Through the fence 7-27-09
Death is the tragic but unavoidable side of raising animals. Maybe I haven’t been ranching long enough to develop a protective callous around my heart. Maybe I’m not practical enough to realize that death is part of that great “circle of life” and that they all can’t live.
Despite an inner voice of pessimism that advises me to the contrary, when my animals get hurt or sick, I always exercise heroic measures to save them. I stay up late and get up early to check on them. I give them every drug or natural remedy that might be remotely helpful. Maybe it’s their sad eyes looking at me pathetically begging for relief. But when an animal is suffering or dying, I just can’t turn my back and let nature take its course. Maybe it’s just those few incidents that the animal pulls through that makes me refuse to give up on life.
Recently I had the awesome pleasure of helping one of our nanny goats deliver her triplets. I was overwhelmed with the miraculous moment. After she had birthed the first kid, she just laid back down, too exhausted to fuss over her newborn kid. My daughter stayed with her while she delivered the other two. Multiple births are common with goats, and they usually have plenty of milk to raise them all. But when none of those new babies could stand and nurse by the end of the first day, I knew there was a problem.
Their little spindly legs were too weak and shaky to stand up for more than a minute before they would give way and leave the little kid sprawling in the dirt. The mother didn’t seem too concerned and barely cleaned them off after the birth. She seemed to be struggling, so I gave her a stout dose of antibiotic and a vitamin B complex shot and something for pain.
When I came back later, she still wasn’t able to get the babies up. She kept bleating softly, trying in vain to call them to her. It was a blistering hot afternoon, but I coaxed my son to come out and hold the mama goat while I placed the kids, one at a time, at their mother’s udder hoping the instinct to suck would take over. I tried putting their mouths on the teat first, and that didn’t work. Then I tried squirting it into their mouths, and they screamed and tried to squirm away. Finally I got a little pan and I milked her. I tried to feed the babies the colostrum with a Coke bottle, but they just weren’t interested or weren’t strong enough to drink enough to do them any good.
The second sweltering day lingered on, and I went out several times, milking the nanny and trying to get the babies to take in the life-giving nourishment. I held each baby, feeling its soft white hair, floppy little ears and warm fleshy hoofs cherishing the newness of life. Slowly it dawned on me that I couldn’t save them. I had said many times before that if a baby goat can’t get up and nurse on its own the first day, it’s as good as dead. But I didn’t want to listen to my own logic. They looked so pitiful; I couldn’t abandon them.
Despite my efforts, sweat and sincere tears, I watched helplessly as two of them succumbed to the grip of death. My crisis always happen at inopportune times, and we were leaving on vacation that day. I left the dismal situation in the capable hands of my friend, Terrie. She took the remaining kid home and filled his belly with colostrum that she had stored in her freezer. But even that wasn’t enough to save its life.
It would have been easier, just to walk away that first day, when the triplets couldn’t stand up. I could have saved myself a lot of grief. Maybe the next time, I won’t spend so much time and energy on a hopeless situation … I will probably try even harder to save a life, if that’s possible.
Lisa welcomes e-mail correspondence from readers, and is also available for public speaking engagements. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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