A Change of Seasons

9 12 2010

Fall has laid a cool sheet over the Bay Area — the light has fallen to angles, anything from the tallest tree to a twig on the ground casts a shadow — everything around us is changing.  I, for one, am in nesting overdrive.  I don’t want to leave the house. I’m even cutting recipes from Food & Wine then fastening them to index cards using a glue stick.  Organized and kinda creepy given I’m usually the sort to rip pages from magazines and toss them in a pile never to be seen again.

With a duck living in the house I thought, what's a little puppy piddle? Stewie is my transference baby as I move toward accepting Kaherdin's growing up, he's also a good companion for Hoover.

A change in the seasons always calls to mind the cycle of life, but this year we seem to be less the observers and more the facilitators, participators and feelers of the beauty and cruelty of the wheel.  Breeding, of course, has been on our minds.  Two of the goats have been coming into heat regularly since October, we needed to make some fast decisions about when and how we would breed them.  Our fairy goatmother, Lynne, offered to breed all three of our goats — Rainbow to a Nigerian Dwarf, and Redwood to a beautiful Mini-Mancha boy — for only the cost of feed.  Since Om Shanti and Redwood both came from Lynne, she has a certain interest in maintaining the bloodlines of each — particularly Om Shanti, who comes from a stellar milk line.  Lynne is interested in having one of Om Shanti’s babies and possibly one of Redwood’s as well.  Breeding Rainbow seems simply to be a courtesy.

Part of our agreement with Lynne included our getting the goats tested for a number of diseases to ensure we were not bringing anything harmful back to her farm.  We were not concerned.  The goats had only ever been on their home farms and in our back yard, it seemed very unlikely that they would be tainted in any way.  Danae brought the goats to the local equine veterinarian for a blood draw then sent the blood vials via FedEx to Lynne’s preferred lab at Washington State University.  The blood was tested for three different diseases: Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis, Caseous Lymphadenitis and Johne’s Disease.  Like I said, we were not concerned.  We needed only to sit back and wait for the results before setting a date with Lynne to bring the goats up for breeding.

The vet assesses the damage.

In the meantime we were doing some work to get the yard ready for winter.  Danae and I were cleaning up the workbench, picking up scattered toys and scraps of trash that the kids had strewn about the yard when Hoover started barking.  Out of habit we told her to be quiet — she only barks like that at Abbey, the feral cat we adopted who then adopted my sister’s family in the guesthouse.  Hoover stopped and we went on with our work.  Minutes later, Danae stepped into the goat pen to put away some feed.  She called to me frantically, “Julianne!  Julianne!”  I came running and she pointed to Speck, one of our two Indian Runner ducks.  Speck’s throat was torn wide open.  We stood in the goat pen for what seemed to be minutes just staring at her in disbelief.  As she’d quack we could watch all the mechanisms in her throat working.  Both sad and fascinating.  But how could she be running around?  Why wasn’t there more blood?  How did this happen with us standing ten feet away?  Pretty quickly we needed to make some decisions — where to take her (it was the weekend), and what she was worth to us.

It’s a cruel reality when caring for animals that they truly do all have a price tag on them.  When one of our fat orange cats, Gustav, stopped eating last year, we literally maxed out all of our credit cards trying to save him.  The vet couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the next step was exploratory surgery.  At that point I was fairly certain he wouldn’t survive the procedure.  He hadn’t eaten in 10-12 days and we were, quite frankly, surprised that he was still with us.  What if the vet got inside of him, found that he had something terminal and closed him right up — we would still have to pay.  It was time to end this, so we spent the last $200 putting him down and having him cremated.  It took us months to recover financially and I vowed that we would be more pragmatic in the future.

Danae grabbed Speck, put her in a cat carrier and shuttled her off to some vet in Mountain View that happened to be open.  We deiced that there was no way Speck could survive this.  Infection alone would take her life in a slow and painful manner.  Danae would ask the vet to put her down.  Within 30 minutes Danae called me on my cell.  “The vet thinks he can save her.  How much are we willing to spend?”  I thought about it carefully and came up with an amount — $500 seemed like a reasonable amount to spend on a duck (maybe even more than reasonable).  Danae hung up and spoke with the vet.  The surgery would cost $495.

Once Speck came home we understood that we would be living with a duck in the house for no less than two months.  We immediately ordered a duck diaper then set out to grow accustomed to our new routine of caring for Speck’s open wound.  There was not enough skin flap left to cover all of her face, so some of her “meat” (as the kids called it) was exposed.  She would need to be kept clean and dry, anti-bacterial ointment on the wound at all times.  Then began the waiting for signs of infection — this was going to be a long haul.

We joked that Speck would be back outdoors before we got the duck diaper.  There were days when the floors were slick with duck shit — almost impossible to keep on top of — but having her in the house was kind of funny.  She proved to be like the chatty spouse who yatters on about the benign features of her day while you’re deeply engrossed in a book or TV show.  Speck would yell at me from the kitchen while I was watching TV or talk to Cookie from beyond the walls of the house.  Sometimes I would yell back.  Sometimes I would just lock her in the laundry room.

In the midst of all of the duck drama, I failed to open the envelope from the Washington State lab.  It had been on my desk for days, but I was so confident of the results that I just let it sit there.  Since Speck was settled in her home life (and by this time I had come home more than once to find her cuddled up with Hoover in my bed) I turned my attention back to breeding the goats.  I opened the envelope and was shocked.  Redwood tested positive for Johne’s.  At first I dismissed the result but then, in a quiet moment I looked up the disease to see what it was.  Johne’s is the equivalent of goat Chron’s and is eventually fatal.  The general recommendation is to cull any animals in your heard that test positive.  I was devastated.  We couldn’t put Redwood down, but animals can shed the disease in their feces and we couldn’t risk her infecting the other goats.  To complicate matters further, there is a suggested link to milk infected with Johne’s and Chron’s disease in humans.  Pasteurization can’t kill it.  Any way we looked at it, Redwood had to go.  What frustrated me about the result is that the lab listed no values.  There was no way to know if she was a marginal positive or a strong one.  I began to research how goats become infected.  Rabbits and deer can be carriers.  It is possible she could have ingested feces while being boarded in Boulder Creek.  Most goats are infected as newborns though.  I know that Lynne is meticulous about her goats’ health, so it seemed highly unlikely that Redwood would have contracted Johne’s as a new kid.  There is no way Johne’s was present in our back yard — we are about half a mile, at the very least, from where there are rabbits, and deer haven’t been in this area for more than a century.  None of it was adding up.

While Speck's away, Cookie will lay! She's holding steady at five eggs per week.

We were already into the testing for $400.  Half for the blood draw, half for the lab work.  The thought of investigating this further was dizzying.  If the goats are all healthy it is possible to have a per-gallon milk cost of $1.66/gallon.  But once you start factoring in vet bills, lab work, the cost of replacing a culled goat, the cost goes up exponentially.  I asked Danae to call the lab to ask if they would reveal Redwood’s values.  Turns out she was a marginal positive.  Their recommendation was to retest.  If she showed negative in the retest, then she is negative.  This time we used the equine vet’s lab to save blood shipping costs and also to have a different perspective.  Another couple hundred dollars.  This time Redwood came out a solid negative.

Speck is now happily reunited with Cookie out in the goat run.  Cookie has started laying clutches of eggs, which are delicious!  Speck I expect will be delayed in her laying due to all of the trauma she has endured over the past months.  She is back on her favorite diet of fly larvae and goat chow and is steadily growing feathers and putting on weight.  Sunday we drive up to Redwood Valley to pick up our knocked-up does.  We will expect kids sometime in April (fingers crossed for does) and that will be a whole new adventure.  We’ll likely breed Om Shanti sometime in January just to stagger things a bit then, in spring, we will be knee-deep in babies and drowning in milk.  It’s exciting, but it’s been an exhausting couple of months exercising this type of omniscience — save a life, end a life, bring new life.  We’ll hopefully have five months of coasting time to let life take care of itself for a change.




2 responses

9 12 2010
Frank Farm

Such an adventure! Stewie is brand new, right?

10 12 2010

Stewie’s been with us for about three weeks and we are all quite smitten.

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