Beulah Carlson

We lost a baby goat this week. She was a real cutie, too.

We got a second batch of animals last week, on a Sunday morning. Steph went to see her friend, and came home with two doe goats and a little white ewe. The littler of the two goats was a black and gray two-month old. Unlike the other goats we got, she wasn’t bottle-fed, but was raised on the field by her mother. So we expected her to be a little less tame. Even so, when Steph managed to catch her she was fairly friendly and not too skittish.

All the animals spent a night together in the barn, and things seemed to be going fine. The sheep and the goats seemed to be getting along. The little white ewe lamb was the most timid, always keeping the other two, larger sheep between us and herself. The goats seemed to be getting along well.

On Tuesday morning, when we opened up the barn and prepared to let the animals out onto the pasture, the little goat was laying on her side. She let out a cry when she saw us, and we knew something was wrong. Little Beulah was stiff as a taxidermied goat. Her legs were all straight out, and she couldn’t move them. She followed us with one eye, but couldn’t even crane her neck to look at us.

Beulah probably had tetanus. We still don’t know for sure, although in addition to what we were able to find out, we had an experienced farmer and a vet look at her. If it wasn’t tetanus, she might have had polio or have been poisoned. But tetanus seems like the most obvious conclusion. Apparently it is common in goats, and although the farmer we bought her from says she was vaccinated along with the rest of the babies, the shot didn’t work on her.

The most amazing thing about the situation (not counting the frustration and sadness of trying to help the little animal and failing) was that we were pretty much on our own. Most of the vets in the area only do small animals. One of the two large animal vets did not have the appropriate drugs, and the other (who did) was over an hour away. We were able to get hold of another sheep/goat farmer nearby, who was incredibly helpful and even met us at a nearby restaurant, since we aren’t that familiar with the area yet. He took a look a Beulah and
gave us some of the medicine he kept on hand for his own flock. Unfortunately, we later figured out that the antitoxin he gave us was for a different strain of clostridium (the one that attacks the animals when they overeat), so the shots we gave her over the next day were ineffective on the tetanus.

The next day or so were spent giving the poor little animal shots. Penicillin, antitoxin, and when she stopped being able to swallow the water we were squirting into her mouth, subcutaneous water. The penicillin may have helped her a bit the first time we gave it to her, because she was able to stand and walk a bit on her own for a few minutes. Then she stiffened up again, and we were fighting a downhill battle. We took her to a local retired vet who was a friend of the farmer we bought the animals from. He took one look at Beulah and announced that she had tetanus and the most probably source were the scabbed-over wounds from the de-horning procedure she’d been through a week or so earlier (tetanus normally takes 10-14 days to set in, and prefers the anaerobic conditions in closed wounds). He sedated Beulah and debraded the wounds, but warned us the prognosis wasn’t good. Unfortunately, he was right.

We learned from this experience that we need to be prepared for animal sickness. We were ready for worms, but not for something as seemingly random as tetanus. This was not something stressed in the books we read, which I suppose were written in a time when rural areas abounded with vets. The situation is not like dogs and cats, where you can just jump in the car and take them to an animal hospital. The regular vets don’t know anything about farm animals, large or small. The fact that lots of people are starting to keep small animals would seem like an opportunity for some enterprising vet to at least keep a few of the most common drugs in his fridge; but it isn’t one that has occurred to anyone around here. Luckily, you can buy penicillin, antitoxin, thiamin (for polio) and activated charcoal (for poisoning) online, and keep a supply in your own fridge.