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.