Well – how indeed….?!
Not by putting on an Andrew Lloyd-Webber style talent show, that’s for sure; but more by fretting as to why one of our most favorite & highly prolific milking goats was decidedly “under the weather” when I opened the parlour for business, this morning….
As ever, she was straining at the gate for breakfast with everyone else; but rather than lingering after concluding the communal (& after Assie’s untimely acidosis-attributed demise, decidedly light) meal, she extricated a big nest of hay from our gargantuan rack & then settled therein, to contentedly munch – at least, initially.
But as my work in the parlour progressed she grew ever-more lethargic yet ever-more vocal in her standard nagging volley of “you’re-late-for-work &/or not-working fast/efficiently enough” complaints. Casting my mind back to the previous evening I recalled she’d spent a fair bit of the standard pre-milking routine, splendidly recumbant – although I’d assumed this was as a result of exhaustion. Basically, the goats had been forced to remain inside for a few days owing to heavy rain after they’d enjoyed a couple of weeks’ frolicking in the sunshine on our verdant Spring pasture.
Their subsequent confinement coupled with the unseasonable humidity had made them ill-tempered; so they’d taken to quarrelling & fighting amongst themselves. Thus initially I’d put Armeria’s behaviour down to her usual querulous nature, assuming she’d been indulging in a few severe bouts of typically fractious fighting.
It increasingly became apparent this was not the case however owing to miniscule but nonetheless telltale indications, in her behaviour: I know & love every one of our girls & can pick up in an instant when something might be even only slightly wrong. On the stand, Armeria typically shovelled down the first few mouthfuls of grub – then some unspecified discomfort evidently overwhelmed her normally robust appetite. She was milking her standard, bountiful yield; but her coat was ever-so-slightly ‘staring’ (i.e. not blooming with typically healthy gloss as the tips of her coat were standing slightly but perceptibly, on end); & she appeared to be ‘tucked up’ (slightly hunched & for such a robustly healthy goat, appearing abnormally thin). I took her temperature & the thermometer registered 38.5°C, about a degree lower than is normal for a typically healthy goat. Her udder however proved as warm as ever to the touch & her eyes were bright & inquisitive with respiration & pulse, all within normal parameters.
Preferring to err on the side of caution I immediately put a nice warm rug on her & she trotted happily behind me to the isolation pen, where I furnished her with a thick bed of fresh straw, a wedge of the goats’ most appetizing hay & two buckets of water – one clear & tepid with a dash of cider vinegar to stimulate appetite; the other warm, with a glucose/molasses mixture to tempt her to drink & give her metabolism a boost. I also brought her an evidently welcome supply of her favourite treat – willow branches – which apart from stimulating her appetite would also act as a natural painkiller as they are essentially aspirin in herbal form. To that I added a bunch of fresh dandelion leaves to act as a mild diuretic, as she was passing normal faeces but I hadn’t seen her urinate for a while.
Rather than tucking herself quietly into the straw as I expected her to however, she seemed fascinated & indeed animated by her new environment, exploring thoroughly & telling me all about it with little caprine ‘comments’ throughout.
All was well until I exited the stable…..
Basically the girls see me as Herd Matriarch; & my bond with Armeria is especially strong as shortly after she first arrived here, the stress of travelling & a new home meant she unfortunately contracted a mild ‘flu-like virus which required much TLC & a spell in the house beside the Rayburn with a few tenderly-administered bottles of warm milk. For this reason she was nicknamed ‘Shadow’ as wherever we went thereafter, she was only ever a pace behind. So she really wasn’t amused at my act of desertion, despite being able to hear other goats in the neighbouring stable. I considered sending in another member of her group for company; however if what she’d contracted was infectious, that would be decidedly unwise.
The alternative was Ginny – our poor old Virgin Queen (who, being barren, has only one use at present – as a faithful companion for our stud male, the inimitable Merson; & even that role has been usurped by one of our goaty guests here – Brian – who’s a charming chap if a bit short in the *ahem* trousers department). However, if Armeria was ailing the last thing I wanted was for her to start scrapping with less-familiar goats & possibly deteriorating as a result.
So I gritted my teeth & left her to her own devices. It soon became apparent that wasn’t a good idea, however; as her bawling distress echoed & re-echoed across the otherwse silent valley. Sneaking a peak through the top half of the stable door I could see she was throwing herself around in fine style; much like a child having a severe tantrum. Oh, dear…..
There was only one thing for it.
As soon as I entered the stable she transformed to being all sweetness & light; & was evidently delighted to see me. I spent the next couple of hours tucked up in the straw beside her whilst whilst she contentedly munched hay beside me, muttering away amiably in Goatspeak; to which I of course replied (it’s a surpisingly complex language & even harder to master than Welsh, which at least involves pure vocal communication: in Goatspeak when you haven’t got a ridge of hair down your spine that you can make stand up on end when you’re cross/excited/cold; or ears that can be swept back, forwards or ‘middling’ to emphasise your mood [or, like a Tornado aircraft, to either increase or decrease the speed at which you fly down the valley…!] then you’re missing vital verbal weapons in your armoury. But on a genial day-to-day basis, the girls & me; well, we get by…..)
So we had a peaceful ‘girlie’ afternoon, together; & the great thing about spending it with a female goat is that you can still enjoy a good ‘natter’ over a frothy cup of cappriccino coffee (far better – & fresher – than Starbucks, I can assure you!) – but it costs much less; & as there are no shops withn fifteen miles we didn’t even go shopping afterwards (although Armeria did seem very interested in the natty burgundy coat she was sporting – even insisting I try it on, as well….not quite designed to fit me as well as it does her, though!).
Alas, the appointed hour had arrived: I could put it off, no longer…..the parlour had to be reopened for business as my (other) girls were complaining that it was suppertime & that their udders needed emptying so they could enjoy a good night’s sleep (must be similar to trying to snooze with a full bladder I suppose!).
Opening the stable door I headed back to the herd, with Armeria trotting insistently at my heels. I removed her rug & popped her on the stand (at which point she immediately guzzled the remains of her breakfast – so not much wrong there after all, then) & delicately took her temperature…..which, thankfully, had settled back to a ‘textbook’ 39.4°C.
And so we were again open for business; & it seems that a great deal can be gained from simple, individual attention: achieved with no synthetic drugs, just a hearty dose of TLC & some shared, quality time, together.
And hey, as I was feeling a little jaded myself, maybe I needed such ‘therapy’ as much as Armeria did….?
Anyway: that, evidently, is how you solve a whole plethora of problems like Armeria….so listen & learn o ye Lloyd Webber wannabees…the Funny Ffarm ‘Dr Doolittle’ method is far cheaper – & far more fun, I can assure you!!