"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fried Baby Goat Brains, and Farmers vs Vets

Cirrus is the name we decided to give to the beautiful black and white spotted buckling out of Iris. He, along with everyone else, got his horn buds burned off day before yesterday by Goat Lady, a local farmer. Today he is wandering around mostly blind, feverish, and in pain, unable to nurse, because his brain got fried (that's vernacular - actually he has acute cerebral inflammation and increased intracranial pressure as a result of too much time under the red-hot iron.).

I took him to the vet today and he is being treated with Banamine for pain and inflammation, and an injectable anti-inflammatory that starts with "dex-" and a long-term injected antibiotic. Most likely he will make a slow but full recovery. As the inflammation goes down, the pressure on his optic nerve will decline and he should regain his sight. Maybe three weeks.

All the other baby goats are doing fine. Cirrus got extra time under the iron because I told Goat Lady I was thinking of keeping him as a buck, and so she wanted to make extra sure she got 100% of the horn buds burned off. Everyone else got 25-30 seconds per side and Cirrus got that plus an extra 20 seconds per side on a second pass. Vet said that was just too much.

Also, the vet is very careful, when she disbuds, to apply the irons in 10 second bursts, and to remove them and let the skull cool down before reapplying. The total time is the same - 25 to 30 seconds per side - but Goat lady does it all at once and the vet does in three separate passes with time in between.

Now I'm going to say a few things that may be controversial. Many goat folks, I've learned, don't like to take their goats to the vet and prefer to take them to other farmers or do most of their doctoring themselves. I have heard the sentiment expressed many times that vets just aren't taught much about goats in school and not many vets are knowledgeable about them. Most long-term goat farmers I've spoken to feel very strongly that they know more about goat health than their vet does.

This may be largely true - certainly I've heard from a couple of vets themselves that small ruminants in general get little time in school and that most of that time is spent on sheep. And obviously a person like Goat Lady, who has worked exclusively with goats for well over thirty years is going to have more hands on experience with goats than just about any vet out there.
I don't doubt that old timers have more "goat sense" than vets do as a general rule.

However. I have also heard goat farmers express the most appalling ignorance of basic physiology and even basic biology. Few have any formal education in medicine or in the life sciences in general. They are basically laymen when it comes to medicine. I'm NOT trying to disparage anybody here - certainly Goat Lady's operation looks fantastic: clean, organized, and lots of spectacularly healthy looking goats. Most goat farmers are excellent nurses and animal husbandrymen, they care about their animals and treat them well. They know a great deal about feed and supplements, pasture management and poisonous weeds, corrective hoof trimming and just about every aspect of day-to-day animal care.

But they don't understand cell biology, pharmacology, the evolution of resistance, the difference between bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections, or the complex pathophysiological processes involved in diseases.

If they did, they'd be vets.

Wednesday when I took my goats to be disbudded by Goat Lady, I told her how the vet disbuds, taking breaks after each ten seconds, and asked her why she did it the way she did. "I've never had any problems," was her answer. That is a very typical farmer attitude: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The way I've always done it is good enough. This is how I was taught by someone else. Most of the time, this is good enough. Goats are pretty tough customers, basically. Also, in general I believe in the principle of benign neglect. I think premature intervention is the cause of a great deal of unnecessary complication and expense. I like to provide my goats with their basic necessities and leave them alone, for the most part. They tend to do just fine.

I'm not sure what my point is, here. I've sat here for fifteen minutes trying to write the next sentence. Is it that I trust the formal education of veterinarians more than the experience-based wisdom of farmers? No; that wouldn't be true. Is it that I want access to the technology and vast stores of information available through the the vet? Yes; that's closer.

The truth is I want both. I want to be wise. I want (and this so transcends goats or farming, this is everything, now) to grow my own store of experience based knowledge, the kind of wisdom that can ONLY be acquired through living. I want to be able to draw on a deep well of knowledge won through firsthand experience.

But I also want to be able to draw from other wells. No man is an island, right? What kind of bullheaded hubris is it to insist on working with only your own firsthand knowledge? Why, there's only one word for that attitude: STOOPID. I sure don't want to be stoopid.

I'm a nurse. I have a BSN. I've been through five years of University at a pretty prestigious school and I graduated with a damn good average. Before that I was a straight A student all through my scholastic career. I'm not trying to brag; I'm trying to explain that I am already biased toward book-learning, toward traditional, mainstream, formalized methodology. Towards vets, in other words. When I have a problem, I run as fast as I can towards science.

I'm actually trying to balance that tendency by paying more mindful attention to my own experience. It's actually easier for me to learn from the printed page than it for me to learn from experience. In school I was a wunderkind, but I'm kind of an idiot in the real, three-dimensional world. Sometimes I think that my decision to move to the country and start farming was all about trying to develop my hands and my heart for a while instead of just my brain.

Well. I've wandered pretty far afield from Cirrus and his issues. I hope the little guy makes it. I will certainly seek out the advice of farmers as well as vets in trying to help him. Wish him luck.


Nekkid Chicken said...

Didn't 'book learning' come from actual experience just put into books? I mean, learning just progressed from -- hoping, praying, knowing, doing, experimenting, doing, warehousing information into books to teaching. I do understand what you mean, I just think Goat Lady has settled into her 'rut' of doing things. And by doing so, will eventually become a dinosaur sucked back into the soil as we all will.

I hope that makes sense..

I also hope Cirrus makes a full recovery. I am with you though, I mostly leave my animals to be animals however, I do take care of them -- it's my choice.

Happy Easter

Aimee said...

thanks chicken, you too

Kim C. said...

Loved this super thoughtful entry. I know just what you mean -- I too value "wisdom" of doing/being/experiencing but I will never shake my intellectual self, nor do I hope to. I think it's all in the balance of them -- that's the pearl. I do think you can have your cake and eat it too. :) Take the best of both worlds.

Aimee said...

thanks Kim. It's been a long time since we got together. Would you like to come out and dye eggs tomorrow?

AnyEdge said...


What y might be trying to say is that you tend to be biased towards evidence. People who say "this is good enough because it's always worked." are dismissing the opportunity cost. And as time goes on, the opportunity cost gets REALLY large. I mean, if we did things the way we always have, we'd get what we alays got. Short lifespans of gnarled misery.

But strict science often focuses on narrow parts of the system, and ignores whole system effects This medicine may treat a wound on a goat, but what about the health of the whole goat, or the whole herd, or the whole farm?

That's why I'm systems engineer: we get to use science at the holistic level.

Anonymous said...

I am very well trained in human medicine but definitely NEED my vet. Anyone who ignores science does so at their own peril. Just because you don't have a complication does not mean it doesn't exist. Granted there is not a lot of goat research but definitely use what is available. I think made a mistake with my goat drawing too much on my human medicine experience and not bringing him to the vet sooner. I hope Cirrus makes it.

el said...

"instead of just my brain."

I had my vet disbud and castrate (she did it with a scalpel; the sacks are still there) and she told me the science behind the disbudding and what to look for immediately afterward. She looks for a uniformly copper color on the skin at that point where the iron hits. She only does goats up to 10 days old if they're triplets, and up to 7 if they're singles or twins. The buds are too big/too prone to problems after that time, she thinks. And: she came here. She specializes in ruminants, and has many stories.

That said, I don't listen to 100% of what she says. She advised me against raw milk, for one, because our area has been known to harbor Q fever (yeah I hadn't heard of it either).

I do understand what you're experiencing. However, and continuing what you had mentioned about the wisdom of long-term farmers, they often have a certain intractability that really doesn't work well with where I wanna go with my own patch of earth. I certainly have been more experimental, more free, more scared to make all my mistakes BECAUSE I am six generations from farm life.

I guess what I am saying is trust your instincts, whether they were informed by booklearning or just an animalistic gut feeling.

I wish him well! Poor little buddy.

Steven said...

Why didn't you just take them to the vet? Was is a money issue?

Bad things do happen even at the vet, my neighbor's dog was given too much anesthetic and died - just for a routine procedure that the particular vet had performed many times on many dogs. There are no guarantees in life and usually we get what we pay for...

penlope said...

the vet is easily 5x the price, except when they hold special disbudding days when they are only 3x the price. The regular price of disbudding is approximately 1/2 the entire value of the goat. That said, I will always go to the vet. I have done both, last year the same "goat lady" that aimee went to fried my baby goat's brain, she also burned through a facial nerve and he got a terrible infection that could easily have killed him. Plus the obviously horrific pain of he process made me feel like a monster for not paying the extra money for anesthesia and a nerve block. In general I value the old farmers and the vets about equally, I like to get advice from both the vet and my goat gurus and then do what feels right to me. But I will always go to the vet for disbudding, allowing babies to suffer like that doesn't feel like right to me, not to mention the possibility of brain damage being higher with the farmer.

Gail V said...

What a sad, sad story about your little goat. I've already seen that he's better, so I'm glad. I liked your discussion. Husband wandered in, I said, "I like how this woman writes (on her blog). She's clearly pretty smart and also, straightforward"-- and then you talked about your academic history, to back me up.
I've had best friends furious because I didn't trust their country "wisdom" about animals. I want to see it from a scientist, in a book, truth be told. People always think they know things they don't-- me included. Show me the science. The internet has been a vast blessing for its research-ability.

Jerry said...

Country wisdom is usually based (albeit perhaps very loosely sometimes) on science but can be rather twisted over time from the person to person transmission which is so easily altered by personalities. I don't think the scientific process is totally immune to this but the rate of occurrence is so much lower due to peer reviewing.

Those who use country wisdom with high rates of success, I think probably still rely heavily on the scientific research of others and, when possible, the scientific process itself in their own work. And the best vets, I feel (with my limited experience) are the ones who are open-minded towards those who might have more practical experience with certain animals, and are always eager to gain a broader experience base themselves.

Personally, I feel that all of us should endeavor to gain as much information gathered by both the scientific and the practical communities, as well as being actively aware enough to gather our own experiential knowledge.

As I have written at my own blog, I run into this on our family farm on a somewhat regular basis. Obviously I tend to rely on scientifically gathered information as well, but I agree totally with those who have commented that balance is the key. Go figure!

Jerry said...

I wanted to add...I have no experience with goats at all but the vet's process sounds like pretty good common sense. I'd have to agree with your husband that you would likely be best off by learning the vet's method and doing it yourself. It sounds like you have the personal experience and the right temperament.

Just like I know I am going to have to learn to castrate, sooner or later...though I'm damn sure going to do it as little as is absolutely possible once I do have the ability and the decision.

Penelope said...

The problem with learning the vet's method and doing it at home is that the vet's method involves anesthesia and a nerve block. Sorry aimee, I won't judge you for doing it at home, that is how the vast majority of goats are disbudded, but I can't help but think it's cruel. I know they only yell for a minute, but then so do babies when they are circumcised. I would be against disbudding altogether if it weren't for the potential injuries involved with leaving them on. I don't know, it's a tough subject, in general I'm all about learning to do as much as possible yourself and lowering expenses as much as possible, but I can't get on board with denying anesthesia for excrutiatingly painful procedures, and there's no way that holding a red hot iron on a head untill in burns down to the skull isn't excrutiating.

Aimee said...

I know it's excruciating and I won't try to argue it isn't - but I'm still going to try to learn to do it. It's not worth the strife in my marriage to pay the vet fee. I know - I would also feel way better giving them anaesthesia, but it's just not going to be possible. What I can do is a) let the ones we are going to eat grow horns. If they become horrible butts we'll just eat them early. and b) get Banamine from the vet before I do it and that way they will at least have decent pain control for the aftermath. I know the actual procedure will still be awful, but I can avoid situations like Cirrus' this year and rest easier knowing they have some relief.
I hope you can actually not judge me. We'll see.

Garden Lily said...

I'm a city kid, so it seems sad to me that the procedure is used at all - I like your idea of letting some grow horns, if you are going to eat them anyhow. Having said that, Aimee, I am sure you would be very capable to learn this technique yourself, with your knowledge of the sciences, willingness to learn from experience (and observing others), and your respect for the goats themselves.

I think there is validity to all types of knowledge, just as there are various types of medical treatment - doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, accupuncturists, and various types of treatments - prescription, herbal, etc. They all have something to contribute to overall "knowledge".