September 6th, 2013, just 7 months after getting goats, I went to do chores and saw Berta in the goat pen, slightly laying, struggling to sit up. I swear once she saw I was coming, she lay out and stopped moving.
As a complete newbie in the goat world, I lost it. I started crying and was too panicked to think clearly. She was so still and motionless I thought she was dead, but shallow breaths told me she was still alive. I went up to the farm house and told my mom Berta was extremely sick. She told me that the evening before, when my dad did chores he noticed she had acted a little funny. Apparently she was in their hut, while Juniper was still out browsing. When my dad put feed out she ran right through the pan, and then turned and started eating. He said it was almost like she couldn’t see, but he also thought maybe something spooked her, and that’s why she ran through her feed. Upon hearing this I was thinking the worse, that this was the end of something, not the beginning.
I got a few random supplies, and headed back down to the goat barn. Berta hadn’t moved and was still laying motionless. She looked so bad I called my mom and told her to tell my dad to bring the gun down. I was thinking the best choice would be to put her out of her misery. My dad came down, sans gun, but after taking one look at her asked if she was even alive. I made some panicked postings on a goat forum, the consensus was to treat for goat polio and listeriosis as they have similar symptoms. Of course we didn’t have the necessary supplies, so I made a mad dash to the feed store while my mom called the vet. The vet got there earlier than scheduled, but said he didn’t think she would make it. She was just too far gone, and goats are difficult to keep alive. He told my mom he could give her some shots, but it’d be a miracle if she made it. My mom called me and let me know, and asked if we should give her the shots or put her to sleep. I truly felt the right thing to do would be to put her to sleep, but a little whisper said to give her a chance. I gave the go ahead to give her shots and let her have a chance. I spent most of the rest of the day doing research, praying, and sitting with Berta.
We still weren’t sure what exactly was happening, but she had a fever, was unconscious, and drooling like crazy. Although it could have been goat polio, I was leaning towards listeriosis. Here’s an excerpt about listeriosis from the Merck Manual:
“Initially, affected animals are anorectic, depressed, and disoriented. They may propel themselves into corners, lean against stationary objects, or circle toward the affected side. Facial paralysis with a drooping ear, deviated muzzle, flaccid lip, and lowered eyelid often develops on the affected side, as well as lack of a menace response and profuse, almost continuous, salivation…” “Encephalitis is the most readily recognized form of listeriosis in ruminants...The course in sheep and goats is rapid, and death may occur 24-48 hours after onset of signs; however, the recovery rate can be up to 30% with prompt, aggressive therapy.”
30 percent chance of recovery? We didn’t know what to think or expect. Everyone probably thought I was insane even trying to get her better. But I decided to try, we gave her Vitamin B Complex for the chance it was goat polio, and large doses of penicillen every 6 hours for the listeriosis. I gave Berta a shot before I went home, and expected to find her dead in the morning.
I’ll never forget going back to the farm the next day. I lived farther away then, so had a 15 minute drive to the farm. I prayed, and made plans for what to expect. I didn’t even get any syringes ready because I figured she’d be gone. Imagine my surprise when I got close enough to the goat pen to see inside. There Berta was, standing. She wasn’t better, she could only stand, head down, drooling. I went back up to tell my parents, who were extremely surprised, and got her medicine ready. After getting shots and sitting with her awhile, I quickly realized that her road to recovery was going to be slow. Very slow. Although she was standing she could not swallow, so food, water, were all out of the question. I quickly realized we were going to have to figure something out when it came to the food and water. We decided to start tubing her electrolytes. We hoped at the very least to keep her hydrated. We had never tubed an animal before. It’s crucial to get the tube into the stomach, not the lungs. If you tube into the lungs you kill the animal. Talk about pressure. But it went well. My husband was so awesome, he stopped by on his lunch break to help tube her.
A few days after tubing her, she started moving her head side to side. She moved around better, but it was clear she couldn’t see at all. I’d heard they could regain their sight, but one eye in particular was cloudy. I was cutting branches and putting in the goat pen for Juniper, and poor Berta would amble over to the branches and wag her tail. She could smell those leaves, but was completely unable to grab and pull them off. Much less chew. I felt so bad for her. She kept showing she had the will to live, I couldn’t give up. So, like a completely insane person, I took a walk with a plastic sack picking leaves. I picked leaves from all the trees I knew they liked, and put them in the blender with some water and molasses. It wasn’t a completely smooth mixture, but no chewing would be required. I went down to their pen, and spoon fed her the leaves. She wagged her tail, and although it was messy, it did the trick. I spoon fed her a few times a day for about a week and a half. Finally she was able to chew on her own, but she couldn’t pull the leaves from the trees! At this point she could walk short distances, still unable to see, but I would continuously whistle or sing something silly so she would know where to go. I would pick her leaves and put them in her mouth. About a week later she was able to start browsing a little more on her own. By the end of September we stopped giving her antibiotics and held our breath. She didn’t relapse, but just steadily improved. It was slow, and afterwards she looked horrible. Here’s a before and after picture…
That September was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Everyone kept suggesting that she may still have to be put to sleep, because it was a very, very slow recovery. I was adamant that as long as she had the will to live, who was I to give up? Everyday it seemed there was one tiny, little improvement, and it gave me hope.
Berta has made a complete recovery. In fact, you wouldn’t know that she was ever so sick. She ended up not being blind in one eye, and can see as well as everyone else. She is pretty fat and sassy, and if it all went accordingly, should have babies in April. I’ve already decided if there is a girl, her name needs to be Miracle...because it’s a miracle Berta lived and had the chance to have babies.
My name is Monica, I'm passionate about farming, food, and the humane treatment of livestock.