It’s amazing how quickly the weather can change in our area.
Just the other day it was so cold that I could boil water, throw it outside into the air, and it would freeze into a powdery dust before it had a chance of hitting the ground.
It was so cold that just walking to my barn to feed the animals would make you numb. It was so cold that it hurt to breathe. And it was so cold that I spent a full week preparing for the cold and how to keep my animals warm.
These days we have goats, rabbits and chickens with a couple of ducks. This past week everyone was on lockdown in the barn away from the frigid windchills that were in full force outside. I had heat lamps set up, all the heated water buckets in my possession plugged in and enough straw that I may have had a small field’s worth just in my barn. It was my mission to keep my animals safe and warm.
Animals are tricky creatures though. While I was busy preparing the weekend prior, I noticed one of my goats, Gunnel, acting a bit off. To someone that was visiting, they most likely wouldn’t have even noticed, but something just seemed different that day.
So, I watched her throughout the day as she ate plenty of hay and drank plenty of water. Usually as long as they keep eating, they are really fine and I realize that I am always just paranoid that something will happen. I decided that Gunnel must just be mad at the other goats and was deciding to be anti-social. I checked on her one last time before I went to bed that night and she was resting nicely with her buddy Harper the goat at her side.
I went down the next morning to feed like I normally do and Gunnel, who normally nearly knocks the feed bucket out of my hands, wasn’t in any mood to get up. I fed everyone and then came back to her to try to figure out what was going on. I was able to have her stand up, which is always a good thing. A goat that won’t stand up is pretty much a sign that they are towards the end regardless of what you do.
I went inside and found one of my goat thermometers (they have their own because they get their temperature taken rectally). Goats are supposed to be at least 101 degrees. Miss Gunnel was chilling at a mere 94. I called my vet and had to leave a message for the operators to pass onto him. I switched on a heat lamp and placed it right over her and grabbed a bunch of thick blankets from the house. Over the course of two hours I was able to raise her temperature by only one degree.
At that point I realized that if I couldn’t get her temperature up, she was not going to be able to recover. This is the part where I brought Gunnel from the barn and into our house.
My boyfriend Matt, as sweet as he is some days, has issues with two things most in life. The first one is messes and anything that may make a mess and the second is animals. I think he is of the mentality that they are nice to look at as long as they don’t come too close. How he has survived me for the past five years I have no idea. After the realization of the idea that Gunnel was going to be in the house under my care until she recovered was an ordeal of its own. But anyone that knows me knows that my daughters and my animals are my world. Nothing or no one can change that.
Miss Gunnel was blanketed and surrounded by attention. She has always been a friendly goat. She was at the La Porte County Fair with Mia a couple of years ago and this past year she became part of the Animal Shelter Kids Camp, where every kid in attendance had a chance to milk her. And she loved every minute of it.
Gunnel was born a triplet, which is rare for her breed. Her face came out crooked based on how she was in her mother’s womb and she always had an almost grin on her face every day after. While I knew she would never win any beauty contests, we brought her to our farm along with Harper and Gunnel’s daughter Loralei all the way from Kansas.
I had Gunnel in the house that day for a full 12 hours at least. And in that time, I managed to get her temperature up to 99 degrees. She still wasn’t interested in food, and I was pushing vitamins, probiotics, and sugar water into her hoping she would turn it all around.
After many calls between my vet and I, we exhausted everything that I was able to do. My vet came out and about that time Gunnel started having seizures. It turns out she had what is known as Goat Polio. It’s not contagious and it is more a thiamine deficiency. That doesn’t show signs until usually it is too late.
Doc Smith tried to save her, and we ran an IV of Thiamine into her. Earlier in the day I was giving her B1 which has Thiamine in it, but for some reason she wasn’t responding like she should have. We watched her while the fluids dripped into her weakened body. And before the IV had finished its job she took her last breath. The vet tried CPR multiple times but couldn’t bring her back.
My little Mia, who wants to grow up to be a vet arrived home shortly after. With tears in her eyes she gave her Gunnel a big hug and clipped some of her fur to keep. We cried for hours.
It was only after a bit when Lexi, my oldest daughter, came to tell me the same thing my mom always told me anytime something went wrong. Lexi told me everything happens for a reason.
Gunnel was bred and was due to have most likely twins mid-March. Lexi concluded that maybe she knew something was wrong with her babies and didn’t want them to go to Heaven alone. Which in all reality only made us cry more. Leave it to an almost 16-year-old to come to grips with things better than her own mother.
It is never easy to lose an animal. Especially when you consider each one to be your family. I tend to be what folks would consider over attached.
The next day I called my wonderful neighbors at Otis Valley Farms and asked if he had any type of machinery that could dig through the frozen ground. At this point in the year it is frozen deeper than what I can chisel out. Within moments, it seemed, a tractor arrived and dug a spot for Gunnel and her kids to be buried. And on went life here on the farm.
The rest of the goats seemed to have noticed, but hopefully think she went on to another great event where she will be loved and have her head pet. We moved onto the polar vortex history making windchills in the days that followed and have been slowly trying to get back into the swing of things. Thankfully we did not lose anyone to the cold and the animals were more than happy to see the outdoors once the weather calmed down.
And without realizing the entirety of it all, life goes on. Snow melts, baby goats will soon be born from my other does that are here and life will continue. Only now Miss Gunnel won’t be watching us across her pasture chomping her hay and harassing our goat guardian Pyrenees Bell. She will be instead watching over us and all of the goats to come.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org