On the Loss of a Friend

It’s been a horrible day.

No; that doesn’t quite give due weight to my hand-wringing anxiety followed by the deep, deep sorrow that I have suffered during a few short, traumatic hours…..

And I’m sure many people will sneer derisively, when they learn that the dear friend & faithful companion I lost today, was one of our lovely goats. 

But I’m not (perhaps facetiously) nicknamed ‘The Lonely Goatherd’, for nothing: tucked down here in this isolated little valley, I often don’t have the pleasure of human company for days; not that I crave it nor even essentially miss it, I am neither a city nor even a ‘townie’ person & relish the tranquility we enjoy here. 

Once you truly get to know goats, their captivating personalities & antics literally take over your life.  On witnessing our herd’s anxious requests for reassurance at their concern that a Milkforce member was unwell, our vet today observed they appear, ‘demanding’.  And she’s right: what they ‘demand’ to know, is exactly what you’re doing; how you’re doing it; when, precisely, you’re doing it – & whether they too, can join in. 

These are highly sensitive, emotional, individual & intelligent animals: & you always, always, have to be one step ahead where goats are concerned….not that I necessarily am; as they’ve successfully ‘outfoxed’ me many a time.  And I have learned from – & been immeasurably enriched by, those experiences…..!

So let’s turn to Assie.  Whilst during the past couple of years she has, frustratingly, provided the Cariadfach Herd with only male kids; she has willingly attoned with an abundant yield of top-quality creamy milk; enriching our cheeses, yogurts, gelato….& even on occasion saving other small caprine & ovine lives who were in need of urgent nutritional sustenance that their own mums, simply couldn’t provide.

Not only was Assie a prolific member of the Milkforce, she was also a delightful, polite lady.  She never took a nifty nip of exposed flesh or a cheeky chew of loose clothing or a stray wisp of hair, when you weren’t looking; she was anxious to learn & assimilated information swiftly & with obvious delight; & she was always careful, polite & obliging when it came to milking.  Happy & keen in her work, when she jumped on the milkstand she would invariably greet me with an affectionate nuzzle, prior to plunging her head in the feed bucket.  And on leaving the ‘stand, I would always be persuaded to provide an affectionate cuddle, before she returned to her chums.    

  This morning, however, she didn’t join the others at the communal breakfast bowl, preferring instead to lie quietly beneath the hay trough.  When I called to her, she moaned softly; I was in the pen & at her side, in a trice.  I managed to persuade her to rise fairly easily; but as soon as she did so I noted wih dismay that she clearly had chronic diarrhoea; & apparently a muddy discharge from her vulva.  This was an unpleasant surprise as she’d kidded on 7th April, several weeks ago & had apparently fully cleansed; with no problems in the ensuing interval.  And only the previous evening she’d raced into the parlour with her characteristic enthusiasm, licking clean her supper dish & produced a good yield of milk.

I immediately called the veterinary emergency line, with the vet on call arriving within about half an hour.  Her careful examination revealed that Assie’s rumen appeared to be functioning healthily; however her temperature was worryingly low.  The internal examination demonstrated that the discharge was not smelly; so any infection did not appear too severe.  Nevertheless, Assie was clearly quite weak; & the fact that she’d evidently deteriorated very fast, was worrying. 

The vet injected antibiotics & anti-inflammatories straight into the vein, with instructions I was to follow up the initial dose with two days’ worth of successive antibiotic shots; & to keep Assie warm & well hydrated.  Responding to another call during what was a busy weekend, she hurried off; & I prepared a warm, comfortable bed in an isolated stable furnished with some willow branches in an attempt to stimulate Assie’s failed appetite, & a bucket of warm, molassed water with electrolytes to replenish the liquid, sugars & salts her body would have lost through scouring.  I put a warm goat rug on her, in the hope it’d help restore her core temperature; & after ensuring she had a good, long drink left her to settle in. 

Anxious about the clearly unhappy goat, I drifted back to the stable every fifteen minutes or so; wishing to check her progress but at the same time unwilling to disturb her.  Whilst she didn’t seem particularly better, she at least did not appear to be getting any worse; so I took a short lunch break before returning to check on her.

During the twenty minutes that I was absent, Assie died.

Broken hearted, I gently stroked the sad, still body & said goodbye.  I notified the vet, who was clearly as shocked as I was at what had happened; she certainly hadn’t expected her to die as only a short while before, Assie had been up & about.

The final indignity was having to load the body with the help of a kindly neighbour, into the truck so that I could take her to the Veterinary Investigation Centre for Post Mortem the following morning: something I would have done anyway, but which is a legal formality in the case of any goat over the age of eighteen months which dies unexpectedly.

It was all such a shock, though; we’ve never lost a goat before.  You build an extraordinary rapport with these beautiful, sensitive, intelligent animals: goodness, I work intimately with them, milking twice per day; catering to their every need; & of course I am their faithful, comforting midwife for each & every birth.  Subsequently the relationship we build with these wonderful girls is deep & loving: people seem amazed that I know each (apparently identical) goat by name; but hear them bleat, & I’ll tell you who she is & what she’s saying; hear them slurp from the water bucket even, & I’ll tell you who is thirsty.

And tonight, there’s one less slurp, one less bleat, one less expectant, happy face in the queue for the milkstand & supper….& one more friend, absent; who has so enriched our lives with her quirky affection & whom we’ll miss, so very much.



About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, April 2008, Diary, Farming, Goats, Life, Livestock, Smallholding, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to On the Loss of a Friend

  1. Sylvia says:

    I am sorry about Assie.

    Sadly this is one of the burdens that breeders of all species of animal have to bear occassionally.

    Some years ago I had a beautiful pug bitch called Schoolgirl. One weekend she seemed a bit off colour. I took her to the vet who gave her some pills. She seemed brighter that night and I went up to bed. Next morning when I came down to the kitchen, she was cold and stiff. She had died in the night. It was the most terribly shock.

    So we breeders understand.

    It is as my mother used to say about animals –
    “It is not the coming of them that is the trouble – it is the going”

    Chin up

  2. katie says:

    So sorry for your loss. I’ve lost a goat too, a while ago now but I’ll never forget my lovely girl.

  3. ah sorry. I wrote recently that I dont want to harden up.. caring is part of the deal.. but that means it hurts when you have a loss.

  4. Mr. D says:

    I’m a guy in my 50s. Lost a 16 year old Lamancha this week. The tears splash on the keyboard as I post this. I know your pain. I’ve said goodbye way too many times.

    Goats are truly worthy of the title; Friend!

  5. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Thank you all, for your kind words –

    I’ll always miss Assie; as I know I’ll also miss each & every one we lose – & the sad inevitability is of course, that we WILL lose them: that’s life, after all.

    It was the sudden nature of her death which was such a shock; & the fact she was so young & apparently otherwise healthy. But I’ve been advised by many far wiser than I, that this is how it is sometimes with goats – things that might make a sheep slightly ill, will floor a goat; & vice versa.

    Mr D, I’m so very sorry about your lovely Lamancha – I, too, share your pain. I’m sure she & Assie are skipping through the Elysian fields together, or wherever it is that goats would like to go at the end…..

  6. paula says:

    I know this happened some time ago Jo and I’m sorry I haven’t responded before. Maybe you’ll now have an idea what killed her so suddenly and maybe you’ll have begun to feel less awful. It takes time. Even more with a milking animal that was willing, sweet and kind.

    The weather has changed and hopefully the beauty of your valley will help the healing process. Hugs…

  7. Michelle says:

    Only just caught up on your sad news. I have seen first hand the love, care and comittment all your animals are given and she couldn’t have had a better life with anyone else looking after her. Big hugs for a dear friend x

  8. My heart goes out to you.

    Happy goats are cherished and well cared for. Better lives (human and goat) all round. But the downside is that it’s so hard when a much loved animal dies.

    Assie sounds like she was a wonderful goat. You’ll always remember her.

  9. susie6 says:

    Assie sounds like she was a lovely girl. My Queenie is a lot like her, and I love all my goats. I really feel for you, I can’t imagine how I’ll feel if that happens to me.

    I’m going to have a look around your blog.

  10. Mindie says:

    I’m so sorry to read about your goat, she sounded lovely. My thoughts go out to you as I know how painful it can be.
    I was surfing through your blog and wondered if you had ever considered selling your fleeces to hand spinners yourself? The majority of hand spinners do use fleece that has been prepared, but there are quite a number that like to do it themselves. They don’t fetch a great price but it sounds as if you would certainly get more than the wool marketing board is offering you and as you could charge for postage you would perhaps make a little rather than be in negative figures. Your fleeces look wonderful. If you would consider selling, I for one would be happy to buy!

  11. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Many thanks for all your kind words –

    it really lifts the spirits. The Post Mortem revealed that she had mild acidosis which triggered a clostridial infection. Unfortunately there is no licenced anti-clostridial vaccine for goats; the ones that are available are a bit hit-&-miss where caprines are concerned & nothing covers the Type A toxoid to which goats are particularly susceptible. So although she was vaccinated, it doesn’t necessarily stand that it protected her as we’d hoped – sold comfort indeed.

    Mindie –

    if you have a look on the Fleeces For Sale page you’ll see that I do indeed sell to handspinners rather than carting them off to the WMB in Brecon.

    I don’t make any profit as whilst the fleeces themselves cost next to nothing people are often unwilling to pay postage costs of several times the value of the fleece – about which I can do nothing as I’m not the Post Office setting the tarrif! If people object that carriage is a bit pricey I encourage them to find an alternative; unfortunately I don’t have the time to do the research myself when nine times out of ten, people pull out of the sale anyway.

    But please feel free to have a look & let me know if you’re interested – & we do have a magnificent Greyface Dartmoor fleece available as someone asked me to reserve it a few months ago but hasn’t got back to me since.

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