Losing Battles to Win the War

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This is my 100th post and it isĀ  something that I have to get out of the way and put behind me before launching into the next 100 posts.

**Content warning – discussion of animals being killed**

It began in the summer of 2014, three years ago. A young doe I had bought as a kid and duly kept quarantined for three months had a big scur on her head. I had read that by putting an elastrator ring on scurs you could make them fall off and never grow back, several people reported success with that method. So I tried it with this doe. What happened was not success, but a doe with a partly attached horn which eventually fell off but later grew back repeatedly. She also developed swellings down the side of her face below where the horn was growing. I assumed that in the attempt to remove her horn with the bands she had bled into her sinuses, causing the swellings. I didn’t think too much of it.

Some time later, the lumps burst, leaving pus in feed bins and on surfaces around the farmyard. I cleaned it up but didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to June 2014. Another of my does had a lump in her throat. I posted photos and asked what it could be. A local breeder came and had a look, stating that it looked just like the cheesy gland that a goat she knew had that had been confirmed by a vet. I examined all my other goats and found similar lumps in a few others. Over time, every goat who was in my herd in June 2014 would become infected.

Over the next two and a half years I would become very good at identifying CLA abscesses. CLA (Caseous Lymphadenitis), known as cheesy gland or infectious abscesses, is caused by a bacteria. The pus is highly infectious. Abscesses can occur in various locations on the head and body, usually near lymph nodes. Most of the early abscesses we found were around the head, neck and face of the animals. Later they appeared in the flank, and a big one appeared on one doe’s chest.

The disease is incurable. It affects different animals to different degrees. Some may get an abscess once a year or so and go for extended periods of time without any symptoms. Others get them in clusters and always have at least a few. Some get big abscesses, up to cricket ball size. Others get smaller ones, more like marbles.

It was suggested to me that if you open up the abscess on a goat, it will encourage the immune system to fight the bacteria and get rid of the disease. This doesn’t work. My first step was to line up a few does and drain their abscesses in the hope that they would go away and not come back. They all came back.

While CLA does not kill affected animals, it does limit the movements of your stock. And if it doesn’t it should. I made a policy of not allowing infected animals to leave the property. That meant no shows and no sales. This was to protect other people’s herds.

I discovered that the vaccine I had been using did not cover CLA, so I changed to a different one – Glanvac 6 in 1. And began a twice-yearly vaccination plan.

I took up draining and cleaning any abscess I could find just before it burst, the idea being to prevent infectious pus from getting into the environment and infecting younger goats.

I counted abscesses on every goat and made notes at every vaccination. The incidence of abscesses wasn’t reducing, but new cases were infrequent. I thought I was getting somewhere. Until I found abscesses on two goats who had been born after the vaccination plan had begun.

Every new case was a blow, but these two made me fear for all the hitherto uninfected youngsters in the mob. Babies with their whole lives ahead of them. That was when I realised that more drastic action would be necessary if I was to rid my goats of this terrible bug and get back in control of the direction of my herd.

In order to keep the best animals, you need to be able to assess them once they have kidded. You only get half the story looking at an unkidded doe. I wanted to be able to run does on until their first kidding and make the decision of whether to keep them long-term once I could see what sort of udder they had and what quality of kids they could produce. With a clean herd you can sell the ones you don’t want as backyard milkers or to people starting out with dairy goats. With CLA in the equation, any infected does I didn’t want to breed on with had very limited options.

I kept a group of clean goats in a small paddock for as long as I could, but with a new crop of kids due for weaning that small paddock was quickly becoming very crowded. The time to make the clean group the majority and reintroduce them to the big paddock was coming. The infected animals had to be removed from the main group, one way or another.

I worked on the cull list for months. I had to keep the number of infected does retained to a minimum and leave space in the small paddock in case of any new cases. With a slow-release grain feeder and new shed, the small paddock can comfortably house 4-5 full-size goats.

Meredith and Sienna, both six-year-old does with milk awards, were priorities for the quarantine paddock. Meredith has given me five daughters, but I would really like a buck from her to keep. Younger sister Hera, a lovely type of doe with loads of milk, would join them. But who would take the last place?

In the end, the decision was partly made for me. Old Rianna, at nine years old, was showing signs of going downhill. She had not come into milk properly after kidding, and I had decided to retire her. She lost her spot at the head of the mob, lost weight, and while still retaining some of the spark that made her such an effective leader for so long, she was clearly growing tired of the whole game. I added her to the cull list.

Maia had been suffering with an infection in her foot, which we treated several times over the spring. A tall, red beauty with one of the best udders in the herd, Maia was one I really wanted to keep. She has so far shown no sign of CLA. After consultation with the vet, who explained that at least one of the joints in Maia’s foot had fused and she would probably never walk with a normal gait again, I decided to keep her, but in the small paddock so as to minimise stress on her damaged foot. So she became the fourth member of the quarantine group.

Cleaning up the rest of the herd involved having a total of seven goats put down. I had two dry does done over the winter and last week, with all the kids old enough to wean, I had five more put down by the vet and buried in the paddock.

So that is the back story of the great cheesy gland epidemic. It leads us to the day when I had to stand by my decision to have five of my goats put down in order to give the rest of the herd a future.

The vet turned up on time. His first port of call was to have a look at poor Maia’s very sore foot and hopefully give me a prognosis more hopeful than having to add her name to the cull list. He prescribed her a different course of antibiotics just in case, but opined that the cause of her trouble was more to do with inflammation than infection. She got a course of anti-inflammatories as well. Two weeks on she is much better, although still has an altered gait. She is her cheerful self and can keep up with the others in the small paddock.

Using the captive bolt to do the killing is a lot safer than using a rifle, and allows for a greater degree of accuracy because you can hold the goat a lot closer and keep it still while the vet positions the bolt gun. The animal is instantly rendered senseless. I’ve seen various methods of humane animal destruction at work and this one is my preferred method.

The vet helped Matt load the goats onto the trailer as they were killed, and soon the excavator operator arrived. A friend of a friend, he proceeded to create a very neat and very deep hole, before helping to lay out the five bodies on their sides next to each other. Once I realised what he was doing I was able to make sure that mothers, daughters and sisters were placed next to each other in the hole. The excavator operator then made sure that the site was neat and safe for the horses should they decide to walk on it. And that was that.

On January 4, 2017 we said goodbye to five does of various ages, all infected with CLA. They were Traybonne Rianna, Elcarim Juno, Elcarim Maude, Elcarim Elizabeth and Elcarim Cecilia.

The next step is to keep a close eye on all the ones who are left. The older infected does in the quarantine mob will probably not get the chance to live out their days, but will get the chance to add to their legacy for a few more years. Their kids will all be hand raised with the clean group, which will be my first experience with hand-raising more than one or two kids in a season. The hard work is not over, but hopefully the worst of it is.

 

 

I’m Not Dead

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I haven’t made a post in nearly three months, I think the pressure of my 100th post bearing down on me (this is #99) made me feel like nothing was worthy or significant enough to write about so I just… didn’t.

So now it is January 1, 2017 and I’m going to come out and say that it feels like last year I achieved absolutely nothing.

Perhaps things were quietly processing in my mind, perhaps I was just healing and living and feeling, and to be honest a lot of the time just doing that was hugely taxing.

First we had the big dry, where the paddock was reduced to nothing but dust and crumbs and the grain feeder became a literal lifesaver, allowing my goats to eat enough to keep their body condition, milk and get in kid without any grain-induced illness.

Then came the big wet, which progressed into the wettest September ever. Rain, rain and more rain. Everything waterlogged, it was horrendous in its own way. Then came a horror kidding season, characterised by vet visits, dead kids, sick does and more rain.

Come October it felt like the whole year had been one big stressy mess, I went through a few cycles of depression and felt like I just couldn’t get my feet under me. At work I had some issues that just went on and on and drove me to despair in spite of all my efforts to resolve them.

I tried to get my shit together by attempting to lock down my feelings, shut them off, be cold and dead inside. I spent as much time alone as possible, did as little as possible, but the problem with trying to tie down what is going on inside you is that it fights back even stronger the second it gets an opportunity.

There were times when I raged and howled, times when I thought I could not go on, times when I thought this was all life had in store for me until the end, and I wasn’t sure I could push through it.

And then at some point the noise stopped. I took my hands off my ears and realised it had been coming from inside my self. And the force behind it seemed to have finally run out of energy.

There was, for the first time in a long time, a faint fragment of peace inside me.

It wasn’t all uphill from there. It never is. As a ‘do something, do anything!’ kind of person, who is unable to do nothing, sometimes I charged ahead in the wrong direction. But gradually I have got somewhere, found something to aim for. I have started putting one foot in front of the other in a meaningful fashion.

So what does this mean for 2017?

Well, I’ve enrolled in a permaculture design course, being run over several weekends. My hope is that this will give me some direction in how to make my garden more productive and more organised and reinvigorate my environmental and sustainability interests. I also hope it will reconnect me with fellow permaculture enthusiasts in my local area in a social sense and make me feel like part of a community.

I got a bike for Christmas. Actually, being a grown-up I got it on December 21st. I’ve set the goal of riding at least four times a week (so far I have managed five times) for as long as I can. I’ve got a bit addicted to Google Fit, tracking my ‘workouts’ and constantly trying for new personal bests. I’ve finally found a form of exercise that is quick and cheap and doesn’t cause me injuries or push my heart rate to risky levels. I kind of enjoy it too.

Soon there will be some major changes in the goat paddocks, with the goal of eradicating the CLA bacteria (cheesy gland/infectious abscesses) that has plagued my herd for the past few years. Some goats will be put down. Some will be put into permanent quarantine. But my goal is to have my main herd CLA free within the next few weeks. This will alter the way I select which stock to keep for breeding and which to sell. It will mean losing some old favourites, but will hopefully save my future milkers and their offspring.

So those are a few things that I’ll be getting up to. I still don’t have any long-term goals and for the most part I don’t know where this year will take me. But I’ve made myself a few personal promises and I don’t want to waste another year tormenting myself and going around in circles. I intend to embrace my spiritual side again, to meditate and get back into yoga. I won’t be spending my whole time running around after others to the point where I have no time scheduled for myself. I may get into painting, like I have been wanting to for ages, but I would like to take lessons first rather than just jumping in. I just want to try some things and see where it takes me.

I intend to be kinder to myself, to do things I enjoy. Maybe I’ll take this year to consolidate the healing process and set myself up for the future. Maybe something big will come up to challenge me. But the worst is behind me. I must step forward with confidence.