate, perhaps?) to get up and deal with it. I carried the goat back to the pen and put some frozen peas on Jacob's back, hoping that it didn't require emergency care.

The goat died that day. A couple days later I found another one dead--probably of the same thing but with no noticable symptoms. Until this point I've been pretty sheltered from death of any kind--human or otherwise. Most of my large family is still alive, and all of my close family is still alive. I had a great grandfather who died before I really understood what death meant. We had to put my dog to sleep a couple years ago. But other than that I've been pretty fortunate. This is something I didn't anticipate when I started working on the farm--becoming acquainted with death. And I suppose animal death and human death are two very different things, but then I can't help but think about how fragile life can be for any species. I don't want to be overly sentimental here, but we are, in fact, not in control. We die, they die, you die, I die, and we have little or no control over it. Global warming is at a point now where all we can do is adapt and teach our children to be better stewards than we have been. We can't control the weather, the idiot in the big truck that cuts us off on the highway, the lunatics in Washington. We can't even control out own emotions sometimes. Our futures are always uncertain, and always perilous. We are hanging, each of us, on little individual threads that get blown about, tossed, and eventually, that snap. I don't mean to be depressing--I don't think being out of control is necessarily a bad thing. Being out of control means that you live your life as if you will die in a minute, a second even. You let people in front of you in line, you treat your family with respect, you return phone calls from friends and even from people you might not care for. You consume less, experience more, eat chocolate (I had to throw that in), give blood, give time, take your time.

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