This is my 100th post and it is 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.