This week was thrown into disarray by a sick goat. All four of our goats are beloved but Anna (British Toggenburg in brown with white stripes on her face in the photograph) is my first goat. She and her friend Dulcie (the Anglo-Nubian with the long floppy ears beside her) arrived as newly weaned kids last summer amid all the stresses of the pandemic and after the tragic death of an especially beloved bottle-fed lamb.
I had never really even met a goat before Anna and Dulcie and I was ‒ and remain ‒ entranced by their combination of biddability and anarchy. Within a week of their arrival, they knew their names and would walk down the lane on leads as we took them out to browse the verges – goats are more browsers than grazers and enjoy consuming a wide variety of plants. After a winter in pens, we set Anna and Dulcie free in the spring – and within a fortnight had to buy electric fencing and then ‘pigtails’ (plastic covered metal posts that extend a fence upwards and have a curly bit like a pig’s tail at the top to pass the electric fence wire through) because nothing less would keep Anna out of the garden. Fences and gates mean nothing to the goats – they soar casually over and go where they please with the exception of Lilly, who seems to lack springs in her heels.
Goats are far more human oriented than sheep. Not only do they know their names and come when called, but they each clearly have a name for me and for Rosemary. I hear a distinctive bleat from Lilly as I pass her which is obviously her name for me. Goats also seek out affection – they come up to be stroked, enjoy kisses and, if either of us sits down outside and are spotted by the goats, we are rapidly surrounded by goats looking for cuddles.
So it was with alarm that I noticed on Monday morning that Anna was scouring – in other words, she had the runs. All goats wear collars or they slip through your fingers like water, so we caught her and, much to her disapproval, we dosed her with antibiotics in case she had an infection and with flugicide/wormer in case of internal parasites and then shut her and Dulcie into the stable. Normally you are supposed to isolate a sick animal but goats hate being alone and we didn’t want to compound our problems by making Anna upset and stressed. As the day went on, we hoped that the treatment was working and Anna seemed a bit subdued but not seriously ill.
When I went to do the hourly check at 9pm, that had changed. Suddenly Anna looked very ill, utterly dejected and was having explosive diarrhoea every five minutes. We took one look and knew this was serious and it was time to call the vet. Farm vets come to you. This may seem obvious but it is a blessing not to have to drive anywhere with a sick animal late at night. Farm vets also do their own on call, whereas many small animal practices have contracted this out – so my dog will see a stranger but my goat saw a senior member of our truly wonderful vet practice, after he had found our remote holding and bumped up the track to our door.
Farm vets have to take conditions as they find them so M found himself examining Anna by the light of two head torches, his and mine, as I held Anna’s collar and Rosemary leant gently on her when she objected to rectal temperature taking. He gave her specific antibiotic as an injection (not popular) and a drench, and left drugs for the next days but it was obvious that he thought our chances of saving her were 50:50 at best.
In such situations, spotting deterioration and acting fast is essential so I spent the night dozing and checking Anna hourly, each time half dreading opening the stable door in case she was worse or even dead. But she was still alive in the morning and by mid afternoon, she was looking decidedly better and starting to eat her plain diet of grass nuts and hay – eating is essential to keep the rumen working but plain dry food was clearly the way forward.
Despite a dreadful scene in the evening when giving Anna her next dose of antibiotics caused her to have a clearly agonising gut spasm, she continued to improve day by day. By Thursday she was an obstreperous convalescent, seeking to escape every time I opened a door and trying to chew the toggles off my jacket. On Friday, I released her and Dulcie and they bounced out of the stable and soared over the fence to freedom. My heart as light as their hooves, I returned to the house and keeled over in my chair for a much-needed nap.