So Wednesday, just as I'm nearly getting over my cold, over my jet lag, halfway over my sleep deprivation, and just about all adjusted to my normal time zone and weather, I get a big fat migraine. Well, crap. That's no fun. So I go take the meds and lie down, waiting for them to kick in.
The phone rings. Mmm, that's pleasant, just like a spike to the eardrum. I answer it, only to find out that the worst my day has in store is not a little inconvenience and discomfort from a migraine. A friend of Wildwood Farm has had a barn fire.
Oh, hell. Barn fires are the thing every stockman up here fears in the winter. The barns need to be heated at least to some degree for certain kinds of stock - goats, fowl, rabbits, etc. The sheep - at least the Icelandics and Shetlands, and probably many of the other breeds as well - are pretty well-adapted, and heat is only needed in lambing season (and not always then.) But other kinds of stock require warmer barns, so despite the worries, heated they are, in various different ways and with all precautions. But there is always the risk of fire, no matter how careful you are, just as there is always risk of fire in our houses with heat of whatever kind. Most of the time this never crosses our minds, so used are we to living with electricity and furnaces and fireplaces and so on.... but the other night something happened with a heat lamp and someone's barn caught fire, R tells me. The mere thought is enough to make me feel just sick, adrenaline jacking uselessly into my blood stream (there being exactly nothing I can do to prevent the fire now), my heart leaping into my throat and my stomach sinking through the floor.
Naturally these things always happen when you are asleep or away, never when you're right there feeding or watering or moving stock and can immediately extinguish it. The upshot of which being that the owners learned of the fire when their livestock started screaming and woke them. The thought of this is enough to hollow me out completely. I can only imagine the horror they must have felt, running out into the snow in the middle of the frigid night, trying to get close enough to the barn to rescue at least some of their stock.
S&R being who they are, the first I heard of it was when R called me to tell me that she had been over there, helping collect the remaining live animals and trying to help the owner get them treated, and did I know the dose for penicillin for a goat, and how about something for their pain? I offered to go in and get meds, but she was already on the road, so I called the clinic and got them to draw up the appropriate dosages, to be ready by the time she got there.
A while later she called back to gather more treatment information; they had not been able to get a large-animal vet to even pick up a phone, let alone answer treatment questions. R knows very well that I am a small-animal vet and have limited skills with goats, but under the circumstances I thought I might be better than nothing, so I offered to come have a look. This is when I learned that S&R weren't just helping round up critters, they were taking them to their own farm to house them until a new barn could be put up. I'm telling you: these people. Salt of the earth.
I squinted my way down to my truck (the migraines make me photo-sensitive) and drove over there. R had the stock trailer parked at the top of the drive. When I got out of my truck, the smell of burned hair assailed me, rank and sharp, with an underlying charred tone that I didn't want to think about too closely.
I stepped up on the runner board of the trailer and had a look. Oh, the poor things. The poor little things. Their fur was scorched in some spots and burned away in others, their eyelids were swollen shut, their soft little noses were scabbed and singed. But their ears. Their ears were the worst of it, scorched crisp and hard as leather in places, swollen thick and blistered in other places, singed bald here, burned through there.
I climbed in to the rear compartment with R and we got a closer look. Some of the does had burns on the insides of their hind legs and their udders. Some of them were mainly just hair-scorched. Most of them had swollen eyelids, but to the extent that I could see their corneas (whilst gently prying apart their red, puffy eyelids), all looked intact. The ears - well, some of those goats won't have any ears when they're done with this, but most will keep at least part of them.
The sheep made it out unscathed, having been outside the barn in the pen (with all that wool making them cold-resistant, they had no need of the enclosed heat of the barn. Luckily for them.) But nearly all the goats - most of of whom are pregnant and appear to be ready to drop their kids any second now - have some degree of damage, from mildly singed fur to hard-crackly burnt-through ears. The one that worries me the most is one that has smoke inhalation; she has a soft, sighing wheeze audible on every breath, and one nostril is edged with foam from her swollen airways. She is hunched and still, passive in a way that is deeply disquieting. But she has had antibiotics and pain meds, is blanketed and snugged up in a stall with another goat (who has no inhalation issues evident, but a number of full-thickness lesions on her sides and back). There is little more I can do for them short of hospitalizing them, which I mention is an option.
As it turns out, one of the large-animal vets returns their calls for help before much longer, and has space in her hospital barn for the most-injured animals. The remainder stay at Wildwood, in the tender care of S, R and YS. As I am pulling away, one inquisitive little escapee doe is standing perched on the tongue of the trailer, peering at me through her puffy eyes, essaying a little tail-waggle. I can't help but smile a little, despite the circumstances. Such small, irrepressible signs of life and hope, even in the midst of destruction and pain, can be heartbreaking in their way... but maybe they break the heart so it can open wider.
Today, S calls me at work to ask me to bring over some penicillin and a few catheters, as one of the does has dropped her kid, but has mastitis and may need a cannula and some antibiotics. The kids are being bottle-reared by the owner because it is too cold outside for them to stay with their mothers, absent a heated barn, so this doe will need to be milked off as well. In January. At 2 below zero.
Well. Good thing it's not three weeks ago, when 2 below zero would have been well above our daytime high temperature.
So over I go, after work, to drop off medical supplies. The new kid is in a dog crate inside the house, getting ready to be taken over to her owner's house (evidently there is a diapering-and-indoor-playpen set-up already in place for the kids.) Of course S&R take the kid out for me to see, because there is nothing on this earth cuter than a newborn goat. The kid is a soft cafe-au-lait color, with white markings on her legs and belly, and soft little cowlicks marking the site of future horns. Her ears are long and folded, the cartilage not yet strong enough to stand, though every so often one ear pokes up comically. She seems strong enough, though R reports that they haven't been able to get her to nurse yet (there is, of course, freshly-milked colostrum carefully jarred up and ready to use.)
Experimentally, I poke a finger into her mouth. She nibbles on it thoughtfully for a moment or two, and then butts the underside of my wrist.
"Well, she's hungry now," I say. "Let's try her." R sets about gently warming the colostrum up while I snuggle the goatlet, who burrows under my chin and begins butting vigorously at my neck, in between lipping at my jaw and earlobe and doing her best to give me baby goat hickeys. She's hungry, all right, and getting impatient about it.
The bottle is ready in minutes and R takes the baby over to the big easy chair, where she sits down with the goatlet in her lap and gets her started. It takes her a moment to get the idea, but once she does she nurses vigorously enough to collapse the nipple on the baby bottle that is being used to feed her, butting it in frustration when the milk stops flowing.
"That's not the right kind of nipple for her," I say, absently. "You need the kind like I have, the long black ones." I see the beginnings of a smirk and a cocked eyebrow and hastily clarify. "The long black RUBBER kind, like you get at a feed store, to rear orphan lambs. You know, smaller than you'd use for a calf, but bigger than on a baby bottle." But then I can't help myself, and I add, with a demure expression and a firmly suppressed smile, "Would you like to use my nipples? I have two that are just right." (Which, in fact, I do, sitting home gathering dust, since it's been a long time since I had an orphan lamb to rear.)
S&R agree that they WOULD like to use my nipples, which sound entirely superior to the ones they have, so I agree to drop them off the next day.
But meanwhile there is a baby goat to cuddle, replete now with colostrum and content to snuggle in my lap, sleepily observing the cats as they meander across the living room. Every once in a while the adventurous right ear tries to stand up, bravely pointing skyward for a few moments before wilting gradually back along the goatling's neck as she dozes on my thigh. Her fur is thick and silky and invites the hand; it is not possible to hold this baby in your lap and not pet her. So I chat with S while R gets things ready for transport, stroking the kid idly under her neck, rubbing her head, folding her cunning little legs up underneath her in a goat-in-repose posture. The goat dozes on my lap, doing much to erase the lingering horror of seeing her herd-mates, hunched with distress and confusion as they huddled together in the back of the trailer, stinking of burned hair and charred flesh. On my lap her little heart beats steadily along, and she makes contented little noises in her throat, soothing away the remains of my busy-to-overwhelming day.
So now I am back home, my dogs fed and dozing, feeling sleepy and relaxed myself. I suppose I'd better get motivated before I zone out completely; I should probably wash my nipples, if I'm going to let S&R use them.
The RUBBER nipples, like you get from the feed store. Sheesh! What did you think I meant?