Raising livestock can be very rewarding. You get to build this intimate relationship with the creatures that provide your food. You take a great deal of care in their raising because you want them to be healthy and happy. The healthier and happier they are, the better the food they produce for you will be.
On the other side of the coin, sometimes, no matter how well you care for them, you’ll end up losing livestock. For whatever reason, they may give up before you do, and once they do, there really is nothing you can do to save them. Mindy was my biggest heartbreak. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her.
For those who are new to reading the blog, two years ago we got to help Bella kid Mork and Mindy. It was the first kidding we’d ever had here—or even attended, for that matter. When they were born, Mork was up and at ‘em immediately. His sister, however, was not. She nursed right away, lying down next to Bella, but other than that, she was very slow to stand.
From then on, she was never quite right. The kidding coincided with a huge storm and what ended up being one of the wettest, longest winters I can remember. Very quickly she got coccidiosis, which we treated, only for it to come back again soon after. When we finally knocked it down all the way, she got in a good week of normalcy. It just so happened that was the week we had a photographer here for a book, and there were some amazingly cute photos of her playing.
But the healthy week was short lived. She started to show signs of goat polio, and off to the vet she went. The vet had us give her vitamin B1 shots for three days, but when that was up, we didn’t see any improvement—and now she was wheezing.
Pneumonia is particularly dangerous in goats. The vet put her on some strong antibiotics, and at first she seemed to be improving. But then she crashed. Really fast. She was fine in the morning, and then that afternoon we came home to find her unable to keep her balance, wheezing heavily, eyes bulging. We were sent to UC Davis, where they confirmed that she had not only pneumonia but also encephalitis of unknown origin. She wasn’t going to improve, so we had to let her go. It’s amazing how such a small little creature can get into your heart so quickly.
Since she was from our very first kidding, losing her also made me really nervous. In the back of my mind, I had this fear that doelings were just too fragile. Daisy’s buckling, Mongo, and Mork were big, strapping kids and incredibly healthy. But Mindy, our one and only doeling, couldn’t make it past a few weeks. Bailey proved me wrong, and she’s definitely eased my fears, however irrational they may be.
Sometimes, though, they continue to fight. As many of you know, Hank, my tom turkey, is one of my favorites around here. I came home from work one afternoon a couple of months ago to find him stumbling and completely off balance. He also appeared to have lost sight in one of his eyes. I was completely freaked out. We don’t have any poultry vets around here, so the first thing I did was email Clare to get some advice. She really helped, and I can’t thank her enough.
Unfortunately, it was unclear what was causing the issue. After looking up various poultry sites, it seemed that maybe he had a mineral or vitamin deficiency. Fortunately, he was eating and drinking fine, as long as he could stay standing upright, so I was able to give him some extra supplements. But after a few days and no improvement, I had to look elsewhere. In the meantime, he seemed to be getting worse. His vision in the other eye was questionable, and Tom was feeling like it might be time to put Hank down. The photo of him above was taken just a couple of days before he fell ill, and I was scared that it would be the last one I would have of him. I stood there in the yard, holding him up and crying. I just wasn’t ready to let him go yet.
I finally decided to use antibiotics. I’m not one to use them on a whim, so it took a lot of thought to decide to go this route. Clare gave me some advice on the length of treatment, so I put him on the patio (it seemed to offer him better footing) in his own pen and makeshift coop and started him on antibiotics. Within a few days, the improvement was noticeable. After 10 days, he gobbled at me. By the end of the round, he was strutting and calling for his ladies. He’s now back with everyone and soon to be a dad again. I’m glad we fought for him, since he was still willing to fight.
My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!
ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RACHEL