When to Call the Vet?

In some recent posts, an issue came up about calling in a veterinarian’s help. We’ve experienced both extremes of veterinary availability: in Illinois, a large animal vet lived literally around the corner from us and could come pretty much any time; here, we can’t even find a large animal vet (who does anything but horses). As one commenter pointed out, with livestock it is really necessary to do a cost-benefit analysis before calling a vet. How much is it worth to save a $150 animal?

We’ve found $50 to be about the limit for young goat kids who’ve developed pneunomia. We’ve driven a couple of them to the local “dog and cat” vet clinic, gotten them treated, and had them grow to butchering size. But given the cost of butchering, and of feeding them to get to that size, when you add another $50 you’re basically just breaking even on the price of meat. And if the animal doesn’t survive, you’re out everything.

There’s another element, however: we see ourselves as custodians or stewards of these animals, and therefore under an obligation to do what we can to maintain their health. For that reason, we’re sometimes willing to spend more than an animal’s replacement value, if necessary, and if the treatment promises to yield a good result.

Still, it’s quite a different — more utilitarian — mentality than the approach many people have to veterinary care for their house pets. For many, a dog or cat is almost literally a member of their family, and they’re willing to spend great sums to prolong that pet’s life. I confess to a deep attachment to our dogs, and in most cases would spend significantly more on veterinary care than they are “worth”. Barn cats are different; we (especially our kids) like them, and we do get them basic veterinary care, but they are expendible when their conditions are too complicated.

This issue has been on my mind the last couple of days, after reading a provocative piece on the NY Times website, which explored the amount people are willing to spend on a sick pet.

Most pet owners (62 percent) said they would likely pay for pet health care even if the cost reached $500, but that means more than a third of pet owners said that might be too much to spend on an animal.

What if the bill for veterinary care reached $1,000? Fewer than half of pet owners said they were very likely to spend that much at the vet. Only a third said it was very likely they would pay a $2,000 vet bill.

Once the cost of saving a sick pet reached $5,000, most pet owners said they would stop treatment. Only 22 percent said they were very likely to pick up $5,000 in veterinary costs to treat a sick dog or cat.

The piece says “only 22%” would pay five grand, but I was frankly surprised it was that large. Even more fascinating than the poll results in the piece itself are the comments people have made, detailing the enormous sums of money they have spent (and consider well-spent), sometimes just to prolong an animal’s life by a few months.

I do understand that for some people, a dog can be a beloved companion, especially in cases where a person does not have any children of his or her own, and prolonging the pet’s life for several more years is worth more to the person than having some extra pieces of green paper in the bank — particularly when the pet is relatively young and the prognosis for treatment is good. And when a person agrees to become the custodian of an animal, he is also agreeing to make some financial sacrifices on behalf of that animal.

The question I have to ask myself is, when does the amount cross the line from “responsible” to “disordered”? Where each individual draws that line is a matter for his own conscience, but it’s something worth giving thought to.

For myself, I think it’s a question of competing obligations. There were all kinds of things I was willing to spend money on before I was married or had kids, that now I would never consider spending so much on. Five grand might be an acceptable price for some people to spend saving a dog’s life, given their financial and family circumstances. But if a vet quoted me that amount, in anticipation of treating my dog, as much as I love him and as much help as he is with the livestock on our farm, my thought would be: Five grand will cover all of our family’s routine out-of-pocket medical and dental and vision care expenses for the next two years. How can I spend that on Scooter, when I have four kids who are depending on me to spend it on them?

Where do you draw that line for yourself?

Stray Gosling

We’ve been allowing the adult geese to maintain a nest with a few eggs in it for the last couple of months. Nothing has hatched, but they’ve continued to take turns laying the occasional egg. Yesterday, I was on the verge of tossing all their eggs, destroying the nest, and forcing them to do something more productive (like mow the grass and look after those 14 hatchery goslings that the rest of the gaggle has adopted).

Then something interesting happened last night. A couple of days ago, we had yet another Buff Orpington hen hatch out a brood of chicks. She has five, and she moved them to within a few feet of where the geese have been taking turns sitting on eggs. As I was closing up the barn, I took a final glance at her before turning off the lights. Something seemed strange. One of her babies didn’t look exactly like a chick. And it didn’t peep like a chick. And she was pecking at it, like it wasn’t hers.

I took a closer look, and discovered it was a gosling! Totally dried off and fuzzy, so it’d been hatched for some time. And it was mobile. The mother goose began hissing at me, and I pushed the gosling in her direction. She took it under her for the night, and I closed up the barn.

This morning, there are still no more goslings. And that one gosling was off the nest and trying to follow Mother Orpington out the door with her brood. I again returned the gosling to its rightful nest, but am wondering how long this can continue. If the mother goose will not get off the nest and brood the gosling, he/she won’t survive for long. The hatchery goslings are much too big for this new gosling to keep up with, and they go way out in the high weeds to forage all day.

If there’s no change later today, I’m leaning heavily toward putting the gosling under Mother Orpington tonight in the dark, and seeing if we can pull off a cross-species adoption. The chicks are still so small, it just might work. Otherwise, I’ll have to put the gosling in a brooder and raise him/her myself.

Other thoughts?

Illinois U-Pick

If you live anywhere in the Chicago-Champaign corridor and are looking for an opportunity to see a wonderful small farming operation, some good friends of ours from our previous town were just featured in a Chicago Tribune article. They’ve recently started a U-Pick for their organic strawberries (and I can testify these are some of the best on the planet.)

Three of them don’t have produce ready yet. But according to farm manager Helen Aardsma, the organic strawberries at Mulberry Lane Farms in Loda Illinois are already hitting their peak; and she is taking picking appointments right now.

Aardsma said she used to have her 10 kids pick the berries but “they all keep getting married and moving away,” so she’s launched a big U-Pick experiment this year.

“It’s a different experience,” she says. “But it’s so rewarding to see the look on a child’s face the first time she picks her own fresh berry learns what it should taste like. We joke that the strawberries you get in the store taste more like straw than berries.”

Organic strawberry operations are so scarce, Aardsma says, because they’re perennials that require attention all year and a lot of weeding. But that’s the kind “of quality we’d want for our own family and so that’s the way we grow them.”

For the next week or so, picking will be done by appointment only, but after that, it goes “open pick.” Call or write for appointments and more details. U-pick strawberries cost $2.49 a pound and you must purchase a minimum of 5 lbs per two people. Be sure to read the rest of Aardsma’s rules and tips before heading down to the farm so you arrive prepared.

Hard to think of a better weekend adventure than getting out to see Mulberry Lane Farm. And if you want to see an example of maximizing production through the creative use of a small piece of property, this is the place to go. If memory serves, they have only 1.5 acres or so. But their use of it is so brilliant and efficient, they get as much production as many people with ten times that acreage. For those of you who’ve been wanting to move to the country or have a farm, but have been concerned about finding or affording “enough” acreage, Mulberry Lane Farm shows what you can do if you’re creative. It’s really not about the number of acres. It’s what you do with them.