August has been a shit month.
July was bad enough. End of financial year in a growing business with financials to prepare for five different countries and deadline after deadline looming was a living hell that almost broke me.
But July was nothing compared to August.
On August 1st I went outside to find one of my young does in labour, four weeks early. She had been at it for a while. I tried to help her deliver the dead kids, but had no luck. At that stage I still thought I had a viable herd of goats, so my intention was to save her and breed her again next year.
At the same time, one of my doe kids, Poppy, began gasping for breath and crying out. I left the aborting doe, put Poppy in the front footwell of my car, and rushed her into the vets. She had been treated a couple of weeks earlier for pneumonia, but clearly treatment had not worked.
Ultrasound revealed that Poppy’s lungs were full of fibrous, infected tissue. She just could not get enough air in. The gravity of the situation struck me as I realised that the bug we thought we had beaten the year before was back, seemingly more deadly than ever.
Poppy was euthanised on the table, and samples taken for testing as part of a Significant Disease Investigation. At that point, although we had lost Poppy, I was optimistic that her death would lead to the identification of exactly what disease was attacking my kids and how we could cure it.
At home, reeling from the loss of Poppy and the threat still looming over her three siblings, I was still unable to deliver Cookie’s dead kids. So Cookie went in for a cesarean. The operation went well, with three dead kids found and one removed alive. That evening I took home Cookie, my poor dead Poppy, and a four-week premature doe kid named Tinkerbell whose eyes were not even open yet.
I nursed Tinkerbell through two days, sleeping with her on my chest after the heat lamp globe blew on the first night. I took her to work on the first day so that I could monitor her temperature and tube feed her at regular intervals, and worked from home on the second day. And when she took her last breath she was in my arms, and I cried my heart out for the little baby who never stood a chance.
Cookie’s dead quads brought the number of kids lost to 11, all by the same buck. A second Significant Disease Investigation was submitted, although no infectious cause was found. I have a theory, but I can only really guess at what the cause was.
It took weeks for the testing to be completed on the tissue and fluid samples from
Poppy. Her three siblings were still coughing and sounding congested, although still bright and hungry. On August 8th Elaine, the first doe due to kid, gave birth to a perfect big, red doe kid, who we named Selena. Selena was self-sufficient within 24 hrs and I thought perhaps my luck was about to change.
The night of August 18th was freezing, wet and wild. The next morning I found my poor old New Forest Pony mare, River Valley Starbelle, standing in a puddle with mud on every inch of her. She was unable to walk, had a temperature below 34*, and even had mud on her eyeballs. Clearly she had been down during the night. It took two and a half hours to get her to walk the 100m to the shed. The vet came and gave her some painkillers, warning me that Starbelle would probably not survive, but that her best chance would be if we could get her to the equine clinic where she could be put in a crush and examined more thoroughly.
Not only did I have no means of transporting her, I didn’t think I would be able to coax her into a horse float if we could even borrow one. Not only that, but it had taken me months to get Starbelle back from a lease home, and she had been with me again only 8 weeks. She was 24yo and probably going to die. I wanted her to die at home, not in a horse float or in a horse clinic dedicated to animals of higher economic value. We managed to get her into a pen with some straw and hay and water and waited for her to warm up.
Around 10pm, just as her body temperature was nearing normal, Starbelle lay down and died. The cause was most likely a twisted gut, twisted uterus or intestinal impaction. She had come home in foal, which was unplanned but seemed like a fitting finale to her career as a broodmare. Unfortunately it was not to be. Instead we had the logistical difficulty of removing a large dead mare from the shed, through the muddy yard, to a place where the livestock removal truck could safely pick her up. It was a daunting task that went a lot more smoothly than we anticipated.
That was Monday. On Tuesday I called the vet clinic again to see if there were any results available from the tests done on Poppy or on Cookie’s kids. Finally I got some information.
No infectious cause was found for Cookie’s dead kids, it was simply dismissed as one fetus not being viable and affecting the others, eventually taking out the whole pregnancy. No consideration was made for this being the fifth similar loss of kids.
No bacterial cause was found for Poppy’s pneumonia. There was one test pending, that being for an organism called mycoplasma. I had heard of mycoplasma and knew it to be a disease that was incurable and could only be eradicated from your herd by snatching newborn kids and destroying all the adult goats. It was the worst case scenario. The vet seemed to think that mycoplasma fit the profile of the problems I was experiencing. I started doing some research.
If I was going to snatch kids I had to act quickly. I had a doe already past her due date, and three more soon to kid. I got in contact with a breeder in Queensland who had dealt with mycoplasma in her goats. We talked on the phone for an hour. She mentioned the things she noticed in her herd before her kids started getting sick. Problems with the milk. High cell counts, but no bacterial cause detected upon testing. A high incidence of mastitis that did not always respond to treatment. These were all things I had also noticed in my milkers.
Her goats had suffered from a strain of mycoplasma that causes arthritis in kids. Another strain causes pneumonia that does not respond to antibiotic treatment. That would certainly explain the respiratory issues in my kids that were not resolved by antibiotics. That strain also causes eye infections, sore joints in adult goats, and mastitis, problems that had also occurred in my herd. It seemed more and more likely that mycoplasma would be discovered as the culprit, and I realised that the only way to save my herd was to snatch the new kids and sacrifice the rest.
I don’t think I have ever felt such a sense of loss. It was like a darkness had descended over me. For two days all I did was cry. Mostly in bed. I would wake up and remember what was going on and wonder how I could possibly get through it. I formulated a plan, talked about it with my family, and resolved to try to save the kids due to be born over the next week. But even as I tried to come up with a solution I could live with, I found myself spiralling ever deeper into hopelessness. I felt that the time had come to give up goats altogether.