This is a farm and this is our journey. It’s not all pretty, and sometimes it’s sad. It’s real. That’s all I can promise.
One morning last week I went out to give cookies to the goats. Fanta really wanted one. She’s curious about me and my treats. She’s the braver of our two new girls. Sprite hangs back, waiting for Fanta to tell her if I’m okay. Fanta is the bold leader. She almost got a cookie, finally, but she hesitated a half-second too long and a chicken ran up out of nowhere, snatched it, and raced away.
I went back to the house then I realized Pepsi hadn’t come for a cookie. Pepsi always comes for a cookie. I went back to look for him.
I found him dead on the goat house porch.
I don’t know why. There was no warning. He looked like he just went to the porch, sat down…and died. He had been fine the day before, no apparent signs of illness. No coughing or runny nose, no diarrhea. His coat was healthy and he was eating. The only slightly odd thing I had noticed about him were moments when he seemed to stand oddly still. Goats don’t really just stand still. They’re looking around, eating, grooming themselves. I noticed repeated instances when he stood very still. I watched him, but there was no straining or crying, as would be if he had a stone, which I always worry about with a male. He’d just stand really still for a minute in a strange way then go on and act normal. I actually thought about calling the vet and saying, “My goat! He’s STANDING STILL!” But that sounded a little silly. And I couldn’t see anything wrong with him.
The day after I found Pepsi, it just so happened we were talking to a vet from the USDA about enrolling our farm in the federal scrapie program. Scrapie is a fatal degenerative disease in sheep and (more rarely) goats. (We don’t have any reason to believe Pepsi had scrapie–this was an unrelated event.) Scrapie is evidenced by signs such as excessive rubbing and scratching, lack of coordination, tremors, etc. It’s a disease of the central nervous system. The federal government operates a program to identify and track sheep and goats through assigning flock numbers to individual farmers and providing free genetic testing. (If you’re interested in enrolling your farm in the scrapie program, contact your local USDA office.) To our fortune, the vet became quite interested when he found out about our animals as we have such unusual breeds. He was particularly interested in our Jacobs and Fainting goats. Often, they just assign a flock number over the phone, but he said, “I want to come out and see those critters.”
And so the very next day after that, he was here. Usually, unless there is a specific reason to believe there is scrapie present in your flock, they start out by testing the ram(s). Mr. Cotswold enjoyed the whole process.
Scrapie has been found more often in Suffolk sheep than any other breed, so Annabelle got a test, too, as she is a Suffolk/Dorset cross.
We bent his ear about Pepsi, of course. And we told him about Honey, too. (What is it with boys? Why can’t we raise a boy here???) He listened. He examined each and every one of our goats. He even went over Jack and Pocahontas. He was here for two and a half hours. (I can’t imagine what an on-site veterinary visit of that length and extent would cost. This was FREE.)
Clover loved him.
He told us that when a goat dies suddenly, he looks at four main possibilities: parasites, stones, poison, or pneumonia.
We worm our goats regularly with a liquid wormer based on weight that was recommended by our vet. This was a wormer we only started using several months ago, so while animals may become immune to one type of wormer over time, we hadn’t been using this one very long. There’s always a possibility Pepsi wasn’t responding to this particular wormer. The other goats checked out good as far as parasites, though, so it seems unlikely Pepsi died due to that cause. His coat was healthy and he didn’t show other signs of having a dire parasite problem. As for stones, there was no crying in advance of Pepsi’s death. Stones are very painful. (When Honey had a stone, there was no doubt he had a problem that was hurting him! He wailed pretty loud and pretty often–I dosed him with vinegar and he recovered quickly.) The vet said he’s never known of a goat to die of stones without making a big fuss about it first. He felt comfortable ruling that out as a possibility. Could Pepsi have eaten something toxic in the environment? Again, not likely as we’ve been keeping goats in this same yard for over a year and we’ve been over it and know of no toxic plants here. Pneumonia is common in both fall and spring with seesawing weather changes. Young goats are particularly susceptible. In particular, interstitial pneumonia can bring down a goat in as little as 12 hours, with little to no symptoms. One of the few signs relating to interstitial pneumonia is an odd standing about, standing quite still, apart from the herd……
And yet we still don’t know why. Even after making a “federal case” out of it by having a federal vet evaluate our farm and our animals and our methods. Maybe it was Clover in the lounge with a candlestick. We are left with some suspicions of what may have taken him, regret over not following up on a nebulous gut instinct, but we don’t know for sure and won’t know for sure as it was too late by then to have a necropsy. (He also gave us the name and number of a USDA inspector who would come pick up an animal for us so that we can have a necropsy if this should ever occur again. The not knowing why is the worst part.)
As we have had such bad luck with bucks, I went through a small depression thinking I should just establish a goat nunnery.
Sister Mary Nutmeg.
Sister Catherine Fanta and Sister Magdalena Sprite.
And yet…… That’s not going to get me any cheese. And so we went over everything with the vet, had him put his hands on each animal, discussed our housing and feeding and supplements and medications.
And were reassured and encouraged.
We will perservere.
Pepsi had a special relationship with Pocahontas. He spent more time with her than any of the goats. She liked to lick his ears. And he let her.
Nothing worth having comes easy. Especially a farm.
We love you, Pepsi.