Saturday, February 5, 2011

Persy Breaks My Heart

It was a cold day that I buried Baby Persy. As I struggled through the snowy horse lot, dragging the wheelbarrow full of straw to cover her body, I was weighed down by a heavy heart. In death, she still looked sweet and beautiful. I held her to me for a few minutes before I placed her on the ground and covered her body. She was in my world so briefly, but I hated to lose her.

Persy was born on a Tuesday. That morning I was delighted to be invited to speak to a class at The Ohio State University that focuses on human usage of animals. I love talking about agriculture, and being able to share stories about my animals is a joy to me! I had a great time talking to the students about how my experiences as a farmer, as a butcher, and as a liaison to the ethnic community have shaped my view of human-animal interactions. It was a pleasure to be invited to address this class!

As soon as the class ended, however, I began to realize that a nasty headache was creeping up on me. Knowing I would be worthless until it disappeared, I hurried home and dove back into bed. A two hour nap, and the world looked much brighter! Unfortunately, I had a very short turn around time until my evening engagement. The Grandmother had kindly offered to take me & Auntie out to dinner at our favorite restaurant to celebrate Auntie's birthday! I had only a brief amount of time to run to the barn to check the animals -- who still had not been fed yet due to my morning activity and my afternoon headache.

Upon arriving at the barn, I discovered that a second wave of kidding had begun! Four new babies were in four different spots around the West End of the barn. It was obvious by the remnants of afterbirth that Sambo and Zahara had both given birth. Unfortunately, not a single baby resembled either mother! I grabbed the babies and moved them to a pen in the front of the barn, then drug each mother up there as well. With two mature mothers, and four babies, I was sure they would soon sort out which baby went with which mother. I continued rapidly checking each group of animals, but when I returned to the mothers & babies, there was still no apparent division of kids. Time was running short to dress for dinner, so I left without too much concern. Each baby appeared to have already nursed at some point, so I did not think there would be any issue with these good mothers.

After a wonderful birthday dinner at the Wine Shop in Canal Winchester, we returned to the farm. While The Grandmother prepared to spend the rest of her evening relaxing, I put my overalls back on and headed into the cold night. By this point, it was apparent that Sambo (a lovely Boer doe) adored the little tan & white boy. Zahara (on her second kidding) was claiming both the white girl and the brown boy. But that left one little girl, who was now looking quite poorly. I removed my glove and placed my finger in her mouth, finding it to be very cold. A terrible sign. I shoved the baby goat into the front of my overalls, covering her up with my warm Carhartt coat, and headed for the house.

Grandmother held the baby, while I returned to the barn to milk some colostrum out of Sambo. She was definitely not a fan of this situation, but Sambo was still too tired after labor to protest much. I then hustled back to house, where I found the baby was sadly too weak to nurse. The next task was to locate and clean the items to tube-feed the baby. A long stomach tube can be inserted down a baby's esophagus to get milk directly into the stomach if it won't suckle. Sambo's fresh milk dripped down into the baby's stomach through this tube, then I wrapped the baby in a towel and placed her near the register for heat. With this accomplished, I returned to the barn to FINALLY finish feeding some very grumpy goats!

Lo & behold, when I returned to the kitchen, the baby was warming up & was hungry! I warmed some more milk, and she happily nursed from a bottle. I joyfully held the baby, watching her strength return! Exhausted from the day, I tucked her in with a blanket in the kitchen and went off to bed. As newborns of any species do, she awoke twice during the night and cried to me to feed her. By late morning, she was moving around the kitchen as she wished and looked great! Grandmother & I christened her Persy for Perserverance The temperature was warming outside, so at noon I took her to the barn and gave her more milk. I re-introduced her to her siblings, and then did the morning chores.

At 4:00pm, I returned to the barn to feed Persy. She didn't drink much milk, but she was walking about contentedly, and then curled up in a pile of babies to sleep. All seemed well. At 7:00pm, I once again mixed up more milk and headed to the barn. There, to my despair, I found Persy limp & miserable. I rushed her back to the house, incredibly downhearted by this turn. I repeated the activities of the night before, but she did not perk up after this tube-feeding. I held Persy and rubbed her little limbs to get her circulation going. Eventually, I went to bed. She cried only once in the night, but had no interest in eating when I got up to hold her. By morning, I knew she was close to passing on. I held her while I drank my morning coffee. Her sweet little head lay on chest, and she soon took her last breath.

I berated myself vehemently over this loss. I told myself I should never have taken her back to the barn. In reality, though, that probably had nothing to do with it. After all, I had 16 other babies in the barn at that point that were doing just fine. and the temperature had not been overly cold. It was more likely that something was wrong with Persy and her birth mother knew it. I still don't know if she was Sambo's or Zahara's. Goats, however, will protect themselves & their offspring as best they can. If her mother recognized that something was not right with Persy, there is a chance she would disown her in an effort to save needed milk for the other baby that was healthy.

Some farm stories are happy: Orph is still doing great with his adopted mother! Other farm stories break your heart -- especially when a baby dies in your arms. This is a reality of the human-animal relationship. This is a part of the circle of life. I did everything I could for Persy in the absence of a birthmother. As much as humans may wish to think they control their world, however, such control is in the hands of a far greater power. As such, we must appreciate other lives for all that we can. Life is precious. Death should be respected. Babies should be treasured, for however long we have them.

Photo Caption: The Grandmother holds Persy on our happy morning together.

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