You know how when you start something up, you have all these goals and ideas. I had big ideas, huge and I was so ready to do it all right now! 5 years down the road now, I’ve realized that life doesn’t allow you to do it all right now. Sometimes life gets in your way. Sometimes thats just lifes way of saying to you, “Crazy lady if you don’t slow down you are going to burn out and never meet your goals because you will quit.” Well thank you life, I’m Nicole and I burned out. Last year, I had so many plans for the blog, for our farm, for our family and then life beat the hell out of it all. Its really easy to love farming when everything is going so perfect and you are getting eggs, milk and meat all the time, when your neighbors love you and your farm, when all the animals are healthy and happy. But when things are not perfect, its a chore just to go outside and many days you may even find yourself ready to just give it all up. Before you do that, read this update, it may help make your decision easier.
Going into spring season last year, things were looking great. I had 1 pregnant goat, who was confirmed to be carrying triplets, seeds were sprouting, rabbit Stu had a new girlfriend, we planted a new fruit tree orchard, literally everything was going beautifully. I don’t know if I got complacent or if I just wasn’t prepared for what would come. Everyone still to this day tells me its not my fault, but theres nothing anyone can say to dissuade my guilt. Things continued to progress as we moved toward a warmer spring, but in April we went from warm to hot seemingly overnight. Everyone who follows our Facebook page already knows we lost Max our wether goat at the beginning of May so this won’t be a surprise for most, but for me I still look back and ask myself why I didn’t do more and things differently.
Ok back to my story. Max was our 1 year old male goat. We banded him when he was 8 weeks old as most people do with their bucklings to wether them. We continued to feed alfalfa hay while he was growing but i found out later I continued for far too long. Heres a good way to explain hay, Timothy hay is like only eating salad everyday, Orchard Grass hay is like eating salmon everyday, and Alfalfa is like eating cheeseburgers everyday. So we fed him the equivalent of cheeseburgers for almost a year when he didn’t need the extra calories does need. And when the heat increased so dramatically, Max didn’t adjust his water intake fast enough and he developed urinary stones. The alfalfa has increased calcium that he had been on for almost a full year before changing him and all that calcium had built up in his system and caused blockages. Additionally the blockage would have been more manageable had it not been for the large scar tissue from his banding at 8 weeks old making his urethra extremely underdeveloped. On top of all this, his condition wasn’t caught for a couple weeks because he was such a loving and lively goat that his behavior didn’t really change. Until the morning it did.
I found Max hiding behind the goat house, unwilling to come see me or eat even his favorite animal crackers. The vet was my first call, and our vet is amazing, she made time for him right away. We decided to attempt some medications because we didn’t really know how bad it was. He was very unhappy with me for giving him yucky meds. When you are going through all these things you think it will be better to be less invasive and conservative, but looking back not only would my bank account have been better off (not that it matters because I would have spent every dime I had and sold myself if it could have saved his life) but if I had said no lets be super aggressive and get it out of him now from day one, maybe we would have been more successful. Wethers who get urinary stones only have a 50% chance of survival. Knowing the odds, and thinking that I would be able to help him beat this, we went home with the meds and instructions for trying to get things moving. For days we tried and tried, just when we thought things were improving he would slide back again. Back to the vet again, this time for the more aggressive surgery. Writing all this down just makes me cry and want to quit all over again, but i need to share this story to save others. I need people to learn from me and Max, it gives his life and death meaning. So back at the vet, he was opened up and flushed out, he did so great, and we made the decision to leave him open so anything farther up could get out. Things seemed to improve a bit for a few more days. The temps had dropped a bit, he was drinking and eating a bit more. We all thought he was going to recover. About 2 weeks after this all began I went out with breakfast and meds, and found him crashing and unable to get up. I had recently just had surgery and wasn’t suppose to lift anything over 10 lbs, but I didn’t care. I grabbed blankets and called for help, we carried him into the bathroom, added a heat lamp and got a heating pad and more blankets. He was fighting but his body was done. We spent the remaining hours we had comforting him, sitting on the tiny bathroom floor with him, snuggling him, giving him his favorite treats and water from a syringe, the kids loved on him, and I cried with him in my lap until our vet could come help us help him over the rainbow bridge. This was by far the hardest and most heartbreaking experience I had in the last 5 years. Nothing could prepare me for this loss, for the anger that came after at myself and for the emptiness I would feel and his mother Lavender would begin to show quickly. We had Max cremated and his ashes were spread in a big apple orchard to nourish the trees for years to come.
Our Max, gone but not forgotten
Things I learned that I want to share, urinary stones can be prevented by switching to Orchard grass hay for wethers when they are close to being full grown, soaking pelleted orchard grass hay in water before feeding during warm weather can help with increasing water intake and they view it as a treat, be prepared and have ammonium chloride on hand at all times to help break up blockages at the first sign of trouble, and the thing I would have done had I known, pay for surgical castration if you plan to keep your wethers as pets, the survival rate if stones occur goes up to 80% if I remember correctly. We adopted Lavender and Max 3 weeks after he was born, they were incredibly bonded and did everything together. You would never find them apart, she loved him so much, so naturally the loss of him was very hard on her. She quickly began to show depression, she was always in their hut alone, she wouldn’t join the others for treats, and when I would go to her, she would just lay her head in my lap and when I would leave she would call for him to come back because I was the one who carried him away. More research on my part lead to the conclusion that she needed a friend to help her recover, and if I’m honest I could have also used another friend to help me cope with the big hole left behind by my high spirited shadow.
I looked, and looked, got really discouraged because I needed to find a goat close in age but not older, smaller than her and probably another girl, (having a boy this soon for me would have been too terrifying) so I looked day and night for a week. Late one night I found a listing for an entire herd of goats being rehomed because their owners were divorcing and the property being sold. The listing said they would only be sold in pairs or more, so I wasn’t hopeful but I went ahead and plead my case anyway, hoping the owner would take pity on me and our situation and might have a goat that would fit with what we were looking for. Turned out, she had much empathy for us and had 2 perfect choices, both girls, a year old, half nigerian dwarf half pygmy, but she was 5 hours away from me and she thought one might be pregnant. I had to decide, take a chance and pray that one would work out or wait and hope Lavender would be ok for a bit longer. Seeing how the loss was so fresh and I was still reeling I decided that I had to do something and worst case would be a wasted day of driving. The following weekend I loaded up my road trip companions and giant goat crate and headed over the mountains. When we pulled onto the farm, we found a big pen with a bunch of goats calling to their visitors. I can admit I am a horrible urban farming goat snob, I personally was upset by their conditions and for me it immediately turned from an adoption mission to a rescue mission. If I could have loaded them all up I would have, but I could only bring one home (didn’t stop me from calling on my goat friends to help rescue more of the babies) There was no covered shelter that I could see, no hay out, dirty water and they were very “feral” in my opinion. I went into the pen, was immediately pounced on by all the goats except one. There was a timid girl I recognized from the photos of the 2 potential fits that had been sent to me, I squatted down and waited for her to come to me, she slowly came over and let me pet her, she was under weight by a lot, and way more pregnant than I had been told, her milk bag was already full, she had a fully grown babe in her belly ready to explode. I said yes right away and gently picked her up and put her in my vehicle with hay and water which she began to devour. We still had a 5 hour drive to get her home, we stopped more than really necessary to give her a chance to stretch her legs and also so she could calm herself. We did just remove an extremely pregnant doe from her herd, and she was naturally upset. At one point she began having contractions and I worried I would be delivering a kid without my emergency kit or my delivery kit (bad planning on my part) but she calmed down and took a nap for the last hour of our trip.
Thankfully we got her home without major incident and were able to introduce her to Lavender who immediately perked up. Goats are beautiful animals not just in personality but in spirit. I don’t know if Lavender could sense the pregnancy, or if she was so starved for friendship but she immediately took Lemon under her hoof as her little sister. She became protective overnight, and very sweet. You know how I said she was very pregnant, well Lemon delivered a sweet baby girl exactly 2 weeks later, named Lemon Pepper or Pepper for short aka lil cow. Our vet came to check them out and said that had we not brought her home when we did, Lemon and her baby likely would not have survived. Lemon was so underweight, and us bringing her home gave her the nutrition she needed for the baby and herself, oh and another surprise was that she wasn’t even a year old yet. Based on when she lost her front teeth, she was likely around 9 to 10 months old when she had her baby, a product of careless ownership. So while we did lose Max and losing him was a huge heartbreak, it enabled us to save 2 lives, Lemon and Pepper. Lavender was present for the birth of Pepper, and became Auntie Lavender to her, letting her jump all over her, follow her around, and would even put her in her place when needed.
Lemon Balm with her newly born Lemon Pepper
So in the span of two months, I had major life changing surgery, Max fell sick and perished, we rescued a very pregnant goat who then birthed a beautiful 1 lb girl. Whew! that was a lot right. I thought that was the end of my woes but it wasn’t. I will get to that but first lets talk about Clover, my other goat who was pregnant and fast approaching her own due date with triplets. Seriously can I just take a moment….life around here is nothing short of interesting.
Ok, lets get back to the story. I had just experienced my first live birth, it was like a high that I never wanted to end, it was beautiful, scary and nothing short of a miracle in my eyes. Two weeks later we were getting ready for it again. Clover had been showing all the signs, she was restless, had been making a nest, laying a lot and sleeping all the time, her ligaments were gone and her milk bag was full. Lets not sit and pretend that since I had just gone through this that I wasn’t freaking out, I was out of my mind with worry, this was one of my first girls, I raised her from 5 days old and there was 3 babies fighting to get out of her! I was checking every hour to two for days thinking it was time. Finally, I put a camera in the little hut and stopped bothering her so often. I checked on her around 4pm June 24th, she was laying down and for the first time in weeks she let me put my hands on her belly to feel her babies kicking, she laid there and let me rub her belly and scratch her neck. I knew it was coming soon. I told her I was going to go take a nap, with the window open so I could hear her if she went into labor. That didn’t happen though. So when I woke up at 8pm a little later than I intended, I went out to check on her because she was not inside her hut where her nest was made. I rounded the corner and could see the pen, she was laying outside the hut, quiet. I walked into the pen and she saw me, she immediately went into labor when I got to her. I called for help and to bring my delivery supplies. Called my on call midwifes and we were off for delivery. Once again another miracle occurred, 15 minutes of contractions and Clover delivered her first baby, a girl just over a pound, 5 minutes later she delivered another baby girl 3 pounds and then with one push and a woosh her 3rd baby was born, a boy 2 pounds. My strong and timid little Clover did the unthinkable that night, and then cleaned, accepted and nursed them all.
Ok, so maybe some background would help give this story the perspective needed to gain a full understanding. Nigerian dwarf goats are great at breeding, they are built for it. Typically they will have 2-4 babies, however the first pregnancy is almost always a single. Clover had 3 her first pregnancy. Thats part of what makes this so incredible, she was my smallest goat, it was her first pregnancy, 3 babies increases the risk for tangling, and bad positioning, and yet despite all of that, she had 3 babies come out front feet first, alive and healthy, and then she actually accepted them all instead of rejecting one or more. Its pretty common for a first time mom to reject one or more babies, which is why I’m always prepared to bottle feed. But with the happiness of babies also comes the knowledge that you can’t keep all the babies and I started looking for their home immediately to prevent getting too attached. I knew I would get them for 7-8 weeks but I made sure to love them with the knowledge i was getting them ready for their forever home. And I did just that, at 7 weeks old they went to live on acreage all together with an amazing family I knew would not only love them but adore them for their entire life.
Clovers babies, Thing 1 middle, Thing 2 front and Thing 3 the boy in back
You would think that by now things were turning around for us, but they didn’t, not yet. All through spring I had been having issues with my hatch rates for the chicks. More full grown chicks were dying in the egg than I had ever experienced before. I knew it wasn’t the eggs themselves because every egg I sold to others were hatching perfectly. So what was going on here, was I doing something wrong with my eggs? Was I mishandling them, was I not incubating properly. I did so many hatches with only a couple babies being able to get out of the eggs. I’ve been hatching for 5 years now, and I’ve never had that issue before. So that was a very frustrating time as well. Dozens of eggs were set and very few chicks were hatched and survived. I know I’m not perfect, no one is, but I’ve prided myself on my ability to have near perfect hatch rates for years and theres nothing more frustrating for me than working so hard on something to be met with failure after failure. There came a point during the summer where I just gave up all together. I packed up the incubators for the year and said I’m done, I just wouldn’t hatch anymore. And at that point I was done. But that didn’t last very long as you will learn.
Around the same time as I was giving up on hatching, we were hit with another blow. One of our cats, who is more of a barn cat who loves our elderly neighbors and only comes to hunt rats for us, we found injured one day. What we would discover would perhaps be the most disgusting and horrific thing that happened to our farm. Trigger is a big orange rat killing cat. He’s 6 years old now, and for the last several years we only see him in the yard when he is hunting or decides to grace us with his presence. So he’s kind of only our cat in the sense we pay his vet bills and offer him a warm couch during winter if he wants it. Well I got a phone call from the neighbor asking if we had seen Trigger because he didn’t come over for breakfast with the neighbor, and I said, “Of course I haven’t seen him, he rarely hunts over here during the day.” I went looking for him immediately. Trigger must have known it was time, because when i was walking around the street calling his name I heard his meow and he came out from under a bush and laid down. I went to him and he didn’t get up or move. I picked him up and felt this lump that wasn’t there before, he immediately started crying out but wouldn’t move. My neighbor was there with me, I told him I would take him straight to the emergency vet and call him as soon as I knew anything. Let me explain the relationship with our cat, if you can even call him mine anymore. Trigger loves us when we are outside but he comes inside the house and he hisses and growls and turns into a big scary lion, however this is not the case with our neighbor, he is in love with our neighbor, they are best friends and Trigger would rather spend all his days nights and the rest of his life with our neighbor than spend 5 minutes in our house. It really doesn’t matter to either of us though who calls him theirs because we both love and care for him as much as he will allow, he’s a wild beast of a cat who has chosen his own path but we knew that we had to get him care immediately.
However, if you have pets then you know that you want to avoid the emergency vet because you will pay out the nose for a stitch, so if I’m going there then its because I know in my heart if I don’t then this animal will die. The whole way to the vet my heart was in my stomach. Trigger is not a normal outdoor cat, for one thing he’s polydactyl, has extra toes, he has outstanding balance because of this, he has yet to meet a cat he can’t whoop on, he’s a climber, jumper and very aware of whats going on around him always. So he’s like an outdoor cat on steroids basically. So while I’m driving I’m wondering what the hell could have happened to my beautiful wild cat that I love, despite his grumpiness toward me. We got to the vet and they rushed us right to a room, proceeded to check us in and check him out and take him to the back room. I authorized whatever was needed to tell me what was wrong with him. If you love animals at all, I’m warning you now that you will be angry for what I’m about to tell you. The vet came in without Trigger, sat down and asked me what happened. I explained that I had no idea, he didn’t show up for breakfast like he did everyday and I found him hiding under a neighbors bush. She looked angry and prepared me for what she was about to tell me by saying, “I’m going to explain what his injuries are first and then I’m going to tell you what I believe is the only cause for his injuries.” I was already crying because come on, what vet makes a statement like this before hand unless something is extremely serious. So here it is, Trigger had a stab wound from under his armpit all the way to his spine at an angle that was 6″ long but it was only under the skin and he was basically skinned his entire side where the stab wound was. He had 3 broken ribs and a broken sternum with a hematoma already on his chest the size of a golf ball. She said that as far as they could tell he had no internal bleeding but would need internal stitches to reattach his skin as well as close the opening of the stab wound and leave in a drainage tube. I was speechless and probably white as a ghost, but the vet wasn’t done, she still hadn’t told me what she believed was the cause of his injuries. Thats when she said it and shook my whole world upside down. The vet said and with a level of certainty that the only thing that could do this kind of damage was a human being. She believed he was beaten and then stabbed, possibly while the human was attempting to skin him, but he got away. There it is, the event that unravelled my world and made me want to quit it all. I was done. I paid his bill and collected my boy to bring him home for the 6 weeks of indoor recovery time. You will be relieved to know that Trigger did in fact make a full recovery, it took over 6 weeks and our neighbor came to visit him regularly to keep his spirits up. He didn’t walk away completely whole though, his personality has changed specifically toward me, possibly because I was the medication giver and holding him hostage so he could heal, but its ok with me if it helps him feel more in control again.
That brings us to the end of summer. I was done, I was ready to sell all the chickens, ducks, rabbit and only keep my goats as pets. Part of it was being overwhelmed by the loss and the tragedy and part of it was a pure lack of knowing what was coming next. I didn’t think things could be worse than losing Max, but then to have an attack on our cat at the hands of a human, and not knowing who did it. For all I knew it could have been our neighbor who hated us and continued to harass us at every chance. But that was it, I was ready to give up everything I loved doing because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know if it was days or weeks, but eventually after many people had attempted to talk me out of quitting that I had this big light bulb moment. If I was to quit now, after everything we had gone through in the 5 years of urban farming I was letting them win. Not them as in any one person, but them as in every person who didn’t like what we did, every person who tried to make us quit, the person who hurt Trigger, if I was to give up something that had become my life and what I was meant to do, I wasn’t just quitting, I was declaring they won. That I couldn’t stand for, I was not going to give anyone a win they didn’t deserve. I have put my blood, sweat, tears and blisters into building this up. Hours, days, weeks worth of work that it took to build everything we have right now, I am not and will not ever give that up for anyone other than for myself! Everything that has happened has taught us something, every loss, every win, every happy moment, every cut, every single thing we have gone through we have learned from. We have more to learn, we have more to build, more to do, more to grow, more to birth, more to hatch, more to raise, more to expand, we have more!
Every single time over the last months I have thought about quitting, I remind myself that the only way quitting is an option is if its whats best for me, and that day is not here yet. And you know what i did with this new found vigor for farming. I set eggs in a freshly sanitized incubator, reviewed my notes to see what I did during all those failures and made adjustments. I set eggs, and tried something new, and guess what happened, all my eggs hatched. It wasn’t just new life for the chicks, it was new life for me and my passion. I’m back and stronger and more ready for whats coming. In case you are wondering whats coming…4 pregnant goats due the first week of April is the first thing on the list of whats coming.
Thanks for reading, it was long but I hope it was worth it, Nicole