Saturday, February 18, 2012

The House Call

It was about 2:30, yesterday, when the phone rang... Some friends of ours over in Amity had a goat that was having birthing problems, and they wanted to know if I would come and help them out. They said they managed to pull one kid out, but there was still a second kid stuck inside the doe. Would I come and help them? Yes! I scrambled around the house, changing into my work clothes, and putting on my rubber boots before clambering into the car. Feeling somewhat like a vet on a call, we drove as quickly as possible to the scene of action.

 Upon arriving, I jumped out of the van and jogged up to the house. Inside, next to the wood stove was the first kid: a palomino colored buckling, with a splash of white on his forehead, and beautiful, frosted ears. He looked like his name should have been 'Buckwheat'... He lay quietly on a green towel; not making a noise, or moving. He wasn't dead, but he didn't seem to be among the living at any great degree either. Outside was the poor doe. Hershey chocolate in color with honey hued badger stripes on her face (oh how I loved those badger stripes!), she stood in a hunched form that only made her petite size seem all the more dwarfed.

 There was no time to be timid, so after washing up well and applying some lubricant, I had the fun job of seeing what was wrong with the second kid. It was cold that afternoon... The sky was covered in grumpy, gray clouds and it drizzled off and on. I had to take my Carhartt coat off to perform my work, and oh dearie me was it chilly! I only had to stick my hand in halfway before I could feel a hoof and a nose. That was good. But where was the second hoof? I went in up to my forearm, following the head and neck of the kid, but I couldn't find the second leg! After some more searching, I decided to try and pull the kid out with the one leg. With the help of the owner of the goat, and her sister, the three of us gave it our best shot. Nope. Wasn't working. I entered the doe again, desperate to find that leg, but still to no avail.

 Plan B. We all went inside for a cup of tea while I sent out an emergency message on The Goat Spot. Fellow goat raisers all gave their advice, and we made various phone calls to livestock raisers in the area. The advice was all the same: Either find that leg, or call the vet.

 We talked about calling a vet, but unfortunately there are very few vets that will handle goats, and the ones that will are usually quite expensive. Calling a vet would be a last resort.

Back out we went... It was 4 'o' clock now, and still gray and rainy. I searched, and searched, and searched that poor doe!!  She was dehydrated, and exhausted, having been in labor for almost 48 hours now. She was such a small doe, that I barely had enough room to move my hand around inside her, much less try and find a stray front leg. After an hour, we went back inside to seek more advice from goat people. Alas, we found the little, golden buckling fading away as we entered... I picked him up and cuddled him; listening to his faint and irregular heartbeat beating a staccato rhythm. He gasped for air and gave small cries that were absolutely heart wrenching, and by 5:30 he was gone...

Once again, we returned to the doe, feeling much more sober, and much more determined to get this second kid out. Around 6 p.m., I felt it: a small hoof, tucked up against the left side of the kid's body. I found it!!! It took a lot of grunting on both mine, and the doe's side before I had the hoof straightened, but I succeeded! My helper (who was the sister) and I beamed at each other. This was surely it. With both hooves out all we had to do was pull the kid out, right?

Oh life is never that easy... In the process of getting the second leg out, the kid's head slipped to the side and was now bent backwards, just out of my reach. Great. The tips of my fingers could feel the kid's jaw, and I could even feel its perfectly formed teeth. But I couldn't seem to get a grip on the kid's head. The temperature outside dipped as the sun went down. The husband hooked a light up for us, illuminating the small hay shed that we were working in. Little children watched us work, and frequently asked, "Is the kid born yet?" "When will the kid be born?" I was tired. My arm hurt. I had blood all over me. I couldn't get the head...

 A quick dinner break was taken at 7 p.m. The doe was still out there, with the kid's two legs protruding from her. I was out of ideas; the kid couldn't be pulled out if we couldn't get the head aligned with the legs. We knew by this time that the kid was dead; it was obvious. It was now simply a matter of getting the kid out and trying to save the doe.

Wearily, we went back out... Our numbers were five now, with two husband/wife pairs, and I. We tried pulling the legs and seeing if maybe we could get the kid out without aligning the head. Nope. The wife who owned the goat went in, and aggressively searched for the head. She found it! Feeling a new surge of energy, we all jumped into action trying to get this baby out. Then we hit the next problem: The birth canal was too small for the kid to come through. We had gotten the head aligned with the legs by now, but the kid was too big to fit through the small area. With all my fingers touching, my hand has a width of about 3 1/2 to 4 inches. I have small hands. But even I had a difficult time getting through the birth canal while dealing with the kid. If my hand could barely fit, how could we possibly expect a kid to come through???

We still tried though. The doe was weakening noticeably now. She was listless and quiet. I knew that even if we did get this kid out, her chances of survival were slim. The clock continued to tick. Time was fleeting, and tonight, time was against us. We were racing the clock now, as the hands inched closer and closer to 9 p.m. I had been working on this doe since 3:30, and had entered her countless time. How much more could she possibly take? Another family came over, unaware of the goat situation at first. The wife happened to be a nurse, so she took a turn with the kid, but had no more luck than we had.

By 8:30, I think we all knew the inevitable: There was no hope. Even if we called a vet out and had him do a C-section, this doe was doomed to die. If not from a uterine infection, then a possibly ripped uterus, retained placenta, or just from exhaustion and dehydration. Her heart was now skipping beats, and her breath was ragged. You can tell when an animal is ready. When you've been around animals for a few years, and you see death over and over, you begin to notice the difference. When an animal is ready to die, there is nothing you can do. They just give up, but they look peaceful about it.

 We all tromped inside to talk about the next move. Four of us were for putting her out of her misery, but the wife who owned the goat begged us to keep trying. After a few minutes of debate, someone said to let the "goat girl" make the final decision. I was that "goat girl".

 I had been with her all day, they said. I had the last say in the goat's fate. What was the answer? Keep trying to save her, or should they drop her? All eyes were on me now, as they waited for my answer. The wife had tears in her eyes, and walked into a different room. I looked at the husband and said two words: "Drop her."

 I rang the goat's death knell with those two words. I am a goat lover in every sense of the word. If I thought there was hope for her, I would have tried to save her. But we had hit the point where it was being cruel to keep messing with the goat. She was just a year old, and this was her first kidding. But I knew in my heart that this was the best decision. She died instantly. Gone are her beautiful honey colored badger stripes...

 I got home at 10 p.m. looking like I stepped out from the movie, 'The Patriot'. I was bloody, and I stank of amniotic fluid, manure, blood, and death. A hot shower remedied the smell somewhat, but I don't know if my clothes can be salvaged.

 Owning livestock involves a huge amount of responsibility. Things like this happen, and it's up to us to deal with it in the best possible way. Some readers may feel that I made the wrong decision in having the doe put down, but then, they weren't there that night looking at this poor doe. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions in life, and I do regret having to make that one. But I feel it was the right decision.


Autumn said...

It's better for animals that have little hope for survival to die than live (even for a short while) in suffering.

I agree with your decision- sometimes there's not much else to do, no matter what has happened.

I wouldn't regret it, just look back as a learning experience and a solemn truth about goats & farming.

Nicole said...

I am so sorry to hear about this loss, but thank you for sharing this heartbreaking experience. As someone who is just getting started on the path to goat herding through WWOOFing one of the things that has been an important learning experience is how to handle these sorts of tragic decisions. As I learned while working at a vet clinic sometimes the kindest decision you can make in the world is choosing to end suffering, even though that decision never gets any easier.

Ms. Feldman said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story and being so candid about it. I hope to have my own farm in the near future, and, while 4-H has provided me with a lot of tools, dealing with situations like this one are still scary. What I liked most about this event, is that this situation involved a community with the doe's best interest at heart. It's good to know that even when the hardest decisions have to be made, if you reach out, you can find some support to get you through it.