Knowing When and How To Save a Life

July 3, 2017

When we should have been, preferred to have been, out celebrating Canada Day…we were instead nursing a small goat in her final hours…succumbing to pneumonia less than a day from when the signs first started to appear. A wee one who had never seemed quite up to the task of life, who’s mum hadn’t rejected her but wasn’t actively taking much of an interest in her. A tiny teammate to her small pony sized brothers.

A doeling. Not yet named though calling her ‘Scoop’ had been floated around given how many times we would bring her to her mama for a drink when her brothers were off galavanting. Then when it came to fill a prescription we would never use for antibiotics, ‘Tiger’ became her name for a couple of hours.

How much do you intervene?

This is always the question with goats. With livestock. What constitutes smart lifesaving measures versus potentially compromising the integrity of the herd. We want strength and resilience, not just pretty colours and striking blue eyes. Health and vibrance. Easy kidders, easy keepers, happy mamas.

When a proven, healthy mama who has confidently produced triplets for years says “this one is not going to thrive.” with her body language and mannerisms…you don’t want to believe her, but she knows. Mama goats, especially seasoned, experienced mama goats…they know better than us.

Should we have simply scooped her up for good and bottlefed her from the beginning? Filled her full of drugs and monitored her twenty-four seven?


But that’s not the farm we run and that’s not the way we want our herd to develop. Carefully monitoring her access to meals, supplementing with some extra love and care while looking for the occasional bouncy behaviour that would offer a bit of hope…keeping the necessary supplies on hand to get more extreme if needed…it hardly matters when pneumonia hits. It doesn’t change the repetitive act of playing out every day wondering if you should have done something differently – been more aggressive or simply administered more drugs as a “preventative”.

This part of keeping livestock never gets easier. There may be slightly fewer tears as a symptom of self preservation to keep the brain and heart from crumbling into a million devastated pieces, but it still hurts. There’s still a small mountain of grief to process along with replaying each decision, each interaction to see if there’s anything else that might have changed things or led to a different outcome.

Just weaker. Not thriving. Not meant to be.

It seems unjust and unfair, especially because babies and this isn’t a business, it’s a passion and an extreme version of a hobby that perhaps one day will offer more than a past time that pays for itself. But she was loved up to the last minute she was here. Those twelve hours to try and see if things could turn around were the hardest but the most clear this wasn’t going to lead to miracles – which is the sad reality that comes with all of this and only makes you appreciate the brilliance and fragility that still exists within the ones that do bounce and kick and jump with ease, such as Confetti’s twins at the top of this post. They make it all look so easy, which makes the ones that stand less of a chance stick out so much more.

I don’t have any big morals or advice to impart (other than to perhaps not offer advice on a situation that has already come to an unfortunate close, though questions and words of comfort are of course more than welcome). There moments where we realize how far we’ve come and how much more we have to learn. Every day is an opportunity for celebration and devastation – depending on how you look at it or what you choose to take from any and everything that might be thrown at you.

Today we’re choosing to celebrate, even if it comes with more heartache to repair.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Anna July 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    I remember interning, and my mentor farmer came in for morning coffee from the barn guarded and quiet until we were done talking and chatting over breakfast. Under her sweater was a premature lamb born too soon to a ewe that was a first time mum and had been rejected outright.
    The discussion was whether we try to save her, euthanise her or let nature take its course. I opted for euthenise, but was outvoted by the try to save her camp.
    After 24 hours of trying to save her it became clear her lower intestine hadn’t developed enough yet for her to digest the colostrum we were trying to feed her by eye dropper. We switched strategies and let nature take its course.

    I remember thinking about the impossibility of life and how astounding it is that it ever actually works the way its supposed to. Sometimes life is just too much to ask of such a little creature.

    big hugs to you and your broken heart.

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