"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mystery Mortality (Milk Glut)

In the last two weeks we've gone from four baby goats to only two baby goats. One of them was served at our big party, so that was an expected death (and very delicious he was, too; I'm thinking in the future we may choose to butcher at 4 months instead of seven). However the second death, that of Flopsy's buckling Comet, was a complete mystery.

Comet was one of Flopsy's twins, born in March. The other buckling was sold intact for a very decent price and presumably is doing just fine. Comet was wethered and was marked as a meat animal, but that didn't stop him from being a favorite because he was so cute. Usually we don't name animals we plan on eating, but this little guy's white spots on a black background gave him the name Comet.

Comet was perfectly healthy and never ailed a day in his rather short life, until the last day. In the morning we heard him screaming and walked out to look for him in the tall grass. He was standing alone, sides heaving, with green frothy vomit all over his head and neck. Goats do not vomit. They just don't. In all my time raising goats, I have only ever seen them vomit from severe carbohydrate overload, and that obviously hadn't happened here because the barn where we keep the grain was closed and locked. 

As the day progressed, Comet kept screaming, almost continuously, and wouldn't eat, drink, or nurse. There was no more vomit, but he frothed at the mouth and dripped saliva. He was not pooping, though he would strain and heave. His symptoms seemed to be almost exclusively GI related - no neurological symptoms, no staggering or looking up at the sky like goats do when brain damaged. He got progressively dehydrated.

We spoke to the vet, of course. I thought of plant poisoning - we do have several poisonous plants on the property, but the goats generally leave them alone. I mentioned tansy, rhododendron, and hemlock, but the vet said none of those would cause vomiting, and would produce neurological signs. He suggested that a blockage was much more likely and said we should bring him in for exploratory surgery. He also said that vomiting was quite likely to cause inhalation pneumonia and that he would need antibiotic treatment quickly to avoid death from that cause. 

Well, that wasn't going to happen. Here I had an animal with a cash value of approximately $75 to $100, and treatment options began at several hundred dollars, with, of course, no guarantee of a good outcome. We decided to give Comet the day to start showing signs of recovery and to put him out of his misery if he continued the same or worse. Since he wouldn't drink, he was getting very dehydrated. He began to pant heavily and collapsed.

In the belief that a blockage was the most likely explanation, I decided to try and drench him with some neutral oil. I was terrified that I was going to pour a pint of oil into his lungs and kill him, but he was pretty close to dying already and I figured I couldn't very well make things worse. With Homero's help, we slid a tube down his throat and poured in some oil, and Comet thrashed weakly and fought us off the best he could. 

I don't know if his efforts exhausted his last reserves or if we did, in fact, kill him by our "treatment" but within a half hour he was obviously close to death, still crying weakly, so we went ahead and euthanized him with a .22. Poor little guy. 

We thought about having the vet do a post mortem, but Homero said he could do it himself, at least look for anything obvious. We skinned and prepared him for butchering as usual, but instead of throwing out the GI tract intact, Homero dissected it. I was expecting to find a fat, red gut, evidence of a torsion or a severe blockage, but everything looked completely normal. His intestines were slim, pearly grey, and just about empty. The liver and gallbladder were normal as well. Homero even opened up the rumen and checked carefully for any foreign objects, but there was just nothing to be found. 

The only odd thing we did find is that one of his lungs was swollen and covered in petechiae (small blood spots, showing that there had been a hemorrhage). The lung was abnormal enough that it might have explained his death, but of course I suspected I might have caused that myself by pouring a bunch of oil into it. It is also possible that he inhaled something and then damaged himself trying to cough it out. Severe coughing can cause vomiting in people, I don't know about goats. I thought eight hours would be too soon to show evidence of inhalation pneumonia, but maybe not. My farrier told me they once had a horse die in less than a day from that cause. 

I haven't the slightest idea what killed Comet. Well, I know what killed him - a bullet to the back of the head. But I have no idea what made him so sick. It could have been anything, from plant poisoning (a friend sent me a page from an old goat medicine book that detailed symptoms of rhododendron poisoning, and it was oddly accurate. It mentioned the screaming, the vomiting, and the labored breathing. I don't know why the vet said rhododendrons don't cause vomiting) to some kind of allergic reaction to a bite or sting. I am, however, pretty sure it wasn't a contagious illness because every other goat on the place is healthy as pie. 

It's been three days now, and no other goat has shown the slightest sign of any illness. On the contrary, they all are sleek and plump, and giving large quantities of milk. Now I have two in-milk does who have no kids on them, and so I am milking two goats twice a day. Once, long ago, I sold off all my kids young and then spent the next four months chained to the milking stand, and I swore I would never do that again. Goats must be milked every twelve hours, rain or shine, unless they have kids to nurse. I am bringing about two gallons of milk a day into the house, and it is a constant challenge to figure out what to do with it. 

A couple of days ago, we made cajeta (sweet delicious goat's milk caramel sauce - for a recipe visit  http://www.everything-goat-milk.com/cajeta.html), which used up a few gallons. I have several pounds of cheese in the fridge, and right now there is a whole pillowcase full of chèvre hung up to drain outside. It's a damn shame I can't sell any of this cheese. Good friends and neighbors are encouraged to drop by with containers. Feel free to bring any surplus garden vegetables you have. I'm particularly fond of snap peas. 

It's tough to lose an animal without knowing why. I'm sorry Comet suffered so much. I wish I knew what happened so I could try to prevent it from ever happening again. But at least I can be reasonably sure it wasn't due to any gross farming error on my part. The other healthy goats attest to that. 


Laura said...

I can tell you that your oil treatment didn't kill him, or help him on his way - if he was crying, there was no oil in his lungs. If you had gotten it in there, death would have been nearly instantanious.

Sorry that you had to go through that. I'm with you - sounds like Rhodie poisoning, from what you said. The Petchiae could have been from the vomiting, or a side affect of poisoning. Aspiration pneumonia wouldn't have presented that quickly.

Wish I were closer, I'd come get cheese!!

Aimee said...

Thanks, Laura.