Monday, February 9, 2015

Loss and loss ***WARNING*** This post may upset sensitive readers.

I can still smell the Vitamin B complex solution faintly on my hands. It is unpleasant. I think I associate it with loss because it is used so often when a goat is doing poorly. Vitamin B can give an extra boost of energy, can help with a kid that is failing to thrive, is useful when a rumen is off... It is used in situations that will most likely result in a good outcome as well as critical ones. I don't know why my brain does not link it with the times Vitamin B was used and a goat recovered. Every time I smell it, I think of those that didn't pull through. Strange.

Loss is part of farming. I get it. I don't need to be reminded of it. I live it- thankfully not often. But, sometimes loss comes in waves. A particularly persistent case of Strongyle or Barberpole Worms infects the herd. Kiddings turn bad in freak accidents, like kids cutting through the uterine wall into an abdominal cavity of their mother or multiple stillborn births for a doe. A wave of common colds turn to pneumonia. When you care for herds of animals, there are statistically more things that can happen within that herd. We've wrestled with the first two; been gratefully relieved for the animals who pulled through and mourned the losses of those that didn't. Goat Pneumonia is fairly common, but this is the first time we've run into it within our herd.

Sean discovered Judah and Ethan down on Friday night. What we originally thought was a serious condition connected to the brutal cold temperatures and bullying in the stalls turned more complicated. Both goats were cold when we brought them inside. The first order of business was to start warming them slowly and steadily. Judah responded quickly. For him we offered fresh apples, carrots, bananas and hay and electrolyte-laced water. With the warmth of being inside, Judah snapped back to his normal self and was eager for grain.

Ethan did not respond the same. On Friday night, Ethan was drinking on his own and picked at the apples, banana and hay, though he was completely uninterested in grain. Just as well, if his rumen was off, grain is not the best choice of food. Natural roughage is better for digestion and Probiotics help stimulate the right levels of beneficial bacteria in a goat's system. Ethan had a slight runny nose, but goats get colds. Or, the runny nose could be in connection with the temperature change from colder barn to warmer house. We were concerned, but since Ethan did not sound congested in his lungs, and was standing, walking and drinking, we took note and moved on with the rest of his examination. Real alarm began to sound when Sean took Ethan's temperature and discovered that instead of running a fever, which we might expect in pneumonia, cold, or flu, Ethan's temperature was 94 degrees- a goat's temperature should be 101.3-103.5. This was critical and life threatening. Hypothermia. We moved Ethan as close as possible to the front of the wood stove fan. I grabbed a heating pad and blanket to covered him and help bring his core temperature back up. Sean popped a blanket into the dryer to warm. Over night, Sean and I replaced warmed blankets on Ethan. He drank warmed water regularly of his own will, though he had no interest in food. His runny nose worsened and we began to fear for pneumonia.

Pneumonia, while common in goats, can be deadly in as little as 12 hours. Whether Ethan contracted pneumonia first, went off his food, got weakened and the cold compounded his condition. Or whether the cold weather affected his system to the point of beginning to shut down, leaving him susceptible to Pneumonia is anyone's guess. What we know for certain is that Ethan was eating and drinking normally with the rest of the herd up until Friday night. And, while it is certainly freezing cold outside, the barn is snug, draft free, and warmer than the outside. The other goats are all doing fine.

On Saturday morning, we got in touch with our vet's office. We gave Ethan a shot of Banamine which is an anti-inflammatory, as well as a pain medication. And, our vet recommended an antibiotic, Duramycen. We added a shot of B Complex, too. Ethan's temperature had risen to 98 degrees and he was still drinking on his own, but would not eat at all. Through the day, we continued warming him with warmed blankets from the dryer and the heating pad and kept the wood stove running as hot as it would. Judah had completely recovered and spent the day tormenting Molly by being in the house and not in the barn. But, we kept Judah with us inside, mostly as a comfort to Ethan.

Ethan died Saturday night at 10 pm with Sean and I beside him, petting him and whispering to him softly as he closed his eyes and took his final breaths. It was a quiet passing that added another hole to my homesteading heart. I know this life is hard. I know there will be losses; some preventable, others not. I also question whether I am cut out for this. Can I love these animals, support them by sharing their milk and eggs, work side by side with Sean to breathe life into this homestead, witness their births and deaths and not lose myself? Some people develop a thick skin. That's not me. I still cry when we lose an animal, some more than others because they shared their unique personality with me in a way that touched my heart deeply. I don't want to become hardened to death and loss. At the same time, how much can one person feel without breaking? I don't know the answer to that.

What I do know is this. After losing Ruby and her kids last Spring due to complications while kidding, it was difficult for me to go to into the barn. Sean took over my feeding chores, kindly overlooking the flaws in my excuse of "needing to spend all my time creating the jewelry and the products we sell at market". There were many fewer posts and videos of kids and barn happenings because I just didn't want to be there. I helped when Sean needed me, but otherwise, steered clear of the barn. When we lost Jedi this past fall to parasites, I couldn't bring myself to go into the barn or watch the pasture anymore. I made excuses every time Sean invited me to visit the animals in the barn. Our nightly ritual of "walking the land" stopped and I threw myself into other aspects of our life. Things necessary in their own right, but excuses all the same. I started to secretly seriously question in my heart, "Could I continue living this life we'd worked so hard to build?" And that is how I have felt for the last nine months or more.

After spending my time at the shop and taking a complete break from being home all day, from my regular routine, something began to change. I started to miss those soft alien eyes full of curiosity. Slowly, I began venturing back into the barn for short minutes with Sean. It has only been a matter of weeks, but once again, I was beginning to think ahead and plan. And, now? We have lost Ethan. More death. More failure. More doubt. Most importantly, he was a sweet-natured, beautiful life and that is gone forever. Secondly, Ethan was important to us breeding the best lines we can within our herd. We had big plans for him. He is an expensive loss, emotionally and financially. So, what now? Do we quit? Do we go back to working full time jobs for other people in order to support our family? Or, do we go on? Which fork in the road do we take?

In another terrible twist of fate, Sean was let go from his employment today. His company has reorganized and Sean was let go. Sean and I have talked often about him leaving his job to work the farm full-time, but that was a plan for the future... when we were prepared... on our terms. So, here we are in February (at the worst possible time of the year) and life is more uncertain than it has ever been. And, terrifying. Kidding season is around the corner and with 8 pregnant does, I am worried for what losses we might encounter this year. Reminding myself that we have had 11 successful, fairly routine kiddings does not quell my fears. I feel apprehension of what could go wrong and I worry about the does in my care. And, I am afraid that I am inadequate. I thank God that I am not alone and that all this does not rest solely upon my shoulders.

There is Sean.

I think it is time to visit the barn.

Sweet Jemimah shares a stall with Ellie, Judah, and Cassie. Look at that sweet face! ♥

Naomi jumped up on the stand to show me her growing baby bump. This will be her first year kidding. :) 

Bailey is also bred for the first time this year. She and Asher will make lovely kids. I am hoping for some does, but as long as the delivery is easy and normal and the kids are born healthy and strong, I'll happily take whatever they provide. ♥
~Sean and Sonja ♥


  1. Oh Sonja and Sean, I am so sorry for this week's heartache and heartbreak. I wish that I had some wise thoughts to share with you, but I don't. I, too, have a heart that bleeds for others Sonja. I know that loving and giving all you have comes with many downsides but I don't have a choice...and actually I'm glad. I know that your faith and family will guide you through. I will add my prayers for all of you and for your four legged family as well. <3

  2. I am so sorry! He was so sweet. Take comfort in knowing you did all you could, and he was LOVED, and I am SURE he felt that love to the very end. I am sorry to hear about Sean's job. I hope he can get unemployment easily. We will be stretching our dollars together! We serve an awesome God and he has our backs! We never missed a meal in all the craziness we have been through. He will take care of you too! We love ya'll!!!

  3. Sending ((hugggs)) your way. Together you will work through the tough times. Winter drags us all down and makes the chores that much harder. Have faith in yourselves and Mother Nature. Spring will get here and Dr Green and Nurse Sunshine will work their magic on us all.

  4. Oh I'm so sorry about the loss of the job and of your sweet goat. That is so rough!

    I've held myself back from naming my chickens and getting to know their personalities because I've lost so many of them. It hurts. I'm getting goats in the spring and I'm very excited but also worried.

  5. I'm really sorry. Did all this just happen today?

  6. I'm so sorry for this rough patch. I pray things will be better around your farm soon.