"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Lamest Farm Ever (Ethical Questions)

This place is pathetic. Seems like everywhere I look, I see an injured animal.

The new Jersey calf with her droopy broken ear, limping around on her dislocated hip, or whatever it is. She is actually getting around much better than she was at first, even frolicking a bit, but she will probably never be entirely normal. Homero holds out hope she can be bred and used as a family milk cow, but I rather doubt it, myself. He wonders if she can give birth normally; I wonder if one of her hindquarters will be unfit to eat. 

Flopsy the goat has something wrong with her left foreleg. She is a little slower than the other goats, bobs her head when she walks, and often holds her foot up off the ground. I thought it was hoof rot, because her hooves were horrible when we got from Mexico. All the goat's hooves were, actually; I think the renters hadn't trimmed in many moons. But this particular foot of Flopsy's was the worst: grossly deformed and swollen. However, after diligent trimming for three months, it's pretty much back to normal. I can't see that there's anything in the hoof that would explain her limp. Now I'm thinking she has a strain somewhere higher up in the leg. I'm a bit worried because she is certainly bred now, and the extra weight of pregnancy isn't going to do her any favors. Flopsy is a gigantic obese goat in any case, which is probably why the leg hasn't healed on it's own. I don't know why she's so fat - she just eats grass like all the rest of them. 

The white turkey got stepped on by a horse about six weeks ago. He was pretty bad off for a while. He spent most of his time laying down and his breast feathers all fell out. Now the feathers have grown in again, which greatly improves his appearance, but he still limps. He somehow flies up to the top of the chicken coop to roost every night, but I have no idea how. When he comes down in the mornings he flops heavily to the ground and it looks like a small airplane crash landing. I always try to run up and grab him to let him down gently, but he always evades me. 

Rosie Pony's intermittent eye infection is back, and her long lashes are gummed together. Twice a day I try to catch her, and if I can, I swab her eyes with warm salt water and cider vinegar. What she needs is to have her tear ducts irrigated, but she'd need to be sedated for that and last time, three years ago, it cost $400. (see What Do You Do With a Drunken Pony?)

The day before yesterday I saw Dorian, our elderly cat, sitting in the sun on the front porch. He was hunched up oddly, and when I went closer I saw he had one foreleg folded under him. I tried to get him to stand up and he fell over, crying. We brought him into the house and examined him, discovering a large, squishy lump over his shoulder. I couldn't find the shoulder blade, and that, combined with the way the leg was dangling, made me think he had a fracture or dislocation. 

A friend of ours, A., is a vet who makes house calls, and she came out yesterday to see Dorian, prepared to put him down if he turned out to have a fracture for real. Dorian is almost seventeen years old and in poor health; we weren't going to try any heroic measures. However, A. said that the big squishy lump was an abscess. We didn't find a bite mark, but A. said she saw a scar. She thought he had been bitten by something - maybe a rat- some time ago, and the skin healed over the infection. She said cat skin seals up quickly. I held Dorian while A. tried to aspirate the wound - without much luck - and then made a small incision to let the wound drain. 

I've been putting hot compresses on the wound three or four times a day, and giving him heavy doses of antibiotics. The poor cat is flat out, he hasn't eaten anything, not even the tuna I opened for him. I'm not sure yet if he's going to make it or not. The little girls are frantic, Dorian has been around since long before they were born. He's our oldest pet. 

The questions surrounding how much should be done to save a pet are complicated. The questions surrounding how much should be done for livestock are complicated as well. One of the reasons I didn't want a cow is that I know we can't afford the veterinary care she would need if she were to get sick or injured - further injured, I mean. I don't think we should have animals around if we are unable or unwilling to provide a certain minimum level of care for them. We shouldn't let animals suffer pain or debility, that seems like a simple statement. Until you begin to break it down into economic terms. 

Dorian's case is relatively easy. He's elderly and has other, chronic conditions. If he doesn't heal in a reasonable time frame, we will ask our friend to euthanize him and bury him beneath a fruit tree. He's a pet, with a name, so he gets a funeral and a headstone. Flopsy is in a grey area - she is livestock, not a pet. But she has a name and we all have feelings for her. If she had to be put down because of an injury, for example, we would never eat her. Homero might try to convince me to sell her as meat, but we would gang up on him and refuse. She would be buried in the goat graveyard, no funeral, no headstone. Flopsy is an animal with economic value - she provides us with meat and milk, year after year, and often with cash income from the sale of her adorable babies. Beyond the ethical requirement to provide her with some level of veterinary care that applies to all the animals, she justifies the vet's fee economically as well. Up to a point, anyway. 

Poultry does not get veterinary care. If a chicken gets injured, they get a cold appraisal and my best guess as to whether they will recover on their own or not. If I don't think they will, they get their necks wrung quickly and mercifully by Homero, and will be eaten or not eaten according to their age and health status. Chickens simply do not have either the economic or the sentimental value to justify spending money on the vet. I would only do that if, say, there seemed to be some sort of epidemic. 

These all seem like pretty middle-of-the-road positions to me, extreme in neither direction. But I know people have a wide range of opinions on these topics. How do the farmers among you make these kinds of decisions? How have you decided when it is time to authorize a pet? How much does money figure into it? Any comments would be greatly appreciated. 


Laura said...

I agree with your triage guidelines. It's hard to watch any animal suffer, but there is a hierarchy on a farm.