Saturday, January 31, 2009

Toasted Goats

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?


Pat said...

I have tears in my eyes from sadness and fondness. What a heart breaker your life is. You are right about your heart breaking so it can open wider...Thank you so much for opening your heart enough to share it with us.

Holly said...

I remember reading about a kennel fire once. I cried my way through that article.

I cannot imagine how heart breaking it would be to have a fire like this.

for all the heartache, it is a spot of brightness that there is a new little goat to lavish affection on.

EvenSong said...

How sad! What a horrible sound to wake one from deep sleep!

For a moment, I thought you were going to say that you gave in, and took the little goatlet home with you. But then again, the family probably needs that connection with new life, to help them heal from their loss (I hope they didn't/don't lose many).

Keep warm, from central Washington state.

Claire said...

As a goat owner, this just made me so sad, and afraid too. We use ceramic panel wall heaters for our chicken coop but not for our goats - they weather the storm in an unheated barn, but they seem to manage.

Please keep us updated on the little goatling's progress. Would love to see a picture!

AKDD said...

So far, except for the animals killed during the fire, there have been no deaths. All the injured are recieving care and so far all are still with us. The babies are doing well; they seem to have been minimally affected by the trauma their mothers went through.

This one was a hard one for me; so heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time. But even so.... seeing that little goat with enough spirit to escape the trailer, hop up on the tongue, put her tail up and give it a little shake (just hours after her narrow escape from a firey death) made me think. There's so much we can learn from animals, with their boundlessly good and willing hearts. It's kind of humbling, really.

It was 18 below zero here last night, so up here, barn heat is needed for some species. I'm sure most stockmen would prefer to be able to do without it - for its attendant risks, hassles and expenses - but it's just not feasable for all animals. The sheep are inches deep in wool right now, and impervious to even our 35 and 40 beloiw zero temps, so long as they have water and hay to keep those rumens working. But even with blankets on, the goats can be shivering if they're outside in the sub-zeros.

Jenn said...

Barn fires terrify me and this entry tightened my throat and moistened my eyes. I have a friend who lost her horse in a barn fire, horrible, horrible, horrible. There is nothing worse than a barn fire.

I am SO happy they were able to save some of the goats...and out of the pain and death, life continues.

MaskedMan said...

Humor and love amidst the horror... There is hope for us yet.

God Bless, for running out to check on the survivors. Not at all a trivial thing, in your condition. God Bless for S&R, too, that they were there to take in the survivors, and hold them until space in a hospital barn came available.

Anonymous said...

Barn fires are terrifying- there's a children's book that I read as a kid that featured a barn child and I've had nightmares about them ever since. Luckily, down here in Texas, we don't really need ancillary heat for anything except baby-wahtevers born in really bad weather (unusual) and baby chicks. (And the chicks can just as easily come in the house in a box, directly under a smoke detector.)

Good thoughts for the poor critters (and people) who lost their barn, hope everyone continues to do well.

Heather said...

What a good thought, a breaking heart being able to open wider. Animals can sure do it to ya. And you are so right - baby goats are SO cute. We need pictures now, though!

Donna said...

A barn fire is my greatest fear. I do not have electricity in the barn because of this- no lights, no heat. We run an extension cord for shearing and for a baby monitor at lambing and kidding time. The extension cord is frightening and (short of that) one bale of moist hay can do you in. I really hope the remaining goats do well and the animals that were lost did not suffer too long.

AKColleen said...

ugh! it made me sick to my stomach. My mom told me about it, but I didn't get the details about what the surviving goats looked like. So terrible!

Barb said...

I do believe you qualify for Salt of the Earth status yourself, doc! Especially responding like that with a migraine... I know, you didn't even consider NOT going - not once you heard those horrible words "barn fire". But still, kudos to all involved for helping the survivors stay healthy and comfortable.

MaskedMan said...

Something AKDD won't say about herself, so I'll say it for her:

She doesn't hesitate to sacrifice herself for her patients. Driving out into the cold with a migrane at a momment's notice is par for the course, for her. Attending patients whilst in near-crippling, nausea-inducing agony from a kidney stone? She's been there, done that; Done that, and done it astoundingly well.

Never happy to put up with nonsense from people, her heart is so huge that she can still find ways to straighten her patients' owners out gently and kindly, even when they've been remarkably stupid.

Me, personally, I'd be known as the crankiest doc around, if I were a vet. Not AKDD - her patients' owners adore her, even when they do happen to be idiots.

Karl Katzke said...

They would be idiots not to adore her!

Off-topic, but speaking of burning: AKDD, you haven't said really where you are, and I appreciate your desire for privacy and pseudonames. However, I was curious if you're going to be affected by the Mt. Redoubt eruption if/when it happens.

AKDD said...

DSA, the mere idea of barn fires used to haunt me as a child. I also read some children's book (Black Beauty?) that has one; I used to have nightmares. Thank God I never had the real-life nightmare of losing a horse to a barn fire, like Jenn's friend. I can only imagine how awful that was for all concerned.

Luckily (so far) all the remaining stock is alive and trying to get well. And there are new babies in the world; nature's compensation for the ills and travails of life, I suppose. And I'll try to get pics for Heather and all, but no guarantees (this week is pretty full with other things.)

Colleen, sorry if I was too graphic; I imagine your mother went to the trouble of not describing it too closely for the express purpose of sparing you the details, so - sorry I messed that up.

Barb, MM, KK, and everyone... thank you SO much for your kind words. MM, you make me sound like a real paragon, and I do thank you enormously much for your kindness; it says something about you as a person (and most excellent bro!) that you're so complimentary of my efforts. But what else is there to do? Shit happens, as the saying goes, and you just have to get in there and deal with it. I would have been ashamed not to do what I could, under the circumstances. You do what you have to do. I think most people are like that, when the chips are down. However, I will say that having people appreciate your efforst - even from some distance in time and space - is really nice. I bank these things to draw upon when I'm having a bad day, so I thank you all for that.

KK, Redoubt is about 130 miles away (or, as a friend of mine puts it, "Too close in volcano-miles.") Depending on the height of the ash cloud, and the prevailing winds at that time and altitude, we MIGHT get some ash-fall; Anchorage is more likley to see it than we are, but it's not impossible by any means. My biggest concern, however, is that she'll blow the DAY I am trying to ship my dog back home, and that she'll get grounded in Seattle or something. That would truly suck.

Karl Katzke said...

Ugh. That would suck. I'd invoke what us disaster recovery types call the "Heisenberg Unplanning Principle."

The Unplanning Principle is the union of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Murphy's Law. It basically comes down to "the moment you plan for a particular eventuality, you instantly reduce it's likeliness of happening." As an example, I bought a special frost blanket for my garden, which will keep us from having any more frosts this year.

In Raven's case, find someone in each area that can go get her from the airport. I know you don't know me from Adam, but I would happily volunteer to pick her up in the unlikely chance that she gets stuck at any of the airports in Texas. I'm sure you have enough contacts from school or Ye Olde Veterinarian Network to cover the lower 48!

MaskedMan said...

What can I say? You ARE a real paragon. That's not to say that you're not human, nor are you without human flaws and failings, but by-and-large, you're more than a cut above.

Karl's advice is excellent - make alternate plans, and Murphy will be more inclined to look elsewhere. And if he doesn't, well, you'll be ready for him.

goatgirl said...

Don't worry AKDD, I can pick up Raven in Seattle if that happens.
I am so glad you were there for the goats. We have trouble in our area getting a vet to look at goats. They are all horse vets. We don't have any livestock vets around anymore.

AKDD said...

GG - Thank you so much! That is very generous of you. I hope it won't be needed, but it's wonderful to know that there's someone - an animal person, and one with a kind heart - who would be willing to bail out poor little Raven if disaser struck. Bless your heart!

MM and KK - look! Magically, a solution to the unplanning principle. Does this mean Redoubt WON'T blow, now that there's someone to cover the bases?

MM, thx for that "cut above" thing. I try every day to do it right. Some days I'm better than others, but I always try.

AKColleen said...

Well, I would like to second Masked Man, and everybody else, who has applauded AKDD for her amazing work, with this barn fire disaster, and with all the other disasters she deals with such good cheer! Knowing her personally, I can verify that she really is the amazing person she appears to be!

And AKDD, don't worry about my sensibilities. I did grow up with my mom telling HER vet stories, after all. I just wanted to express how terrible I feel about the entire situation.

I haven't talked to my mom since last weekend, so I'm glad to hear that everybody is still doing well.

Pat said...

Just checking in. Everything OK at your end? Miss your stories.

Anonymous said...

AKDD - I'd forgotten about the one in Black Beauty, but the one that gave me nightmares was about a Amish (? - might have been something else, but there was something about not using buttons and traditional haircuts) boy, his family and his various adventures, at one point in the book, there is a barn fire and they get the horses out of their barn by throwing shawls over their heads. It was a kids book and IIRC, it talked about one of their other animals screaming in the fire. It was horrific. (When did we stop having good scare-you-out-of-ever-doing-stupid-stuff-like-not-keeping-up-the-wiring-properly fiction for kids, anyway?)

I need orange said...

What Pat said, at the top.....

I am wondering about a combination of smoke detectors and baby monitors? To maybe know sooner?

I live near Detroit which is a major airline hub, if Raven needs a temporary rescue around here.