Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sometimes farming is really hard

Warning - this is not a happy post and has no knitting content.

A few days ago, Iris left a comment on here asking about our smallholding, and in my reply comment I mentioned that the more animals you have, the greater the chances that things will occasionally go wrong.

Well, ain't that the truth. This time of year is always slightly worrying for us, because the kids born in Feb / March have their first shearing at the beginning of August, and as the act of shearing brings the bucks into rut, the buck kids become sexually mature at this point and so have to be weaned and separated from the does. The combined stresses of shearing and weaning can sometimes result in the kids developing oedemas, which is basically fluid retention, and generally displays itself under the belly or between the front legs. It's a difficult condition in that there's no hugely effective treatment and not much is really known about it by vets (who generally don't learn much about goats during the 7 years they study anyway). The standard treatments are basically either diuretics, antibiotics or steroids, but most often it either clears up by itself or it doesn't.

Most goat breeders, at least in the angora world, generally say "they either live or they die, regardless of the treatment".

We have had oedemas before and thankfully the kids have always made a full recovery. About 10 days ago one of our buck kids, Pig Pen, showed the first signs of having an oedema. The weird thing is that they don't behave as though they are ill. He continued to be his usual perky, cute self, and was eating very well. We don't like to routinely use antibiotics, and as they are not a proven treatment of oedema we decided to just treat him with diuretics.

Yesterday evening I got home, and Eddie told me he'd had to call the vet out and have him put to sleep. While he'd been perfectly perky at bedtime on Thursday evening, when Eddie went out on Friday morning he was hunched, and obviously in pain. The vet came straightaway and took him back to the surgery for tests. She found urine in the fluid in the oedema, which means that the oedema was not the only thing wrong with him - somwhere there was a rupture which had caused the urine to leak into his body. Unfortunately, surgery didn't offer a cure, and the kindest option was to have him put down.

Thankfully, this has happened to us very rarely, but you always feel as though you've failed in some way. You can't help wondering if you could have done something differently. It hits Eddie hardest because he sees himself as the "primary carer", and he is always the one who is "on the ground" and has to make the decision.

Some people might find it weird that we feel this way, since we do raise some of our animals purely for meat, and we do cull out each year because this is a commercial enterprise, and we can't keep everything we breed. Animals which either don't make the grade, and therefore are not good enough to breed from, or those we can't sell, have to go for meat.

I'm confident that all our animals have the best possible life they could, and I don't feel guilty about those that go for meat. We care for them from start to finish, even down to only using local family abbatoirs where they are treated with respect and dispatched quickly and humanely. I know meat doesn't come conveniently wrapped in little packages - and I feel no guilt in eating meat I've been prepared to raise and care for from birth to death. I'm not saying it's easy to load a bunch of lambs into the trailer knowing they're going to their death, but it's a fact of life if you're a meat eater - animals have to die to give us the meat we eat.

But somehow it's not the same at all when you have to have an animal put to sleep. Oh, it's so hard when an animal dies before its time. And he was such a beautiful kid too. He was really looking promising - showing great potential as a breeding buck. That's the other sodding thing about farming. It's never the poor quality animals that you lose like this.

Our only consolation is that we gave him the very best life we could, short though it was.

I hope we never lose that compassion for our animals, and never come to see them simply as units of production. Somehow, I don't think we ever will.

Goodbye Pig Pen. We'll miss you.


Blogger scarletprincess said...

sorry about you losing pig pen. i guess there are other things about farming which outweigh the sorrows of it, so i hope you all feel better soon

3:09 pm  
Blogger Iris said...

I'm sorry about pig pen. It must be hard to lose an animal like that, even if it couldn't be helped. As rewarding as I imagine your lifestyle can be, it must be hard sometimes...

8:37 am  
Blogger Iris said...

And thank you for your comments on my blog. We collected the spinning wheel yesterday and I love it. I have already plied some handspun (dropspindle) with it and it runs very smoothly.

You mention that you could send me some fleece to spin - I'm currently running out of roving, so if you are selling fleece I'd be quite interested (although I would have to get some carders, as I've only used combed roving so far...)!

9:03 am  
Blogger PURLPOWER said...

that's a really sad story Carolyn. thank you for sharing it with us though. I think it's really important that you do tell us about the down side of your lifestyle working with animals rather than just the idyllic side. I would love to hear more about what you do each day. Hopefully I can talk to you about it more if you come to our Knitty meetup in Bristol late this year.

3:26 pm  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Thanks so much for all your comments. It was good to get that off my chest on Saturday!

Yes, life certainly isn't all "hello birds, hello sky" but the highs do definitely far outweigh the lows. I'll keep trying to report a faithful account of this side of my life. Mind you, I think I'll spare you all some of the smellier details ;)

Purlpower - can't wait for the Get Knitted day trip - it will be great to meet and chat!

6:55 pm  
Blogger Highland Annie said...

Aww what a cutie ! Life does throw some cruel turns at us at times. We are mid getting ready to move on site to our small holding and build the main house (yay trailer living !) where once up i shall sink myself into breeding sheepies that you hardly find up here in Scotland, possibly an angora or 6 also as my wheel seems to have a very deep and meaningfull relationship with angora.

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Jess said...

Ah, I am sorry about Pig Pen! But thanks for the informative and well considered blog entry - PP will not be forgotten!

5:32 pm  
Blogger Tracy said...

Poor Pig Pen, still it happens and like you said, you did what you could.

3:53 pm  
Blogger cccavicch said...

Hi, Carolyn. So sorry to read about Pig Pen. I hope you're feeling better, and do believe that you gave hime the best life you possibly could.

Carolyn in NYC

10:29 pm  

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