Saving the Queen

I have a goat kid living in my office again, wandering around with the dog (and getting bottle feedings) by day, and sleeping in a box near my desk by night. How this came about is quite a story.

Our best dairy goat ever, by far, was Queen Anne’s Lace. She was also our first goat, and our oldest. She got the name because, as a nearly-full-blooded Saanen, she was basically the same color as the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers that grew all over our Illinois property. We got her already in milk, after her first kidding, and she was a wonderful addition to our farm. Her udder was enormous, as were her teats, making her copious volume of milk easy to access. What’s more, she had a pleasant temperament, was docile and gentle, and readily came to the stanchion at milking time. She is the goat standing along behind the barn in the photo dominating this blog’s masthead.

QAL didn’t have papers, but we think she recently turned eight years old. Eight is no longer young for a goat, but not exactly over the hill. That’s why I was surprised, about a week and a half ago, when she began having a great deal of difficulty following the rest of the herd out of the barn. I helped her over the threshold, but she then promptly stumbled and went down on her stomach. I helped her back up, but she stood for only a moment before again going down. With something clearly wrong, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl help me lift and half-drag QAL back into the barn and over to the separating pen.

QAL’s udder and teats looked full, and given her girth and weight she was obviously in advanced stages of pregnancy. We brought feed and water to her, and made her comfortable in the separating pen; that was a week ago Friday night. On Saturday morning I managed to help her up, but it took great effort because of her weight. She stood for a few minutes, but then laid back down. Given how much she weighed, I chalked this up to the late pregnancy. Once she delivered, I hoped she would be able to rise more easily — like dropping ballast from a balloon. Until then, we resolved to keep her comfortable with lots of clean bedding, bring her feed and water and mineral, and not try to force her to her feet.

I had to leave for a business trip on Sunday evening, which is usually the cue for some kind of disaster to break loose on the farm. Sure enough, Monday evening, just as I was getting ready to go out to dinner with some colleagues in Atlanta, I got “the call.” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer informed me that Queen Anne’s Lace was in labor — and was having a lot of trouble. QAL was in the middle of delivering twins, and the first one had come out easily. She’d now been working on the second one for some time, and was sounding horrible. Nothing more than a hoof was coming out. MYF wanted to know how long she should wait before intervening and assisting with the delivery. We talked it over, and MYF decided to take some time to review her books about kidding; if the kid wasn’t out by the time she finished, she wouldn’t wait any longer.

It’s a good thing MYF didn’t delay long. She called me back a little while later (I was still at the restaurant) with an update: she’d gotten out her big shoulder-length plastic gloves and started reaching inside QAL to see if she could help extract the kid. From what she could tell, the kid was very large. She’d managed to guide its hooves and head into the birth canal a number of times, but it was so big its forehead kept getting stuck halfway out. QAL was exhausted and sounding like she was going into a death rattle. I felt absolutely awful, and wished there was some possible way to get home. I tried to be encouraging, but didn’t know what else to tell her other than “keep at it.”

Back at the hotel, I called again. It was now after 10pm, and things were looking really bad. The kid was still stuck. QAL was still in agony. Back in the house, Yeoman Farm Baby was nearing meltdown. No one had eaten dinner. Everyone was exhausted. Morale was as low as it could be. “I hate to just let her die,” MYF said, “But I really don’t know what else to do. I just cannot get that kid out.”

I said not to worry about the kid. It was probably already dead. Just somehow, some way, get the thing out.

Actually, ssurprisingly, MYF told me, the kid was still alive. While she’d been feeling around inside QAL, her finger accidentally went inside the kid’s mouth — and the kid had reflexively begun sucking on it!

MYF needed help, badly, but there was really no one we could call. Our local vet does not yet serve large animals (though, thankfully, that will be changing later this month). The only vet in 30 miles who looks at livestock is retired from farm calls; you have to bring the animal to him, during regular clinic hours. I suggested that MYF call a friend, to watch the Yeoman Farm Children and help with the house, while MYF finished with the goat — but it was too late to call anyone. Who’s still up at 10pm and willing to come help with this kind of chaos?

With no other options, going on pure hope, I signed onto Facebook and sent a message to a friend who lives up the road and raises horses. I explained that it was too late to call, and we didn’t want to disturb them, but that MYF was totally out of options. If she (the friend) still happened to be up and happened to be reading this message, would there be any possible way she could come over and help with the youngest YFCs while MYF and the older YFCs assisted the goat?

What unfolded over the next two hours was one for the books. The friend was indeed up, and did get the message. She wasn’t personally able to come, but called MYF and suggested some large animal vets that had seen their horses. MYF tried calling them, but they were either unavailable or said they did nothing but horses. In the meantime, the friend’s husband volunteered to help. He had zero experience with goats — but got online, watched some YouTube videos, and quickly read everything he could about the kidding process. He got to our farm a little bit later, and MYF called with this news. She’d managed to feed the YFCs, and was preparing to take the neighbor out to QAL.

With the time now well past 11pm, and it uncertain how long it would take for a resolution to the situation in the barn, we agreed that I should go to bed and wait for a call in the morning. I sent a heartfelt thank-you note back to the neighbor via Facebook, and then tried to go to bed — but the sense of guilt and helplessness gnawed at me. I only got a few hours of sleep, and kept waking up feeling bad about everything unfolding on our farm while I was so far away and unable to help like I knew I should.

I finally got up around 6am, with a heavy heart, knowing we’d probably lost our best goat in a terrible fashion. But then I turned on my phone, and discovered a voicemail notification from Mrs Yeoman Farmer that had come in at about half past midnight. As it began playing, the tone of relief in her voice was palpable. Our neighbor had, miraculously, managed to extract the goat kid. It was HUGE. Far larger than any newborn kid we’d ever seen. Monstrously large. Both kids were in the house in a box near the fire, and were hungry. She was preparing to feed them, and didn’t know how late everyone would be sleeping in the next morning, but she wanted me to get the news as soon as I woke up. Best of all: QAL was alive.

I made many acts of thanksgiving, and walked with a real spring in my step to a nearby church for Mass — where my acts of thanksgiving continued in an unbroken stream.

Once I spoke with MYF later in the day, it became clear we weren’t out of the woods. QAL still hadn’t gotten up. And there was something seriously wrong with the big goat kid — he seemed really slow. But the smaller one seemed very well, and was even learning how to drink milk from a pan.

QAL’s inability to get up was curious. Our neighbor said she’d heard of this happening to horses during pregnancy; if the foal presses on a nerve in the wrong way, it can cause paralysis. I did some research online, and learned that the same thing can happen to other livestock (including goats). I promised to get QAL to our vet as soon as I got home on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I phoned a friend who’s been trained in chiropractic techniques and described what was going on. Is it possible, I wondered, that her spine could be pinching a nerve because it was out of adjustment? This person confirmed that it was possible, and said a spine adjustment certainly couldn’t make the goat’s condition any worse. To my great surprise, this person went out of their way to drop by our farm at 9pm that night to give it a try. They did uncover a few places where she was out of adjustment, and did what they could to get her better aligned. QAL still couldn’t get to her feet, but I was grateful to this friend for giving it a shot. I figured it could only help, once I got the goat to a vet.

I called the vet’s office from the airport, and they said QAL could be seen that evening at 6pm. From my description, the vet said the pinched-nerve-paralysis (it has a more technical name, but I can’t remember or spell it), was a highly likely diagnosis. He’d seen it a lot in cattle, and said it could be treated with steroid injections.

Back home, I learned that the monstrous goat kid had unfortunately expired early Wednesday morning. But QAL was in surprisingly good spirits, despite not being able to stand. Her head was up, she was alert and eating, and would drink from a bucket when put in front of her. I washed her backside, and moved her to clean bedding. She could move her hind quarters and legs, but just couldn’t pull herself to her feet. Still, I was heartened that she was trying.

That afternoon, the YFCs helped me load QAL in the back of our old Ford Bronco, and Homeschooled Farm Boy rode with me to the vet. The vet met us in the parking lot under a street light, and indeed diagnosed the pinched nerve parylasis — but he said he was encouraged by her rumen, and that her digestive system was functioning so well. He gave the goat some steroid injections, and instructed me to call him Friday morning with an update.

Things were largely unchanged on Friday. She was still struggling to get up, and still failing, but was continuing to eat and drink well. The vet prepared an additional injection, which I drove to his office to pick up; I administered that one to the goat myself. And that one had as little effect as the first.

As the weekend progressed, but the goat’s condition did not, the question became: “How long do we let this go on?” The vet told us that animals could be down like this for some time, and that the healing process at her age could be slow. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I talked it over, and decided that as long as Queen Anne’s Lace wanted to continue fighting…we would continue doing everything we could for her.

The YFCs and I kept going out to the barn several times a day, offering QAL water and grain and good-quality hay. And she continued eating and drinking and holding her head high. And was even beginning to get good at scooting around a little to reach things.

And then came Tuesday afternoon, eight days after the delivery. She drank some water, when offered, but not much. She did poke at the hay, but wasn’t much interested in her grain. She mostly turned her head from me when I put things in front of her. I hoped it was temporary, and that perhaps she was just full. But late that night (after midnight, actually), when I made one last visit to check on her, she still wasn’t interested in anything. Even when offered the bucket of water, she cranked her head sharply away. I sighed, patted her big neck, and told her what a good goat she’d been.

Wednesday morning, to my complete unsurprise, Queen Anne’s Lace’s body was motionless in the straw. I was proud of her for putting up such a good and long fight, and I knew we’d done everything we could for her. It was tough losing her, but the end of the road comes eventually for every animal — even the best.

Are we sad? Sure. She was the greatest goat we could’ve asked for. The toughest part, by far, was removing her heavy collar before disposing of her body. The physical difficulty of loosening the buckle reminded me of just how long we’d had her; we fastened that buckle onto her over six years ago, and had never unfastened it since. It’ll be strange putting it onto another goat. It’ll certainly be a big collar to fill.

But as sad as it is to lose her, I remain deeply thankful. Thankful that we got to have such a wonderful goat for so long. But above all, we’re thankful for experiencing the blessing of friends, who dropped everything to help us at odd hours of the night — and at great personal inconvenience to themselves. We learned that even the most monstrously large goat kids can be extracted with some perseverance. We learned a lot about this new “pinched nerve” condition, and will be alert to it in our other animals.

And we have this new, healthy little kid, who’s having a grand time with me and the dog all day every day in my office.

One thought on “Saving the Queen

  1. I think we're only about 30 minutes from you. Seriously, call me if you need help again. Delivering goat kids isn't really different from Icelandic lambs. I'm not a vet, but I'm happy to help if I can.


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