Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gerti the blind goat

by Sara
Antiquity Oaks apprentice

When I first arrived on the farm on February 17, I was put in charge of the two bottle babies, Anne and Gerti (who did not get their names until later). The first day I was here they were both outside in the kidding barn staying close to Mama and the heat lamp, and both seemed to do okay with the bottle. I thought it was fun, if a bit cold at times, to be their permanent nanny. I was told that the water bucket was hung on the side of the pen because Gerti had crawled into it several times and gotten completely soaked. They had some suspicions she had something wrong, possibly that she was blind.

Within the first few days of me being on the farm we cleaned out a stall in the big barn and moved Anne, Gerti, their Mom Sadie, their one nursing sibling, and several other Mom’s and babies into it. We did this so they could have more space, and to make room for the next round of kiddings. We put a heat lamp in their new stall close to the door, and many of the babies stayed fairly close to it for the first few days.

ImageAbout a day after we moved all of the goats, I go in to give Anne and Gerti their afternoon bottle (around 1:00), and notice that Gerti was just laying in the middle of nowhere, while all of the other babies were either cuddled with moms or under the heat lamp. I tried to get her to nurse, but she wouldn’t take down more than 2 oz (she should have taken 4). I quickly brought her inside and Deborah quickly determined she had a minor case of hypothermia. She and Mike had to run into town so she gave me a heating pad for Gerti, and told me to hold her close and try to warm her up. She spent the rest of the afternoon in my lap or on the heating pad, she even napped with me for a little while.

When Mike and Deborah got home we put Gerti in a clothes basket and Deborah watched her while Mike and I went to do chores. When we came back inside Gerti heard the door and jumped out of the laundry basket, but got lost about halfway through the door. Again the idea that she may be blind came up.

Over the next few days she continued to get stronger and seemed to enjoy being inside. We began to notice more mannerisms unique to her that made us think she might be blind. She ran into things a lot when I let her run around my room. She put her head on her back and swayed (Deborah called it her Stevie Wonder impression). She ran in circles, a LOT. Plus whenever she would walk around somewhere new, she would keep her head down like a dog, sniffing/licking everything. When given a bottle she would run the bottom of her chin across the tip a few times and then grab it, like she was feeling where it was. Unfortunately she slowly began to forget what the nipple was, and so now we have to force the nipple into her mouth, though she sucks down with great gusto once we do.
Friday March 9th we decided we would move all of the bottle babies to the barn. It was fairly warm and there was no super cold weather predicted in the future. We also decided to bring Gerti out first so that she could get used to her surroundings before introducing everyone else.

Around 2:00 (warmest part of the day) I brought Gerti out and sat with her. Aside from a couple of bumps and not being used to the feeling of straw under her feet, she seemed to do really well. Around 2:30 I decide to go get Anne from the other barn. With me in the pen, Anne just climbed all over me, so I stepped out and watched how she interacted with Gerti and in the new space. She almost immediately reared up on her hind legs and tried to head butt Gerti, who was none the wiser. Anne then gave Gerti a small smack on the side. I thought “no big deal, she just wants to prove dominance and it should only happen once.” I went back in to fetch the six little babies, and over the monitor heard a baby scream. I thought and hoped it was just a Mom accidentally stepping on or laying on a baby (which does happen). When I walk back into the kidding barn with the 6 little ones in a laundry basket I see this: Gerti running around in circles, Anne full tilt running behind her trying to head butt her in the side. As soon as Anne sees me she stops and runs up to the gate, and Gerti stops her circling, all legs fulling stretched out panting and screaming. I immediately deposit the 6 little ones in their new home and scoop up Gerti, who proceeded to sit still in my arms, which she hasn’t done in weeks. I gave Anne another chance, which she immediately ruined by bowling over two of the little ones. I put Anne back in her stall with her Mom, sister, and other older Moms and babies and return to the kidding barn and sit down in the stall to help the little ones and Gerti.

At this point Gerti is running around in tight fast little circles, which she hasn’t done in weeks, running into the side panels of her new home, and running away from anything that makes the straw move. She ran into the panels so hard she made her head bleed. I picked her up and tried to comfort her, telling her Anne is gone and will not be coming back. She eventually falls asleep in my lap, another thing she hasn’t done in weeks, and once she woke up seemed to be calmer, although she was again wary of the six littles she had known since the day they were born.

The rest of the day seemed to go fine, until late in the evening. Gerti kept going into this weird position like she intended to lay down, but wasn’t going all the way down. I decided to put a towel in the corner under the heat lamp, hoping that would help her if she just didn’t like the straw. When I went back for the last feeding she took the bottle okay and I put her in the corner under the heat lamp and fed the other six. She backed up into the corner and just started shivering. I picked her up and her shivering was so violent I brought her back inside and told Deborah I thought we should bring her inside again for the night. She said it was up to me because it is my room, but she had been wondering how I would sleep tonight anyway since my room would be so quiet.

Gerti has seemed to do well since then. Realistically I know she can not stay inside for her whole life, but I don’t know how to get her used to being outside. We are also now faced with the task of figuring out how to introduce solid foods into her diet, which after a morning of Googling, I still have no good answers.

ImageEven though she is more of a handful than the other seven bottle babies combined (I can hear her crashing into the sides of her play pen right now) she has a special place in my heart. She was the first baby who tried to die on me, and whom I helped bring back from the edge. She has been living in my room nearly as long as I have, and snores in the middle of the night so I know she is okay. I have grown very attached to Gerti, and wish I could take her home with me, but sadly my township has a strict no livestock law in which “goats” are right in the middle of the off limits animals. I do not know what is going to happen to her when she grows up. Deborah doesn’t really even know yet, but I know she will always hold a special place in my heart. I have read a few stories (in my Googling) about people who would rather butcher a blind goat than take the time to raise them, and although I have NO idea how to get her to eat solid foods, I can’t imagine making that choice right now. She is one of the kindest animals here, and I know she will be the one I miss most of all when I leave.


Kelly said...

This story is so touching. It's too bad you can't take her when you leave :( I hope everything works out well for sweet Gerti.

Bis Issa said...

Perhaps you could contact Farm Sanctuary and see if they're willing to help.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking farm sanctuary also. We have a deaf goat, we got her as an adult so I have no idea why she is deaf. But, our farm is small and I don't mind the slight accomodations she needs. I'm thinking a blind goat would be harder, she will need a private pen, or maybe could be a friend to bottle babies as her job.


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