Aug 19, 2012

Cinnamon Sugar

Sugar leading the way...
In 2008 we made the trip to Idaho to buy our first Alpines.  It was purely business, I had no real desire to get into another breed of goats, I was perfectly happy with my first love, the LaManchas, having been dragged kicking and screaming into Nubians I did not need to deal with the logistics of adding a third breed--yet with dairy licensure in the future, we needed more milk!  When we were offered the chance to get some absolutely beautiful goats with great milk-producing potential, true junkie that I was, I just couldn't say "no".  I am forever thankful that I did not turn down the chance to bring home our Soldier-Mtn girls because they have been a large part of our dairy in so many different ways.  Our Alpines milk fabulously.  Their milk is sweet and mild. I love how expressive their ears are, you can look into the pasture and see if they are full of pep and curiosity or feeling under the weather just by looking at their ears.  They are inquisitive and often as not, if the goats are getting into something it will be one of the Alpines that is leading the gang.

My most favorite Alpine (and easily one of my two most favorite goats ever) was Cinnamon.  I believe Cinnamon was, in fact, the first goat that I ever profiled here on this blog.  Cinnamon was a goat hell-bent on destruction.  She routinely got herself into places that she should not have been.  I know that we would lose Cinn someday to a freak accident like falling out of a fifty foot tall tree or locking herself in some farm visitor's Smart Car in August or some-such fiddle-faddle and rot.  Instead we lost Cinn in the aftermath of a very difficult kidding.  The product of that kidding was Cinnamon Sugar, the only daughter that Cinnamon would ever have.  She was a lovely baby and while my heart was broken to have lost Cinn, I was consoled in a small way, to have Sugar.  I secretly hoped that she would have inherited her mother's spunk--but I had no idea how much stress and concern would end up being poured into Sugar's first few months.

At the very beginning we were amazed that Sugar had even survived her birth.  She was breech--and massively stuck.  I could not believe that any kid stuck for so long could come out alive but even when only her back legs and hips were out this goat was kicking up a storm.  A few weeks after her birth, despite the prophalactic measures of dipping her navel in iodine at birth, she developed an infection in her navel.  It responded well to antibiotic treatment and we all breathed a sigh of relief.   While cuddling Sugar a few weeks later, I realized that she had a large lump on her belly.  After carefully looking at it I concluded that she had a hernia and I was devastated!  I had been told that a goat that had a hernia was to be culled.  Hernias, after all, are genetic and passing along genetic faults is not the best idea.  At anyrate, dairy goats are to be bred, and milked, and how would a hernia repair hold up to repeated pregnancies?  It was with a very heavy heart that I made an appointment with the vet.  I expected to be told that there was absolutely nothing that could be done and that the only reasonable course of action was repair and life as a pet or to put her down.  While there is nothing wrong with having pets, this is a working farm and as all of us likely remember from "Charlotte's Web", there isn't much place for livestock that doesn't serve a purpose.

The vet examined Sugar and confirmed a hernia--an unbelievably large one.  The vet told us that a hernia that spanned the width of five fingers was considered large--on a calf weighing over a hundred pounds, not a two month old doeling weighing just twenty pounds.  The vet did hold out some hope, however.  While most hernias are genetic, some are caused by infection, as was clearly the case for little Sugar.  Further, we could expect that any repair, if successful, would not be strained by pregnancies at all.  The only question was, continued the vet, would this cost effective for us as a dairy?  What was the value of Sugar compared to other doelings that would not require surgery?  Was she of sufficiently good bloodlines to make it her offspring worth having had the repair done?

Thankfully my husband was neither a seasoned dairyman nor an experienced and savvy businessman.  He looked at Sugar, know how I had loved her mother Cinn,and got comfort from Sugar, and without hesitation agreed to the surgery.

Sugar came through surgery with flying colors and we brought her home, happy to have the stress behind us.  She stayed in the house, as many of our "babies" do when they need extra attention and Sugar still needed her incision watched and medications given.  The vet said that it wasn't necessary, but it made us feel better.  Sugar was all over the house, jumping on piles of laundry, wanting to join us at the table and it was clear that she was doing much better and would be outside with her buddies within a day or two.

On day three I noticed that she was less interested in her bottle than usual.  Within an hour after that disinterest in her bottle I saw that she seemed to have less energy.  Then I saw her squat to pee and as I called for one of the older girls to bring her outside I saw something that stopped the words in my throat.  Sugar was peeing blood.

We scooped her up, and rushed to the car, calling the vet enroute.  When we got to the animal hospital the vet on call started bloodwork.  While he was at his microscope I watched Sugar.  When we walked into the office and set her down she had wandered around exploring.  Not as active as she had been, but still on her feet.  Then she stopped wandering and just stood, head hanging down.  Then she lay down and looked around her.  Then her head settled to the ground.  Then even her ears drooped.  I felt as if I was watching her slip away, minute by minute.  When the vet burst into the room with the blood results, it wasn't a definitive diagnosis but it appeared that Sugar was suffering from an immune mediated response, likely a rare reaction to the anesthesia from surgery.   Her red blood cells were being destroyed and she was, in effect, bleeding to death.  Did we have a goat that we could use for a blood transfusion?  Tim rushed one of our older and abundantly healthy goats to the office, her blood was drawn and a transfusion was started.  I watched as tiny Sugar lay on the table with barely enough strength to even watch us as we worked around her.  Drip by drip the blood went in...and we watched an amazing transformation.  First her ears perked up, then her head came up and she looked around.  Then she got to her feet and step by step I saw her reverse the downward slide as if she were a goat in reverse.  We knew that she was truly edging back from the abyss when she started trying to dismantle the IV pole in her curiosity.

She stayed at the vet for five days and then came home spoiled and incorrigible.

Somewhere along the way she even developed her own Twitter following.

Spring slipped into Summer and the heat increased and intensified as we moved into a historic drought.  By the time we were evacuated for the wildfires in the Fall of 2011 Sugar seemed fully recovered.  She was a spitfire, full of all of her mother's energy and curiosity.  Where she was very much unlike her mother, though, was her size.  As the other doelings born that Spring grew into gangly adolescence, Sugar stayed tiny.  Fall turned into the horrible winter referred to here in this blog.  As we lost goats in that desolate Winter I just hung onto the thought "We can't lose Sugar.  Oh please, not Sugar!"  And we did not lose Sugar.  As we moved into Spring, though, we had to admit that although Sugar was now healthy, she was not what she should be.  Approaching her first birthday, Sugar should have been sleek and round, approaching her own first kidding.  Instead she remained small, not much bigger than a four month-old kid. 

What were we to do?  We really do not have the resources to have a farm full of "pets", yet it was clear that Sugar was not, nor would she likely ever be, a productive dairy goat.  This was the very decision that we faced early on when we thought that surgery was unlikely to be successful.  And yet, she was Sugar.  Battered and beaten down by the events of the previous months, we did not have it in us to make any hard decisions and we could not face any more loss.  So it was decided.  Sugar would stay to do what she had always done, remind us that life continues--even after loss.

With Spring came new babies and the desperate frenzy of kidding season, followed hard upon by peak production season.  We fed hundred of bottles to the new babies and made processed over a hundred gallons of milk weekly into cheese and chocolate milk.  The handful of yearlings that were not in milk, yet no longer needed the intense level of care of the little babies, were fed and cared for--but largely left to their own devices.  They were coasting, Sugar among the rest.  As the intense demands of Spring and early Summer faded away our thoughts turned to the next season, Fall and breeding.  As I looked over the goats, notebook in my hand, I planned breedings.  What buck with what doe?  When?  And then my eye was caught by Sugar.  Sleek and beautiful, full of energy and grace.  And surprisingly well grown.  While not at the size that one would expect an 18 month-old doe to be, she was also clearly not the stunted and tiny goat that she had been for so long.  She had surprisingly matured into a beautiful goat.  Show quality?  Likely not, but beautiful in my eyes, nonetheless.

While I am not quite ready to throw caution to the wind and plan to have her bred, it is now at least worth considering whereas even a few short months ago I would have never considered the possibility.   There are some lingering concerns, such as the fact that the vet cautioned us that the same life-threatening complication as she saw from the anesthesia could return, most notably if she were to receive the standard yearly goat vaccinations.  The fact remains that the goat that nearly died, that did not seem to have much of a future, has once again reminded us that there is always hope.

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