This morning dawned bright and clear, with that crystalline sharpness that follows a hard frost. On my way out to the animals, I could see my breath puffing out thick and cottony white. The water buckets were frozen over, and I knew I'd have to fill them with warm water from the house, because the hose would be frozen solid. The mountains were putting on a show, magnified, knife-edged, and blindingly white in the early morning sun.
The triplets had an appointment to get their horn-buds burned off, so I grabbed a big cardboard box and stuffed it full of clean hay. When I walked into the barn, Iris and two of her babies jumped and up and followed me, but the third baby lay limp and still on the straw. It was my favorite one; the littlest doeling with the big white patch on top of her head. I thought she was dead when I picked her up; her head lolled obscenely and her legs were stiff and cold. Then she bleated and began to make feeble paddling motions. Her head was bent back sharply over her spine and her eyes were upward-turned and glazed. To me, it looked like she'd had some sort of major neurological event. It also looked like she was dying.
As I already had an appointment 30 minutes hence, I simply bundled her into the box along with her siblings and set out for the vet. The box full of goats was on the passenger seat next to me; I could see that the healthy babies were trampling their sick little sister. That made me feel ill, so I pulled over and picked up the baby and cuddled her against my belly as I drove. It was shocking how cold she was. She did not have the warmth of life in her at all. If she hadn't occasionally bleated, I would have thought she had expired.
Arriving at the vet's, I explained the situation and sat down to wait while they took her in the back. It was hypothermia. To make a long story short, my little goat had frozen in the cold snap - while her siblings had not- because she was the runt. As the smallest, weakest animal since birth, she couldn't fight her way to the teat as often as the others. She wasn't getting enough calories to maintain her body temperature when the mercury dropped thirty points. The vet fully expected her to be dead in a very short time - he told me her heart was only beating once every twenty seconds. Nonetheless, he bundled her up under heat lamps with hot water bottles on either side of her thin little rib cage, and she kept breathing - twice every minute or so. She just kept breathing. After an hour (during which we burned the horn buds off of the other two babies), he told me she was sitting up on her chest and her temperature had risen to 98 degrees. Twenty minutes earlier her temperature had been too low for the thermometer to register. It goes down to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. She has demonstrated a suck reflex and taken an ounce of milk through a syringe. The vet suggested I name her "Lazarus."
He asked me if her mother was thin - and I had to admit that yes, Iris is quite thin. I have noticed that this year her bag never did really fill out the way I would like. A heavy blanket of guilt settled over my shoulders as I realized that this was all my fault. I haven't been supplementing the pregnant does with as much grain as they need, because it is such a damn hassle - all four goats crowd me and push and shove with such strength that they have actually knocked me over more than once - and I am not a lightweight. What I do is shovel up about two pounds of "Super Goat" grain and set the dish out on the ground and let them shove each other around until it's gone. I don't know who is getting how much, but clearly, Iris hasn't been getting enough because she isn't producing enough milk for three babies. Last year she easily did. The new protocol is to lock Iris and the remaining babies in the Mama Barn for at least another week, where they will stay warmer and not waste a lot of energy keeping their temperatures up. I bought a few bales of high quality alfalfa and Iris has access to as much as she likes for the next few days.
Meanwhile, Lazarus (Lizzie for short) is in a box next to a space heater in our bedroom. I put an ad on Craigslist looking for goat's milk and heard from a kind gentlemen right away who gave me some free of charge. Lizzie is taking the warmed milk 5 cc's at a time through a syringe. I have some nipples and tomorrow I will try her on a bottle.
Here's the thing. Any warm-blooded animal whose heart beat only once every twenty seconds for a couple of hours straight is likely to have sustained quite a bit of brain damage. Indeed, Lizzie is "acting neurological -", pointing her head upwards and staring, yawning, and falling over. The vet was honest with me; he said that he could keep her overnight, pump her full of fluids, do his damndest... but... truth to tell, he didn't think it was worth it. Her chances of making a full recovery were very slight. "However," he said, "I thought she'd be dead six hours ago, so you never know. Sometimes they surprise you."
"I appreciate your candor," I said, "but to be honest... oh this sounds so bad... I'm not in the business of keeping invalid goats alive."
"I totally get it." he said. "Why don't you call me on Monday and if she hasn't made major improvements, I'll put her down for you."
And there we are. I fucked up. I didn't feed my pregnant doe right; I didn't pay close enough attention to how the babies were doing; I didn't read the weather report, and now I have a brain-dead goat to show for it. A perfectly lovely little doeling who was as healthy as a horse yesterday afternoon. Now she will either live or die but never be the same, and her suffering is due to my laziness and stupidity. If she has to be killed on Monday, I will have killed her. If she lives a diminished life, I will have diminished it.
Meanwhile, I am sitting here resenting the fact that I have to get up every three hours during the night to feed her. I am incorrigible.