Jan 7, 2009


There are times in farming when we don't make decisions based on a business model but on the heart. Ruby is one such time.

We first heard about Ruby when a friend asked us if we wanted two Nubian does. We are always willing to consider adding potential milkers to the production line so we asked for more information. Seems he had a friend who was unable, due to some family situations, to care for these two purebred Nubian does. They had never been bred, so obviously weren't in milk. There would be no guarantee that they could be bred and come into milk as they were pushing three years old but there was always the potential for that down the line. We said sure, we were interested and went to take a look. The does were pitifully thin, but beautiful. You could tell that they were from good stock originally. They would definitely be a project, but it was worth a gamble, all things considered. Cash and registration papers were exchanged, we loaded up the sisters and headed home. On the way home I looked at the papers and my heart sunk. Ruby and Priscilla were not TWO and a half, they were FIVE and a half years old. At that age it was incredibly unlikely that we would ever be able to successfully get them bred and kidded and into milk and right now there just isn't the flex in the checkbook to accommodate "pets". The deed being done, however, we brought them home, got them settled into the quarantine pen (all new goats to Swede farm spend the first couple of months in quarantine for the protection of the herd as well as their own health), had their blood drawn to make sure that they don't have the unfortunately common goat ailments that we work hard to keep from our herd and started eating. And eating. Boy could those girls eat!

Well, the months of quarantine flew by. The girls were still thin but filling out. Having passed the blood tests and the time of quarantine we moved them in with the dairy herd. They were giants! Yes, still thin, but SO tall and lanky! They were really beautiful goats, you could tell. I started thinking "if only..." for I so wished we could see what babies from them would look like!

Then one day we came out to the pen and Ruby, the thinner of the twins was down and wouldn't come to the fence. She looked at us, but wouldn't get to her feet. We went in, stood her up and realized that she wouldn't put weight on one of her legs. Goats jockey for position, and it is not unusual for one to get hurt, be sore, limp for a while. We try to arrange pens so that it is minimized but still it does happen, especially when introducing new animals so this wasn't unexpected. When we helped her to stand she stood and ate hay, feed and drank. We realized that getting up and down was hard for her but that she had a good appetite and was doing relatively well, so we separated her again, fed her and decided to just allow her time to recover. All went well, with help getting up and down to get to her feed and drink (and some goat pain reliever) she seemed to be doing fine and we assumed that it was a matter of time until Ruby was 100% again. Well, she hadn't been at 100% due to weight, so maybe 80% and headed towards 100%.

Throughout all this was Priscilla. Quickly growing hale and hearty she never-the-less did not leave her sister's side to go do goat things, she stayed. When Ruby was on her feet and swaying, Priscilla was there, so close as to almost seem to be holding her steady. When Ruby was laying down Priscilla was right there, keeping Ruby warm with her body. When another goat was nearby she stood over Ruby as if to protect her.

Then, on day four we went out and Ruby was worse. Much worse. She could not stand at all. We stood her and where before she would stand strong on three legs and eat she flopped down like a rag doll. None of her legs were coordinated or working, she was very weak. She was not dehydrated, she ate well, she just could not stand. At all. There are several ailments that are opportunistic, they hit goats that are already weakened. We considered one after the other, started treating for what seemed most likely and hoped for an overnight improvement of some kind.

But there was no improvement.

We discussed it and decided. We simply could not afford expensive, protracted treatment for a goat that was not contributing to the farm. That is the business decision. That is what our heads screamed at us. We knew that the vet would be only too happy to put the charges on our account but our account was already very large with no end in sight. If we were to spend resources on an animal it should be reserved for those animals that were likely to bring in income, either in the form of milk or babies. Ruby was not going to do either. The decision was made, when Tim got home he would have the hard task of putting her down. The one benefit was that we knew that she was in pain and that her pain would be ended. We explained it to the children. Sara, who had been caring for Ruby was especially sad. She nodded, but confided "But I really *like* Ruby." I held Sara (all five feet seven inches of her) in my lap as she cried. She left, then returned with a crumpled up ten dollar bill--all she had saved from her recent rabbit sales and handed it to me. "For Ruby" she said. Then other children did the same. They all wanted to contribute so we could possibly take her to the vet. Sweet children, but an X-Ray alone would run us almost $100! And then there was the fact that honestly, I didn't see positive outcome from a trip to the vet. We still had a down animal...in pain...so we discussed it again and they all reluctantly agreed. Ruby was in pain. We cared for her. We wanted to end her pain and this seemed to be the only way.

Tim came home. We went to the pen together and all took turns saying goodbye to Ruby. He put Ruby on his shoulders...for a thin, undernourished goat she was still heavy. He struggled to his feet and Tim and Christin started hiking to the back of the property. I went inside, sad, but relieved that her pain would soon be over. But I hurt inside, for Ruby, for Priscilla and for my tender-hearted children.

A few minutes later Tim was back. And shocked me with what he said.

"Are we sure?"

Of course we were sure! Don't drag this out any longer! This was already so hard, why revisit the situation?

Well, he explained, he had struggled carrying her. She was still heavy, even thin. He had to put her down for a rest and she had walked over to some yaupon in the woods (a favorite goat treat) and started eating with obvious delight. He looked at her and an image of her sister Priscilla flashed before his eyes. He just wasn't sure...his heart was over-riding what his head was saying.

So we brought her back to her pen.

We called the children together again and told them that we would try the vet but that we could NOT afford expensive tests and procedures. We were just going to at least SEE what the vet had to say, perhaps we were missing something.

We loaded her in the back of the van and made the 20 mile trip. I walked in and Dr. Goodman chuckled to some students standing nearby "looks like we get to see a goat today!" I explained the whole situation, how she was basically a rescue goat, the history of her injury/illness, reminded them of the sizable nature of our current tab, told them how we were going to put her down ourselves, about the children breaking open their piggy banks (to the tune of $20) and that we did NOT have the funds for X-Rays, etc. He understood.

He thoroughly and gently examined Ruby head to toe. He had her suspended in a large sling and he examined the injured shoulder that triggered the downhill slide. He spent a lot of time looking at her feet and listening to her rumen and her chest. What he said shocked me.

He did not find an injury. What he found was a goat with an obvious history of sub-par nutrition. He was able to show us on her feet the impact of mineral deficiencies and inadequate feeding along with a likely pre-existing severe anemia. Basically what happened was that we were feeding her and feeling like because she had been gaining weight that she was doing better but in truth she was almost a time bomb. The years of not having optimal nutrition had taken their toll and she finally reached a point where it hurt even to stand and walk. Where we thought we saw a dislocation was really an area where her lack of muscle mass made normal movement seem almost grotesquely deformed. She did have the beginnings of pneumonia setting in from being somewhat immobile for almost a week, but that was to be expected. Her sister was not as bad as she, likely because she had probably always been the stronger sister so better able to withstand the deficits and likely had also been the one who, as queen of their little herd of two, got first dibs on food, minerals, etc. We do not hold their condition against the people that we got Ruby and Priscilla from. They obviously greatly cared for their goats and did their best, but Ruby just apparently needed something *more*.

Soooo...where does this leave us? We still have a goat who is too weak to even stand. She had pneumonia. She may be too far gone to save, she will never be bred, have kids and make milk for us. But she has a shot. We brought her home, have her cuddling up with her sister away from the rest of the herd. It will take lots of hands-on care, rigging up a sling and intensive therapy, physical and medical and nutritional. But she has a chance at life and she has Sara dedicated to fighting with her and for her. So for today at least, the story of Ruby is a story "to be continued"...


Mrs. Laughter said...

That brought me to tears! Having seen the two goats (I assume are these two...beautiful grey and the one laying in an empty trough) I feel like I know them and it brought me to tears wondering about them.....

Liese said...

Wow, Ruby is in good hands.