This little goat is in the midst of quite a battle. She and a few of her cousins were sick last month. We treated them and they all recovered. But then Eleanor got sick again. She had coccidiosis followed by a very bad case of intestinal worms that just wouldn’t go away. We tried the treatments we’d always used before, and they didn’t work.
I went out to the barn a couple of weeks ago to check on things and Eleanor was down. There is a certain way goats lie when they’re dead, or dying, and that’s the way she was lying. I saw that she was alive, but barely so. She had flies on her face and was inert. I sat with her a while, comforting her and being very very sad. I knew this meant I had to do the worst, saddest, most gutwrenching job on the farm.
I went into the house and got the gun I would have to use to euthanize Eleanor. I sat it in our RTV and went into the barn stall get her. But when I picked her up she showed some unexpected signs of life. I managed to get her to stand, wobbily. I decided there might still be some hope for her.
We experimented with other treatments, including different dewormers and nutritional supplements. She got better. It was a success story I’ve been looking forward to blogging about. She still keeps her distance from the other goats, who bully their weak and sick, but she’s eating, walking around and her diarrhea is gone. This was the recovery we expected the first time.
But now Eleanor has taken another turn. She’s developed bottle jaw. This is caused by anemia and is often, in our experience, fatal. So we’ve launched into action, trying new ways to improve her iron intake and battle the worms. My guess is that the weakness she experienced while recovering from the first two bouts made her susceptible to this. I can’t ever remember having one goat go through such much life-threatening illness over such a short period of time.
We’re hopeful that Eleanor is going to survive this. She has a good appetite and a good attitude.
Let’s hope her human caretakers make wise decisions.
But none of this should be happening. We attended a workshop at the Virginia Tech veterinary school yesterday on the management of intestinal worms in goats. The worms are so resistant to deworming medication, and develop resistance so rapidly, that in order to have a good chance at defeating them it’s necessary to administer high doses of cocktails of two or more separate deworming drugs. Even then there will be mortality. I asked the professor who was conducting the training how farmers dealt with this before the invention of these drugs. Surely they couldn’t have been suffering losses like this, I said. She acknowledged that they didn’t. Basically, she said, humans essentially told nature that we can do a better job of controlling intestinal parasites in small ruminants than it can. As a result, over the last 20 years we have turned what was a rare occurence into an everyday deadly problem on the farm. At this rate it will be impossible to raise goats in 20 more years. They’ll just be killed off by drug-resistant superworms.
Those who have been reading this blog a while know I come back to this subject often. I also discussed it at length in the first episode of our podcast. It is a very difficult challenge for us as we try to farm sustainably, and with compassion for our animals.
One option would be to go to a zero-intervention model, close our herd, and allow the worms to kill off all the animals who don’t have natural resistance to them anymore. Then we could rebuild a herd from animals whose genetics haven’t been ruined by human overuse of drugs. But that would mean letting animals like Eleanor die. We’re not willing to do that, even though intellectually I know it might be the best thing for the entire herd.
So we’re still wrestling with the problem and trying to figure out what is best.
One step at a time. For now, we just want Eleanor to get well.