Antiquity Oaks apprentice
When Gerti the blind goat was just a week old she was fairly easy to feed, had to take lots of breaks, but she still sucked well enough. After she was brought into the house she got a little harder to feed, almost always having to pry her mouth open in order to get the nipple in, but she still sucked. A few weeks later she got harder to feed, she was barely sucking, chewing on the nipple, and couldn’t get much into her. Then she got better again, and was taking down 9 oz in a feeding easily. Then she began to get worse again, barely sucking, barely getting 6 oz into her if we were lucky. But we thought there was hope for her eventually eating solids because although she was not chewing on or eating the hay, she was often chewing on the straw whenever we put new bedding down.
For a while after we moved her back outside (because she was really stinking up the house) she wasn’t liking the straw and would not lay down. She spent her nights in a dog crate in the heated office so she could rest and not get too cold. After a while she began to lay down in the straw so we left her with the other babies. She seemed to be getting better with interacting because she didn’t run away when the boys would mount her, and she would even go stand in the pile of goats sometimes to help her keep warm.
We could see a future for her, the path there was still unclear, but there seemed to be so much hope.
The weekend of April 16th and 17th I was gone from the farm. I had something for work in Lake Forest on Saturday and so had spent some time away. Before I left Friday night Gerti barely got 3 oz of her bottle, so I told Mike she would likely be very hungry in the morning. I arrived back on the farm around 1 pm with J (my current boyfriend) who had come to visit me before, and was going to help tattoo the babies. Mike was not home yet from church and so we knew we would have some time before that process began. We went in the house and said hello to Deborah. She then said, “I have some bad news about Gerti.” While I was gone they had barely been able to get anything into Gerti, usually just an ounce or two at a time. Then that morning she had started gurgling. Sometime in the last hour or so she had started crying (screaming). Deborah also said she thought her body temperature had begun to go down so she had her on the heating pad.
I quickly threw my stuff down, put on my shoes and went out to the barn. Half way across the yard I could hear her. She had NEVER been a loud goat. Never woken me up in the middle of the night to feed her. Never cried. The only sounds she made was her warbled “I am so happy you are here” when I would first go in my room or out to the barn and when I would call her to come over when she was living in my room. This was different. This was pain. I had heard animals cry out before, goats in labor, babies who had gotten their head stuck in the hay feeder, babies who wanted their Mom’s, Mom’s who were just unhappy being milked. That sound trumped them all as the worst sound I had ever heard. It was pain, pure and simple. It was sad, horrible, pain. I run the rest of the way to the barn, trying not to slip in any of the mud that is everywhere because of the rain.
There she was. My darling baby girl Gerti, laying on the heating pad, mouth foaming with milk, screaming. I sat down next to her and began to pet her, trying to get her to calm down. I talked to her a lot. Said I was sorry. She tried to stand up but was wobbly on her legs. So I picked her up and held her for a while. But she struggled so I tried to get her to lie down again. She did thank goodness. But she continued to scream. I cried. I wept. I sobbed. J cried. I held her head. I told her I was sorry I couldn’t do anything, I told her to stop fighting, that it wasn’t worth it anymore. J held me throughout the whole thing. Held her too. Tried to comfort both of us. We sat there for a long time with her. She would calm down for a little while, nap for a few minutes, then wake up and scream again. J and I realized that there were tears streaming down her face. Neither of us realized goats could cry. But they were tears alright. I felt terrible knowing there was nothing I could do and I didn’t want to leave her side, but I knew I couldn’t sit there any longer, I couldn’t cry anymore.
J and I went inside for a while, then Mike got back and we began the tattoo process. The tattooing went fairly smoothly, although I did end up with a nice bruise on my stomach. Mike said we weren’t going to do Gerti, she didn’t need that right now. She began struggling so much she was moving herself off the heating pad, and Deborah said if she continued to do that to just go ahead and unplug the heating pad.
After the tatoos were done, J and I went back to be with Gerti. I brought one of my sweaters with me to use as a pillow for her, hoping it would help her calm down. J sat, leaned against the side of the pen, and I laid down and cuddled Gerti to my chest. I told her again it was okay, she didn’t need to fight, that this wasn’t worth it, that she would be in a better place and out of pain. She fell asleep next to me for a while. Just like she had the first two days she was in the house, within my first week of being on the farm. But she woke up again and started screaming. I had to go back inside. I loved her and didn’t want to leave her, but I couldn’t handle it.
Deborah and I talked about who needed to be moved around so that a doe and a buck could be pen bred in the stall that Kitty and Nina were currently sharing. Two stalls needed cleaning, including the one Gerti was in. Deborah said to put her in the crate in the office, that maybe the familiarity of that space would help her calm down. I hoped it would. I gently picked her up and put her in the crate with my sweater. While J and I were cleaning stalls I could still hear her through the walls. I wished there was something I could do.
J had to leave, and I had to milk. I tried to not think about her over in the office, all alone. In pain. I suddenly realized I had never told my Mom I had gotten to the farm safe HOURS ago. I came inside after milking and Mike told me “I brought your sweater in. Gerti won’t be needing it anymore.” I ran upstairs to call my Mom, apologize, and tell her what happened. I began to weep again. Even though I wanted her to let go all day, I didn’t really want her to leave me.
I cried a lot that night. I have cried a lot of times since. I cry when I think about her screaming, her crying, her being unable to stand at the end. I cry because I wasn’t there when she died. I feel guilty sometimes. Like there was something I should have been able to do, anything, to have made the end not come, or the end better. She taught me so much about how different animals are from another. She liked being held tight, most babies do not. She couldn’t be fed if her back legs could touch the ground (or anything else that could be pushed off of). She needed a slow introduction to being with other goats, and being on straw, unlike other goats who are fine right away. Sometimes animals just need time and to not be forced, and they will eat and lay as they should. Most of all though she taught me just how much I can love an animal. I didn’t truly realize until the end how much she meant to me. I knew she was the one I was most attached to, but didn’t realize she was the one I looked forward to feeding the most. I KNEW the other goats needed me, especially for food, but I felt like she needed me more than anyone. I felt like she needed me for a lot more than just food. I loved her. Still love her. I just hope I made her short time here as wonderful as it could have been, and that she was not too scared at the end of it all.
If you missed Sarah's first post about Gerti the blind goat, you can find it here.