Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy "It's No Longer 2012!"

This is not going to be one of those posts with critters and humorous captions.  The next post probably will be, but not this one.  Feel free to skip it- I've wrestled with writing it, but I sort of feel the need to explain why I have needed a bit of a mental break from the farm (because it is nearly impossible to take a break where we really get away from the farm), why my web site is as out of date as it is, and why my e-mail replies have been slow in coming.

For me, 2012 was a bit of a suckfest, with the last three months being the worst of it.  I'm not trying to win the Pity Olympics, as I know there are people out there for whom the last year was even worse, or equally crappy.  I suppose I feel the need to explain as a way to ask for patience from the people I know for withdrawing and not wanting to talk as much about the farm as usual.  This is also a bit of a rebuttal to those who think that because I live and work on a farm that my life is all sunshine and lollipops, because that notion dismisses the heart break and hard work that goes in to having a farm for any amount of time, as well as the uncertainty that underlies all kinds of farms.

I'll put the rest after a break, so you can choose whether you want to read it or not.

This has been the year of outliers- things rarely seen, but that do sometimes happen. Unfortunately, with several outliers in one year, it can start to feel like the commonality is you, so you must be the problem. 

One of our goat kids got aspiration pneumonia- a type of pneumonia caused by food (or in this case milk) being inhaled into the lungs and subsequently causing an infection.  The normal antibiotic treatment didn't work, and as always with livestock, I had to weigh how much the treatment was going to cost versus the return on the animal.  He already had a buyer, and I decided that if I could break even, at least the kid would still be alive.  After a couple of days of treatment, we'd run through several hundred dollars already, and he was not responding in a neurologically appropriate way.  The vet and I decided to let him go.  The necropsy revealed that he'd had a cerebral hemorrhage, which is probably what caused him to inhale the milk in the first place, and no matter what we'd done, he was never going to get better.  But, I had taken a gamble that he would have gotten better, spent as much as he was going to sell for, and had nothing but a large bill from UCD to show for it.  Cerebral hemorrhages are unusual, as is pneumonia caused by one, but there it was.

A little while later, we had a kid who was showing colic-like symptoms, rolling around on his bedding and making little noises like he was very uncomfortable.  On the advice of a couple of vets, I gave him some antibiotic and pain relievers, and he seemed to get a little better for a couple of days, and then he swelled up with what seemed to be a bad case of bloat.  I tried a few things to relieve the bloat without success and then he died.  It turned out to be an intestinal intussecception, which means that the intestine twisted on itself, closing it off to anything passing through, and possibly causing the tissue in that area to die.  There was a possibility that surgery would have fixed it, although surgery on a 12 day old kid is fairly challenging on its own.

Around this time, we started having some trouble with one of our neighbors.  Long story short, he blamed Mini for the death of one of his dogs, dogs which were allowed to roam where ever they wanted to.  His dog was off of his property when it was killed, and was in the direction opposite of our property, but because he feared Mini and was looking for a way to force us to get rid of her, he decided that she must be the killer.  This, despite no evidence, and despite the fact that there are LOTS of very large dogs in our neighborhood who roam at will.  I offered to do several things to try to "make things right", and instead of accepting them, he called Animal Control to do an investigation.  They found that it was very unlikely that Mini killed the dog in question, but that if she did, and they weren't saying she did, it was provoked by the now-deceased dog, and that we were not at fault.  Several details have clarified themselves in the following months that have pointed away from Mini being at fault in the incident, but that hasn't stopped the neighbor from running his mouth all over town, now telling people that Andy actually shot his dog.  He's told enough people that it has gotten back to us, and we don't live in a small town!

As a side note- this lie of his offends me on several levels- for one thing, he KNOWS he is lying when he tells people that Andy shot his dog.  The other reason it offends me is because we are not the type of people to shoot our neighbor's dogs.  We've gone to great lengths to return stray dogs to their homes, and to let people know when their dogs are repeatedly coming onto our property, which endangers our livestock.  One person, by the time we told them the third or fourth time that their dog was over at our place again, told us that if we didn't like it we could just shoot their dog, to which we replied that we *didn't* want to shoot their dog, we just wanted it to stay away from our livestock, and were letting them know so they could figure out how to keep their dog on their place.  Another neighbor's dog was stealing Stella's toys out of our back yard, and our work shoes off of the back porch, and all we did was ask for our shoes back and let them know that she kept crossing the busy street in front of our house and had been nearly hit by passing cars several times, so they might want to do something about that.  So yeah, the neighbor is saying stuff that is completely opposite to the type of people we are.

Not too long after the neighbor trouble started, one of my yearling milkers started to act a bit like she had listeriosis, which is caused by a bacteria, usually brought in on food.  We treated her, but her condition did not improve.  She wasn't eating, and didn't seem to be drinking much either.  Since she had been bottle raised, we were able to give her electrolytes in a bottle to keep her hydrated, but sometimes she would seem a bit dazed after the bottle got in her mouth. Then she started having seizures- small ones at first, but by the time she'd been acting "off" for two weeks, the seizures were lasting for well over an hour at a time.  Big seizures like that cause serious brain damage.  I would try to comfort her as best as I could while she was seizing, but it was becoming clear that she was just not getting better.  Eventually, she got to the point where she couldn't get up anymore, but she was aware enough that she would call out when she'd hear my voice in the barn.   Her necropsy showed severe liver damage done by mycotoxin, which is a fungus-based toxin.  This is most commonly found on grain, but can be on hay as well, and is difficult to pinpoint because there can be a bit of it found in one batch of grain, and random sampling may not find it.  Since at least two weeks had gone by since the ingestion of the toxin, the batch of food that it may have arrived with was long gone, and we could only be grateful that more of our does weren't affected. 

In late summer, I was drying off a decent handful of my does to try to bring the work load down a bit, and one morning as I went past the stall with the does I was drying off (separated so they wouldn't be getting much alfalfa), I saw GCH Castle Rock Irish Cream flat on her side.  With no warning signs or symptoms, and having been fine the evening before, she was suddenly dead. To find out what got her, I of course had a necropsy performed, and she had some unknown liver toxin.  At that point, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with the hay we'd brought in during the summer of 2011 from two sources we hadn't used before, or if it was from another food we were feeding, or...?  But feed testing is quite expensive, and often inconclusive, which was not encouraging since we have several sources of feed, which we were going through fairly quickly, so we probably didn't still have the feed which could have been the source of the problem.

In August, we noticed that Raven wasn't eating one morning when we were feeding the rest of the does in the pasture.  So, we brought her in to the barn to keep a closer eye on her.  I gave her a probiotic/baking soda/water drench and Vitamin B, a mixture which helps to settle the gut and increase appetite.  She didn't have a fever, but did have lots of nasal discharge.  She would nibble at tiny amounts of grass hay and a little bit of kelp, but that was it.  I looked up anorexia and nasal discharge in my goat medicine book, and it pointed right to heliotrope toxin, which is caused by the heliotrope plant, and this plant does naturally grow on our property.  I had not heard anything negative about heliotrope before, so I had just left it alone when it sprang up in the summer.  Unfortunately, the toxin accumulates in the liver over time, so goats can eat it without seeming to have any problems, then have one mouthful too many, and now you've got a problem.  Some goats are able to pull through, but many are not...a part of me hoped that at some point, Raven would turn a corner and get better, so I made her as comfortable as possible, kept her hydrated and hoped for the best.  Her appetite never did pick up, and while she held on longer than we thought at all possible, eventually she did pass away in her sleep.

Two days before Raven passed away, but at a point where it was clear that she would soon be with us no more, Ghost Pine did not eat any of her mash during morning milking.  That was very unusual for her (it wouldn't be for, say, Alum Root, who tends to glare and toss her head at whoever is next to her instead of eating during milking), so we started running through the usual diagnostics.  We listened to her rumen with a stethoscope and there was just silence where we would usually hear what sounds like a rolling thunderstorm.

At that point, I broke a little.  Seriously, another goat with another random problem we've never seen????  What the heck? What am I doing wrong?  Is she going to die too?  I put more time and effort into making sure they have the very best food I can get for them than I do into my own diet, plus kelp, three types of free-choice mineral supplement, they are well attended to, protected from threats, plenty of good quality housing and water, and yet...this stuff...keeps happening.

Fortunately, it was a matter of getting a few cuds from other does (if you want to see what offended goat face looks like, grabbing a cud is a good way to do it), and stuffing them down the throat of the doe with the rumen not working over the course of 24-36 hours.  If you ever have to do this, wear gloves and use a bolusing gun to get the cud down the throat of the recipient goat because getting stinky cud smell off of your hands is as difficult as getting rid of buck smell, and the doe getting the cud does not want that in her mouth anymore than you would want the partially chewed contents of your friend's lunch in your mouth.

Six days after Raven passed away, I found Tanzanite, a not even three year old buck dead in his pasture.  He was fine in the morning, dead before sundown.  Another trip up to UCD for a necropsy, which showed that he pretty much choked to death on his cud.  Splendid.  Nothing I could do to prevent it, but coming so close on the heels of losing Raven, it was much like having course salt rubbed into a fairly fresh wound.

I started to work on updating the web site, but kept getting too sad when I would start to move goats to the reference page.  Then we got a notice that the hard drive on my computer had been recalled and I would need to get a new one.  Two weeks after getting the new hard drive, it failed and had to be replaced too.  Even with having everything backed up to an external hard drive and the assurances that if anything ever went wrong, I could just tap on Time Machine and like magic restore files, both hard drives would not pull up any of the pictures we had taken since March.  I can see split second flickers of thumbnails, but can't pull the pictures up and can't export them to other programs. I have no idea why it is the pictures just since March, but we've spent hours and hours trying to restore/rebuild the photo libraries and it hasn't yet worked. These would be the vast majority of our kidding season pictures, show pictures, California native plant and insect pictures, and blog-post-to-be pictures.  So frustrating!

In October, my mom had surgery on her spine, and I took care of her for several days- including in the hospital directly after surgery, because she wouldn't tell the nurses that she needed something, but she'd tell me!  When checking in on her after I had come back home, it turned out she was having some complications from the surgery, which found me taking her to the ER, and a several night stay in the hospital.  She didn't want to stay with us when she was discharged from the hospital because she has horses and chickens she didn't want to leave.  But, her medicines made her very confused and groggy, so making sure she was getting just what she needed ended up being a rather complicated task.  Mini also came into heat in October, so there was the matter of getting her bred for December puppies, which added to the to-do list.

In November, I discovered that I was down to two beehives from a high of nine beehives in early summer.  There were several different reasons for the demise of the various hives- ants being the worst pillager of hives, but not the only cause.  One hive was abandoned despite lots of honey-filled frames, a deep box with open frames and no ants, another looked like it had been hit with a freeze-ray since I found the bees clustered together in their cold-weather formation, but all dead, with new workers mid-emergence from their cells, also dead.  Another hive had dwindled to nothing, having never recovered from killing their queen in the summer of 2011 and replacing her with a new queen who seemed much weaker than the one they killed.  Having invested quite a bit of money and time in the bees and their housing and to loose such a large part of the population hit me almost like loosing another animal.

One Friday morning in December, Mini refused her breakfast, and when a pregnant dog does that, it usually means that puppies will appear within the next 12 hours.  Andy was in charge of a long-planed dinner in San Francisco that night for his shift at work, so instead of getting to go with him, I stayed home and kept an eye on Mini.  She hadn't started labor by Midnight, and I had a farmer's market on Saturday and a booth at a farm open house to do.  So I took a couple of short naps, getting up often to check on Mini, still nothing.  I set up the market booth and left Andy to man it, came home, checked on Mini, then went to set up the farm booth.  Andy dropped lunch off for me, then went home to check on Mini, still nothing.  Once I returned home from the open house, we took turns checking on Mini for the rest of the day and into the night.  I was able to get a few hours of sleep while Andy checked on her into the small hours of the morning, and then I took the rest of the morning shift.  Still nothing.  On Sunday, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and Andy went back to our friend's farm to break down our booth there, while I stayed and checked on Mini regularly.  Still nothing, and she wasn't eating, but she was drinking, and I started giving her electrolytes.  I was trying to have her move around a bit to help get things moving, but she did not want to move around much at all.

Finally on Monday, she started labor.  I delivered two puppies over the course of a few hours, the second of which was the size of a ten day old pup, but then something went wrong.  Mini was walking like her back legs were drunk, and she didn't seem to be having any contractions.  I called our dog vet who said that if something was wrong, I should take Mini to UCD since their clinic would be closing in an hour, and as I was saying good-bye, Mini took three sharp gasps and died.

Andy, thinking quickly on his feet, grabbed a knife-- when a pregnant animal dies, there's usually a few minutes of dissolved oxygen still in their bloodstream, which is sometimes enough to keep the babies alive until you can get them out.  I triple checked that she was really gone before Andy started to open the abdomen, and we got the rest of the puppies out, rubbing and pumping their little chests to see if we could get any of them to start breathing.  We got three of them going, for a total of five live puppies out of a litter of thirteen, which is enormous for a first time litter.

I got a hot pad, lots of towels, and a box to put the puppies in, then heated up some of the goat colostrum I try to keep on hand for emergencies.  I soon learned that five orphan newborn puppies are way more work than thirty bottle fed goat babies. The puppies don't take to a bottle like kids do, their eyes are closed so I was uncertain as to whether they had stopped eating because they had fallen asleep or because they were full; they eat tiny, tiny amounts of milk which are difficult to keep warm for any length of time, they need physical stimulation to eliminate, and they need round-the-clock attention, which goat babies certainly do not need. And they are so loud!  Coming on the heels of several nights of little sleep from checking on their mother around the clock, the puppy care and feeding at all hours was exhausting.

Stella had been rather skeptical of the puppies at first, but soon was warming up to them, looking in on them and checking them out when I was feeding.  Then one morning at 4am, one of the puppies died.  A few hours later, another one died.  And that is how the day continued until the last one died at 9pm.

At least when I had the puppies, it felt like I would still have a piece of Mini, that not all had been lost.  But when the last one died, the one that I had tentatively decided early on would be my replacement for her mother, then that was it- I had really, completely lost Mini.  I had lost my big love muffin of a dog, and my livestock guardian who at two and a half years old was at the beginning of her working life.  I lost the time spent training her, the investment in breeding her, and the anticipated income from the puppies (if you do dog breeding right, you certainly won't get rich off of it, but you may at least cover your expenses with a bit left over), and the puppies it seemed at first that we'd managed to save that first night.  It was several layers of loss rolled into one.  And it was an experience not at all expected since Gamprs are supposed to be fairly rugged dogs who just pop out their puppies and go right back to guarding their charges, so I thought this would be easier than some of our kiddings.

Watching Stella look for the puppies around the house for the next several days helped keep the water works going.  When I took the carpet out of the area we'd set up for Mini to whelp in, I accidentally left the door open to the area while I went to the trash.  Stella took the opportunity to go in and sniff around and it's hard to describe the look in her eyes when she was done, other than sadness mixed with an understanding.  She wouldn't eat (a first in the over four years she's lived with us), and seemed depressed and exceptionally clingy for the rest of the day, and in subsequent mornings, she stopped bounding towards the pasture gate in anticipation of play time with Mini, as had been her usual habit.

So, I didn't feel much like talking with people (especially the everything-happens-for-a-reason crowd-- look, I try to find the bright side of every cloud, but there is NO UPSIDE to my dog dying while having puppies), and I had to stay away from my computer a bit so I wouldn't murder it for eating all of those pictures.  Andy was absolutely fantastic at trying to keep my spirits up and taking phone calls, and making sure I stayed (possibly too) well fed, and I certainly appreciate the friends who have expressed sympathy for the loss of Mini more than I can well express. I did, however, just need to not think about or talk about the farm, or my other business, for a little while. 

And, if you have felt neglected, I am sorry about that. I am trying to get back into the swing of things and resting up a bit for when kidding starts again in early-ish February.  Here's hoping that 2013 has a better run than 2012!  


Farmer Barb said...

Sometimes the warm arms of a good friend help us to feel our grief. The salt of your tears will help cleanse you. It seems overwhelming how many things seem to pile up. The man who restored our cable after Sandy told me about a man who was on high ground above his home during the tempest. He watched a wave punch through the glass in the back of the house and right out the front. He watched his whole life get sucked out to sea. His house was a total loss and he did not have flood insurance. His wife had lost her four year battle with cancer in the early fall before.

Hearing the stories of others who have lost does not diminish our own losses, it simply ties us together. Humans feel and remember. Going through trauma makes you feel one way, remembering it makes you feel another. Now that these losses have passed you, try an exercise. Think about one funny moment about the ones you have lost. Populate your heart with the memories. We are able to move on this way. I wish I could give you a warm hug and let your feelings wash back into the sea.

The loss is a part of your past. It is a part of you. I feel it, too. It ties us together--even though we have never met.

Rachel said...

I have no idea how you made it through 2012 emotionally. There is just something about death when you have livestock. It's like a disease that runs through taking as many as it can along it's course. You, unfortunately, had a really horrible bout with it. (((Hugs))) and here is to a MUCH better 2013.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Please don't apologize, Sarah. You have nothing to apologize for. Even though I knew about a lot of what the universe had dumped on you both over the course of 2012, it still didn't make this any easier to read.

We were heartbroken when we first heard about Mini, and she wasn't even our dog. I can't even begin to fathom how you got through the end of the year. I just can't. I do know that I'd be a puddle, and you'd have to mop me off the floor.

Farming is most definitely NOT sunshine and lollipops, and anyone that believes in the pastoral bucolic imagery of farm life is clearly not in touch with the reality of living it. However, I think it's fair to say that you experienced more than your fair share of the raw realities of farm living last year. I'm hoping it stays there, in the past, and that 2013 will bring you both some much deserved joy.

Sending virtual hugs to you both.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

I wish I could do something or say something to help take your sadness away but I just don't know what to do that would help. I've been involved with animals all my life with farming and veterinary medicine and my own menagerie. I've never had to face as much loss as you and Andy have had to face this year. On my tiny level of losses I've been angry and heartbroken and without hope. I've thought about just never having any animals again so I wouldn't have to feel that heartbreak again but I know I'd be lost without them and the heartbreak would be worse.

When the overwhelming hurt starts to rise up in you, as it will, like all lost love does. Don't shut it out. Cry and yell and shake your fist. Be angry, be sad, and let it come, feel it and then let it go again. Each time it happens it will be softer. At least that is what I've noticed. Time doesn't really heal all wounds it just makes them easier to live with.

You and Andy are a wonderful family for all the animals you have now and have had. Don't forget that in all of this. Your love for them is what makes their lives so full and so perfect even if sometimes is not a long life. They are blessed to be part of your life and part of your family. They are blessed because you love them so.

Julie said...

Wow. What an absolutely crap ass year. Glad you were able to write about it~hoped it helped. Wishing you happier times this year.

Sarah said...

You all have no idea how much your comments (and e-mails) mean to me. I often don't know what to say in these situations when they happen to others, but virtual hugs and even a "there, there" are incredibly comforting. Especially compared to a certain parent who asked if I was going to "let go of being sad soon" when I teared up just a little while telling her about the whole Mini situation just a week after it happened.

One of the reasons I did struggle with whether to write this or not is that there are so many for whom the last year was so much worse- the ones affected by Hurricane Sandy, or who were hit by a tornado, or have lost everything to the drought in the Midwest. Compared to them, my travails were not that bad, and I know that and am thankful for all that I do have. But 2012 was emotionally draining enough that for the first time since I have gotten the goats I seriously considered whether I wanted to continue down this road.

The one tiny sliver of light that has come out of this past year is how it has shown us what good friends and acquaintances we have, who are supportive during times like these. For all of you, I am profoundly grateful.

Patty said...

Sarah, so so sorry to hear what went on during 2012, especially since I know you do everything in your power to take great care of your critters and do what's right. Don't feel bad for feeling down, its part of the process to move on and shows how much you loved and cared for them. I wish you and Andy and your critters the best. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Sarah thank you for this post! How sadly I feel for your losses and how I respect you both for walking through them and staying open to the future. We so much appreciate knowing you and Andy and hope to be real friends to you as you rebuild. Your friendship and the gift you give others through your integrity, intelligence and generosity are priceless! Karen Lee

Tracy Hubbard said...

Oh how my heart cries for you Sarah.... I know too well all that you're feeling. The last several years here on our farm seem to have been one heartbreak after another as well. Each time I ask myself what I did wrong, what DIDN'T I do that I SHOULD have.. So many questions and absolutely NO ANSWERS. Sometimes, when things seem to be going WELL I find myself wondering how long it will last. It's a high price we farmgirls pay for raising and loving living, breathing creatures, but the rewards, no matter HOW BRIEF, are worth more than anything in this lifetime, or any other. Just know that you gave them the best you had to give Sarah, and that in your care they were truly blessed, as were you for having known them. Hugs to you, and prayers for peace to your mind and spirit. Tracy H.