Babies are sometimes born dead or do not survive the birthing process for a myriad of reasons. They can also succumb to viruses or parasites before their bodies have the chance to adjust, mature and develop resistance to bacterium’s outside of the mother’s womb. This is a hard fact of raising young animals. While we never grow fully accustomed to it and do work to prevent it, we are mentally prepared it can and does happen.
Losing an adult animal that you have loved and cared for over time is another matter. We lost a beautiful doe named Algedi Farm Midnight Dreamer in October of 2013, and it is a night my husband and I will never forget.
We came home from the Minges Pumpkin Festival on a Saturday and went to the barn to top off the hay and water for the night. All the does eagerly rushed in the barn lining up for their alfalfa. Bright eyes, happy wagging tails, they all began to munch enthusiastically. As we did other barn chores and began to fill water buckets we heard an unnerving scream from one the does. As our eyes snapped back to the doe’s pen, we saw Dreamer run to the back of the barn, wide eyed, trembling and screaming. What on earth was wrong?
We pulled Dreamer from the stall and put her in the milking stand. She nibbled grain tentatively but continued to tremble. We put all the does back outside and checked out the feeder and pen. Did she get pricked by a nail? Could she have been stung by a bee or bit by some insect we did not see in the hay? Was there a snake, mouse, or other vermin in the stall that could have bit her? We went over every inch of her body looking for a bite, a cut, a swelling……ANYTHING. We found absolutely nothing.
We took Dreamer’s temperature…..normal. We checked her gums……normal, we listened to her rumen……normal. Dreamer quit eating and the tremors increased in severity. We set up a separate stall, padded it deeply with straw and moved her into it. She began to grind her teeth, typically a sign that the goat is in pain. I called our vet, describing all the symptoms and asked her to come right away. She told us to check all the things that we had already done. She was as perplexed as we were.
Dancer was going downhill fast and in obvious pain. I ran to the house for a Banamine shot (anti-inflammatory & painkiller), we did not know what we were facing, but we needed to reduce the stress as that can kill a goat all by itself. As I hurried back to the barn I could hear her screaming. I arrived at her stall to see her gritting her teeth, foaming at the mouth, eyes wild and struggling to stand. It took both of us to pry her mouth open to release her tongue. She had lacerated the edges while grinding her teeth and was bleeding. We freed her tongue but it was evident that some sort of paralysis was setting in. We looked at each other in wide-eyed frustration. To keep her from going down, my husband propped her between his legs, he looked up at me with tears streaming down his cheeks and said “we’re losing her”.
The feeling of helplessness and frustration when a beloved animal is dying is known all too well by many people. You would do anything to save them, but nothing works. Dancer suddenly went quiet and collapsed. She was gone.
Hugging her for several more minutes, we both cried. Feelings of exhaustion and profound disappointment washed over us. As we looked at her, racking our brain…..fear set in. Was whatever took her transmissible? Was this going to happen to another doe? Was the rest of the herd at risk? Was it a virus? We didn’t see a snake or other animal but if she was bit, did it leave the barn and was lurking outside ready to strike another goat? It was near midnight and dark. How could we find it? Our minds went wild with possibilities. Start to finish, from happily trotting into the barn to her death, only 90 minutes had passed.
The vet arrived 5 minutes later. Her advice….an immediate autopsy on the spot. I desperately wanted to know what happened, but as she pulled out her surgical tools, I grew nervous. Having volunteered at a vet’s office as a teenager, I had passed out more than once during surgeries, tubing of horses and other procedures. It was the primary reason I didn’t follow through with vet school. I asked God to give me strength, I HAD to know why Dancer died and I wasn’t leaving.
I won’t get into the details of how a goat autopsy is performed, but the Good Lord must of heard me as I managed to watch, learn and never felt ill. I think I wanted answers so badly that nothing else mattered. As she went through the process, our vet remarked each organ was healthy, no sign of parasites, good rumen, good color, good texture, appropriate size…….in her actual words……”perfectly healthy doe”. Such bittersweet words.
As we loaded her body in the truck, the vet recommended toxicology testing on her blood and told us to check the pasture the next morning for poisonous plants and mushrooms. We spent several hours in the field the next day and once again…….found nothing. The toxicology reports came back clean, everything was within normal parameters.
The next step was an analysis of the brain. Dancer’s head was sent to the University. Brain tissue would be examined and further toxicology tests would be run on that tissue. Six weeks passed. These special tests take time.
Three spots of bleeding were found in the brain leading to the final conclusion of a brain aneurysm. There was nothing we could have done to prevent it, treat it or cure it. The cause is rarely determined and besides that, we had nothing to point to.
As the months passed with no other illnesses, we began to relax and accept it was a one-time occurrence. I do think the experience made us even more analytical every time we look at our animals.
So Dancer’s memory lingers…..only 4 years old, a sweetheart doe with a beautiful correct body and excellent mammary, the kind that dairy goat breeders dream of. Someday we will name a doeling in honor of Dreamer, one that has her color, spirit and personality. Counting our blessings, we look forward to that day.