Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good bye and good riddance 2013!

This past year will go down in history as the worst year of my life, and I am truly hoping that as we turn the page to 2014, all of the pain, death, and just plain bad luck will be behind us. Unfortunately I have recently learned that a 1.5 cm nodule on my thyroid has grown to 1.9 cm and is the reason that my throat has felt swollen for the past month and a half. I have a doctor appointment for Jan. 13 to get it further evaluated, and I really hope that it turns out to be a non-event.

It was a year ago today that my husband and I were at the bedside of his mother as she passed away from cancer. And it had only been a couple days earlier when my little bichon frise (pictured above) had passed away. Looking back now, it seems as if those two deaths were simply the "preview" of the year ahead. In March, Coco, one of my most special goats died from a ruptured uterus after a very difficult delivery with quintuplets. And only a week later, my father-in-law passed away.

Then over the summer, my very first goat, Star, died. She was 14 years old, and she was really slowing down towards the end. I still remember telling her, "This is really not a good time for you to leave me. Please stick around a little while longer." She passed away about six weeks later, and then a week later, Sovalye, our livestock guardian dog of nine years passed away.

As the leaves began to fall from the trees, I started to think that all of the death was behind us, but I was wrong. In the middle of November, we had two goats and a llama contract meningeal worm, a nasty parasite that is common in white tail deer but deadly in other ruminants. We ultimately decided to put down Timpani, but Windy the goat and Katy the llama are still with us and still recovering. Because of the neurological damage done to the spinal column and brain, no one will hazard a guess as to whether or not they'll make a full recovery. Although Katy has finally managed to stand once without assistance, we still have to lift her a couple of times every day, and she can usually manage to take a few steps here and there before collapsing again.

There were a couple of bright spots in the year. I taught an online class called Raising Goats Sustainably for the University of Massachusetts, which was fun and challenging. Imagine teaching a livestock care class online, and not everyone in the class even has access to real live goats. Challenging!

We also had three wonderful interns this year who renewed my enthusiasm for sharing my knowledge and teaching! And I am looking forward to expanding the educational component of the farm in 2014 and beyond.

My third book, Raising Goats Naturally, was published in September. After writing three books in three years, I am taking a break from writing books. There was a part of me that wanted to keep chugging along and write another one, but considering all of the things that have happened lately, I think it's time to relax and rejuvenate. Quite frankly, I feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me.

I've had chronic back pain for about a decade now. I realized from the beginning that it was always much worse during the winter months and attributed that to a possible lack of vitamin D. I would generally be in quite a bit of pain through the winter months, but once spring arrived and I was outdoors more, the pain would gradually lessen. It didn't happen this past summer. And somehow I didn't realize until fall that I had not spent nearly as much time outdoors as usual. I got my vitamin D level tested, and yep, I am deficient, so am now taking much larger doses of supplements than I have taken in previous years. So, #1 on the list of things to do in 2014 is to spend tons of time in the garden next spring, summer, and fall, not only because of the great food it will produce but also because I need lots of sunshine to stay healthy.

At the moment, I am off on a two-week vacation with my daughters Margaret and Katherine. I am hoping to come back rested and rejuvenated and ready to jump back into all of my projects with renewed energy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey processing

In addition to the heritage turkeys that we raise continually, we also raise a few broad-breasted turkeys from time to time to provide ourselves with ground turkey meat. Why do we use the BB turkeys for ground meat? Because we don't have a family big enough to eat turkeys that weigh 40+ pounds! The pictured turkey weighed 45 pounds. Yes, that's dressed, not live weight.

The first year that we raised BB turkeys and found ourselves with a 43-pound and a 38-pound turkey, we swore we would never raise them again. But then we discovered the joys of ground turkey meat. This year we had three of the big boys in the 40+ weight range, and yes they really were males. The females each weighed 20-something-pounds. Rather than grinding them up, Mike cut strips of meat off of them, which we'll use for soups, stir-fries, and schnitzel. We've already had a delicious cream of turkey and rice soup.

Turkey leg and thigh

The cost of processing ground turkey meat is much cheaper than ground pork, lamb, or beef because the cost of processing a turkey is only $6, and one of these big boys can produce even more meat than a lamb that costs us $45 to process. We do have to do the grinding ourselves, which takes time, but it still works out to be a good deal financially. The really exciting thing is that the dark meat tastes a lot like ground beef when used in chili or hamburgers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From chicken tractor to hoop house

Earlier this summer as Mike was building a couple of new chicken tractors, it suddenly occurred to me that once they were no longer housing poultry this fall, they could be covered with greenhouse plastic and used as high tunnels for our winter garden. We first had a winter garden in 2010, using low tunnels, and I loved having fresh greens all winter long, but I did not love crawling around in the snow to harvest them. So, for three years, I've been saying that we need high tunnels, but it had not happened -- until now!

Summer seemed to last forever into the fall months, so we became a little too relaxed about the need to protect the plants in the garden. Floating row covers were working fine through October. But then the weather seemed to switch from summer to winter almost overnight with virtually no fall weather, which made it challenging to get the greenhouse plastic put on the frame. The large rectangles covering the top of the hoophouse are not ideal, but we were racing against time when we put this together, as a storm was brewing. We hope to do something a bit more aesthetically pleasing next year.

This is what the chicken tractor looked like after we removed the blue tarp, which had served as a roof for the ducks that had been living in there through October. The frame fit over the raised bed as if it had been made for it. There was not even an inch to spare.

Now we can walk into the hoop house, where it is warm and toasty during the day, and harvest lettuce. Right after the new year I'm going to start some cabbage and broccoli seeds that will be transplanted in there for an early harvest in the spring. In addition to the greenhouse plastic covering the hoophouse, we also have floating row covers keeping the lettuce warm.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


One of the most frustrating things about dealing with the sick llama and goats was that we never got a chance to enjoy Julia's piglets when they were first born. Since I was busy running down to the vet clinic, I didn't even post the obligatory pictures on the Facebook page! You see, they were born on Nov. 19, which was the day before we took Katy to U of I with meningeal worm. I snapped a mere four newborn pics the day they were born but then never got around to posting any of them until this blog post.

We were initially quite worried about the piglets because it did not appear that Julia was being her usual attentive mama-self. This is her fourth litter, and in the past, she always spent lots of time laying on her side so the newborn piglets could nurse. However, we were all getting worried because hardly anyone ever saw her letting them nurse. Of course, the runt didn't make it, but one of the larger, healthier piglets also died within the first couple of days. I tried to convince myself that we were just probably always walking past when she was taking a break. And that was probably the case.

Ultimately it has worked out for nine of the piglets. They are all big and healthy now and starting to crawl into the feed pan to nibble at the food when we feed Julia. I am strongly considering keeping one of the gilts for breeding. Unlike past litters when she had mostly boars and the gilts were smaller, this litter is seven big, healthy gilts and only two boars. Even though the top photo was taken the day they were born, and the bottom photo was taken yesterday, you can't really see how much they've grown.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Canning catastrophe

With all the excitement around here lately, you may have noticed that I haven't been blogging much. And when I do blog, it's been about the meningeal worm issues we were dealing with. But, of course, life goes on, even in the midst of medical issues with the animals, so I'm going to work on catching up with some of the things that have been happening around here.

In early November our intern Jane was working on canning the apple harvest when disaster suddenly struck. She had already done quite a bit of canning, so I wasn't really paying close attention to what she was doing because she seemed to have mastered the techniques pretty well.

One day she was canning apples and called me into the kitchen when she lifted the lid off the canner and saw this! The lids had blown off some of the jars.

As she lifted the exploded jars out of the canner, the other jars began to float also.

And there were cooked apples stuck to the back of the stove! Obviously they had shot out at a pretty high pressure.

She asked me what went wrong, and I really had no idea. We went over everything she'd done ... filling the jars, leaving head space, tightening the lids, and so on. She had done everything exactly the same as always, and this had never happened before.

When she took the jars out of the canner and sat them on the counter, the apples began to ooze out and run down the sides of the jars. It was also obvious that the apples were floating in the jars, and we could see lots of air bubbles between the apples that had not been there when the jars had been put into the canner. I wonder if the apples were too ripe and some sort of fermentation thing had started to happen, even though the apples didn't seem fermented?

We finally decided that it must have something to do with the fact that these were quartered apples rather than something that had already been cooked, such as preserves or applesauce, which she had made with no problem. Jane decided to make applesauce with the next batch. Unfortunately, the same thing happened again. I searched online and couldn't find anything. I even asked friends who canned, and no one had any ideas. So, if you have any ideas, do share! We'll be canning apples again next year!

Applesauce leaking out of jars after canning
Additional info -- in response to questions asked by a few readers -- (1) Both of these batches were hot pack. (2) No jars broke; only lids blew off. (3) There was one thing different between these two batches and the other canning we had done. These were Granny Smith apples, and it was November, so they were "older" than the Yellow Delicious we had been canning in October. I know canning recipes always say to use fruit at the peak of ripeness, so maybe they were too ripe? Also, our Granny Smith apples are not the type that stand up to cooking. When we make an apple crisp, in only 25 minutes baking, the apples go from slices to the consistency of applesauce.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book and soap specials for the holidays

I had totally planned to offer a few special deals to help you with your holiday shopping a couple of weeks ago, but the goats and llamas were rather distracting. (They are doing much better, thank you!) I did offer these specials to readers of my Thrifty Homesteader blog but didn't manage to get them on here. So, here you go! Offers are good through midnight Wednesday. Free shipping on the books is via media rate, so we can't guarantee arrival before Christmas, but the odds are pretty good that they will get there in time. Soap or the combined soap and books are shipped via Priority Mail so should arrive to most parts of the U.S. within two days. Sorry but we can only provide free shipping to the continental U.S.

Whether you want to buy goat milk soap or learn to raise your own goats and make your own soap, we have something special for you!

Book specials

Two book special: Autographed copies of Homegrown and Handmade and Raising Goats Naturally (one each) for $35 with FREE shipping. (Cover price is $47.90.)


Three book special: Autographed copies of Homegrown and Handmade, Ecothrifty, and Raising Goats Naturally (one each) for $49 with FREE shipping. (Cover price is $65.85.)

Just soap

Four bars of goat milk soap made with organic oils! Each bar will be scented with a different essential oil, chosen from the following list: lavender, peppermint, Siberian fir tree (smells like a Christmas tree), orange, tea tree, lavender-spearmint, lavender-grapefruit, orange-cinnamon, lemon-lime, rosemary-peppermint, or lemon-spearmint (regular price $24) for $20 with FREE shipping.


Ten bars of our goat milk soap, each one scented with a different essential oil from the above list. Regular price is $60, but until Monday, you can get 10 bars for $45 with FREE shipping.


If you prefer unscented soap, try our three bar unscented special -- one bar each of plain unscented, unscented with oatmeal, and unscented with coffee for only $15 with FREE shipping. (Regular price $18.)


Books and soap combinations

Get the three book special with four bars of goat milk soap for only $60 with FREE shipping. (Regular price $89.85)

If you would like to purchase individual bars of soap and choose your own scents, you can always visit the Antiquity Oaks website. To buy individual copies of the books, visit the Buy page of the Thrifty Homesteader website.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is someone trying to tell me something?

The past few weeks have been rather overwhelming and a bit of a blur. It will be three weeks on Tuesday since Katy went down and this terrible adventure began. Of course, it was almost a week earlier than that when we found Timpani laying in the snow with hypothermia one morning, and I thought she had "simply" suffered a spinal cord injury, probably fighting with another goat about going into the shelter.

Now, after quite an emotional roller coaster and a $1700 vet bill, we have one less goat, another goat that holds her head cock-eyed and walks crooked, and a llama that is still partially paralyzed. Timpani's gross necropsy results did confirm meningeal worm, but they are doing additional lab work, which has not yet been completed.

Windy is on her feet all the time, but she is certainly in no condition to rejoin the herd. Yesterday we decided to move her from a kidding pen, which is only five-by-ten feet, to a ten-by-ten foot pen in the main barn, and to put another yearling mini mancha doe in there with her for company. Unfortunately the other doe did not recognize her obvious physical advantage and insisted on being a jerk to Windy, butting her, and trying to keep her away from the hay.

When I went in there last night to give them more hay, Windy decided to make a run for it when she saw the door open, and she -- of course -- ran crookedly and ran smack into my left kneecap, knocking it out of place. I had two surgeries on that knee when I was a teenager because the kneecap would go out of place randomly, and even after the surgeries, it is very loose. I fell to the ground screaming and then proceeded to cry hysterically for about fifteen minutes. I'd love to believe that Windy was trying to say she was sorry as she kept walking up to me, but I don't think it's a coincidence that she always went to the side of me that put me between her and Livi the other doe. At that moment, the only thing I could think was, "This is what I get for saving your life?" and "I have no business on a farm! I am too old for this!"

I eventually hobbled into the house and put a bag of frozen chopped collard greens on my knee and sat on the couch with the phone so I could call my husband and tell him that I couldn't finish evening chores. He was down in the creek fixing the fence where one of the llamas had escaped earlier in the day. Just when we were ready to start evening chores, a neighbor let us know that one of our llamas was visiting her place, and when I looked out the window, I saw him running down the road!

Add to all of this the fact that my chronic back pain has become debilitating the first hour or two after I wake up every morning, and I was really feeling that I was getting too old for this lifestyle. The feeling of "I can't do this anymore!" has become a recurring thought these past few weeks. And I half-heartedly prayed, "God, if you really don't want me to do this anymore, couldn't you just send me a nice message, like a job offer that's too good to refuse at a university?"

A bit later I was checking my email, and in my GoogleAlerts for "goats," there was this story about a 900-goat dairy in Ontario that burned to the ground last night. And I started crying. Simply the thought of losing all my goats in a fire was horrifying. I told my husband and son about the fire, and my son said, "See Mom, someone else is having a worse day than you." Oh, my goodness! Yes! How could I possibly think that I would sell my goats and move away from here simply because we're having a few challenges? I know that if our barn caught fire today, even with my bad knee and other aches and pains, I'd be running out there trying to save every last goat.

Yes, life is particularly challenging right now. But life will always be challenging, regardless of where you live or what you do. But like that man who says he is going to start his dairy again, we have to deal with our challenges and move on.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Katy and Windy home at last!

Mike and I went to the University of Illinois vet clinic to pick up Windy the goat and Katy the llama, along with her cria Oscar.

Katy finally started peeing and pooping again, but she still can't stand up on her own. I can now add "llama physical therapy" to my resume. We have to lift her so that she spends two, 20-minute periods standing every day, morning and afternoon. 

Yesterday morning, my daughter Margaret who was still here from Ft. Worth where she is an electrical engineer, helped me lift her four or five times. Katy never managed to stand for more than about four minutes before her back end would collapse, and she would be sitting there like a dog. Much of the time she spent standing, she actually spent with her back end leaning against the human who was next to her. This morning, she actually stood for 15 minutes! We figured that standing for one 15 minute stretch was probably better than several smaller stretches, so didn't get her up again.

Lifting her is interesting. First we put our hand under her chest or stomach, and since Katy is a llama, she is offended that a mere human is touching her, so she pushes the front half of her body up with her front legs. Then we put a towel under her and move it so that it is under the back half of her body. With one person holding each end of the towel on each side of the llama, we lift! Sometimes it is easier than others, depending upon how much Katy is able to help.

Unfortunately, this means that Oscar is only able to nurse twice a day. When Katy first went down, she was on her side, and Oscar was able to nurse as much as he wanted, but now she is strong enough to stay "kushed" properly (llama language for the prone position pictured at right) which means her teats are inaccessible to him.

As for Windy -- like most bottle babies, she has always been too friendly for her own good, but after being poked with needles more than a dozen times in the last week (including a spinal tap), she ran when I opened the gate of her pen at the clinic. She is quite healthy and able-bodied, although she tends to twist her body a little to the right, and she can't walk in a straight line. (You can see how she holds her head crooked in the second picture.) But considering the fact that she was minutes away from death last week, this is truly remarkable. Still, it could be weeks or months before the final neurologic symptoms go away. Then again, she may never be completely normal again. But considering how close she was to death last week, I have to assume that she is still with us for a reason. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making a decision twice

"Yes." My voice was weak and crackling when responding to the question posed by the person on the other end of the phone who was put on the line to confirm my decision to have Timpani and Windy put down this morning.

Timpani's picture in my book, Raising Goats Naturally
Although we've been out here for eleven years and have had to make such decisions in the past, this was by far the hardest. Even as I type this, I continue to question if it was the right decision. When the lamb was born without an anus and the kid was born with its intestines outside of its body, it was so obvious that we needed to end their lives. Today's decision was simply not that obvious or easy.

One thing I learned from this is that there is a big difference between survival and recovery. Even if one of the does managed to survive, her odds of recovering would not be good. She might forever be unable to walk and could possibly have other neurological problems for the rest of her life. One could certainly not breed a doe that can't walk, and because the uterus is a muscle, we have no way of knowing if she would even be able to give birth. Even if the kids were born, how would they nurse from a mother who can't stand?

Katy the llama is an experienced mother, and Oscar is almost four months old, so he is smart enough to find her teats even though she's laying down. But one of the things that we've learned with Katy over the past week is that an animal's condition can continue to worsen before the meningeal worms are killed by the treatment. Katy had recently peed and pooped before we took her to the clinic, but she lost the ability to do so within a few hours of her arrival there. She has a catheter in place now, and they've been manually removing feces. Although a little urine leaked out next to the catheter today, they said not to get too excited because it may not mean that she actually urinated, especially because she still does not have any feeling back there, and her tail still has no muscle tone.

I also received messages via email and Facebook from people who have had goats with meningeal worm in the past. Most did not recover, and some hung on for weeks before the decision was finally made to have them put down. Killing the worms and repairing spinal cord or brain damage are two entirely different things. Although modern medicine can certainly kill the worms, repairing the damage to the nervous system is mostly up to the animal's body, although they can be helped by anti-inflammatories and other drugs. And then it also depends on exactly where the worm got into the spinal cord or brain and how much damage it has done. Timpani and Windy had such different conditions because the worms in their bodies had attacked different parts of their nervous systems. There were so many questions and no one who could really answer them.

There are so many reasons why this was a hard decision, and the fact that it was Timpani and Windy seemed to make it worse. Their mother Viola died a couple days after giving birth to them in 2012, which is why they were my bottle babies. Because Viola peaked at two gallons of milk a day, I had such high hopes for them as milkers. But I remind myself that it was only hope because they had not freshened yet, and maybe they would not have lived up to expectations.

Timpani and Windy will be necropsied this afternoon, and we'll learn if there was anything else going on that contributed to their illness. As for what we'll do next on the farm, we'll be giving dewormer to the other goats that spent the summer across the creek being rotated through the woods, which is undoubtedly where they got the meningeal worm. It comes from deer, which I have never seen in our regular pastures, most likely due to the fact that our dogs go nuts if deer ever come within view. But this past summer, we had the dry does and retired goats in a remote wooded area where deer frequent.

Making the decision to euthanize Timpani and Windy is by far the hardest decision I've ever had to make. But looking at Katy's progress, I couldn't help but think that I might only be delaying the inevitable and prolonging their suffering if I chose differently. It's only noon, but I'm yawning as if it's midnight. This has been a mentally exhausting day.

Deciding again ...

I had just finished writing everything above when the phone rang. It was the vet. She said that Timpani had been euthanized, but when they went to euthanize Windy, they noticed that her neurologic symptoms had drastically decreased and she was walking. They felt that I should know that before moving forward with the euthanasia. Last night when we spoke, I had told her that unless the goats made miraculous improvements overnight, I was leaning towards euthanasia. This sure seemed to fit the definition of a miraculous improvement, so as my eyes started to fill up with tears and I got a huge lump in my throat, this time I said, "No! Don't euthanize her. Continue with treatment, and give her everything that we had talked about, including the thiamine and everything."

Then the vet told me that she knew she had to call when Windy looked her in the eyes. Her nystagmus -- quivering eyeballs -- was almost gone. The fact that she was looking the vet in the eyes says volumes because she was previously not even looking at anyone. You might remember I initially thought she had gone blind. I don't remember everything else the vet said. My brain just kept screaming that Windy was fighting, and if she was fighting, I couldn't give up on her. And after hanging up the phone, I cried even more than I did after making the first decision this morning. This time, however, I was jumping up and down crying tears of joy rather than sitting at my desk quietly crying into my hands, feeling defeated. I know that Windy has a long road ahead of her still, but being able to walk will make the journey a lot easier.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The toughest decision

Mike came into the house Monday morning to say that another goat was down.

Another goat? Yes, about ten days earlier we found Timpani, a mini mancha, laying in the snow first thing in the morning. She was hypothermic and couldn't stand. Even when she was warmed up, she still couldn't stand. Her symptoms reminded me of the goat we had about eight years ago that was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. Goats fight all the time, and it's pretty amazing that they don't wind up with more injuries than they do. Timpani was very happy, and when we put warm water and food in front of her, she ate like there was no tomorrow. Because her only symptom was semi-paralysis, it really appeared that she was injured, rather than ill.

Katy with vet wrap on her neck, holding the IV catheter in place.
Cria Oscar has been staying with her at the clinic.
Then last week, Katy the llama was unable to stand, so we took her to U of I and learned that she had meningeal worm. (See last two posts for the whole story on Katy.) I told the vets about Timpani, but she actually seemed to be doing better by then. She could stand some and take some wobbly steps, so we thought she was on the mend.

And then yesterday, Mike found her sister Windy (short for Woodwind) laying down and unable to get up. Unlike Timpani, Windy seemed very sick. At first glance, I thought she was blind because she didn't look at me, but after flicking my fingers at her head, I realized that she could see. Mentally, however, she was absent. I stood her up in front of a hay feeder, and she refused to eat. I put a bucket of warm water in front of her, and she completely ignored it.

I came into the house and called U of I, explaining all of her symptoms. I told the vet tech on the phone that because we had already spent a fortune on Katy, who was still not well, we needed to be mindful of costs. However, I really wanted to bring the goats to the clinic because I wanted an answer. Knowing that meningeal worm requires snails and deer to reproduce and infect a goat or llama, I was wondering if that was really the culprit. Could I really have two or three animals infected? Because I had said that Windy was so sick, I didn't expect her to survive for 24 hours, she said that I could just bring her in to have her euthanized and necropsied. That was a sobering thought. I felt my eyes start to fill with tears and don't remember what the tech said at that point, but I knew that it was the cheapest, most accurate way to get definitive answers.

Windy at the vet clinic
Ultimately we decided to take the goats to the clinic and have them examined. Initially everyone, including a neurologist, thought that Windy had listeriosis. Her symptoms were classic. She was leaning to one side and had the classic eyeball twitching of a goat with listeriosis. She had to be leaning against someone or something, or she'd fall down.

Timpani in her crate when we arrived at the clinic
When they first examined Timpani, they thought that she seemed to be lame rather than ill, but as they observed her more, they noticed minor neurologic symptoms as well. After a few hours, they decided to start treating both of them for meningeal worm, based upon symptoms and Katy's diagnosis, and to also treat Windy for listeriosis because her symptoms would have indicated listeriosis, if not for the llama's diagnosis already.

Today, they did spinal taps on the goats and confirmed a diagnosis of meningeal worm for both of them. Unfortunately, the vet professor said that goats do not respond to treatment as well as llamas do. Considering the fact that Katy was supposed to be hospitalized for five days of treatment, and she is still hospitalized and can't stand, pee, or poop on her own, that's not terribly promising, and goats don't respond as well as llamas? What does that mean? The vet professor said that goats have about a 20% recovery rate.

Really, considering Windy's condition, I would think her odds are even worse than that. But what about Timpani? She was nibbling at the vet's boot liners and everything else she saw at the vet clinic. Other than her wobbly gait, she acts almost normal. The vet and I talked about euthanizing both goats and doing necropsies to be sure that there isn't anything other than the meningeal worm at work here.

I've posted a couple of status updates on my own Facebook page, as well as the Antiquity Oaks page, and a few people with meningeal worm experience have responded. One said that they had a goat that seemed happy and kept eating for a month before they finally decided to put him down. Several others talked about having goats die in spite of treatment.

I told the vet I wanted to wait until morning before making a decision. I'm afraid it's going to be a long night.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A few steps forward, a few steps back

Katy the llama is still at the University of Illinois vet clinic, and we don't know when she will be coming home. One day things look better, the next day they look worse, and some days it is a mixed bag.

The paralysis initially got worse, as evidenced by her inability to even pee or poop, so they had to insert a catheter and manually remove feces. Yesterday she pooped, so that was good. Today she didn't, so that's not so good.

She has had problems with her blood sugar, so they had to start monitoring that and giving her insulin when necessary. Today she seems to be stable in that area. They've also been monitoring electrolytes and ketones in her urine.

Being recumbent -- not standing -- is bad, so they've been lifting her in a sling twice a day and doing physical therapy. The good news for today was that when they removed the sling, she was actually able to maintain her weight on her own four legs and take a couple of steps before collapsing. But getting up is the hard part, and she can't do that yet.

Yes, the bill has left the stratosphere. But you get to a point where you've already spent so much money that you really want to get a live animal out of the deal, so you keep saying yes to each new treatment that becomes necessary.

Little Oscar is doing well. He is nursing and eating hay and llama feed, and because of all the people surrounding his mother daily, he is getting very accustomed to human interaction. If there is anything positive about the whole situation it is that he should be much easier to train after this experience.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Llama emergency

 It all started on Tuesday morning as I was pulling into the parking lot of the Illinois Farm Bureau for the board meeting of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association of which I'm a board member. My cell phone rang. It was Jane telling me that Katy was laying down in the pasture, unable to stand. I suggested that she check her eyelids, and if they were pale to give her a dewormer. I checked in a couple of hours later and learned that they had given her a dewormer and also took her hay and a bucket of warm water. She was eating and drinking but still could not stand.

When I got home Tuesday at sundown, I checked on her. She still was not standing, and although she was eating a little bit, she was not drinking. Mike checked on her first thing Wednesday morning, and she was still not standing, so I called the University of Illinois vet clinic, and they said that we could bring her in. The only problem, I explained, was that she was at the bottom of a hill in an area that was completely inaccessible by vehicle. How would we ever get her into a trailer?

The vet professor said that we could use a blanket as a sling to put it under her body, and that once we had her on her feet, she might actually be able to walk a little. So, when we were done with morning chores, Mike, Jane, Jonathan, and I went out there with a blanket and two halters -- one for Katy and one for her little cria Oscar, who is not even four months old yet, so still needs his mama.

Oscar had never had a halter on him prior to that, and he was not happy about it. First we tried a sheep halter, and he went completely nuts, twisting and jumping into the air, spinning around like a whirling dervish. The sheep halter slipped over his nose bridge and started to cut off his air, so I ran to the barn to get the smallest llama halter that we have. I didn't try it initially because I thought it would be too big, but it actually fit pretty well. He was still not impressed, however, so Mike simply picked him up and carried him into the barn to wait for his mama.

We rocked Katy side to side and got the blanket under her, then the four of us lifted her to her feet. (I snapped this picture as Mike and Jonathan came to the conclusion that Jane and I needed to help.)

We were very happy that she was indeed able to walk a little. She had trouble with her back feet, crossing them sometimes, which you can see in the picture above.

She went down completely one time about halfway to the trailer, and once we got her up again, we all tried really hard to keep her on her feet, as getting her up was the hardest part. As she went past the stall where we'd left Oscar, he completely forgot his disdain for humans and was pressing against me to get to his mama, which made leading him to the trailer a piece of cake, as he was simply following her.

After getting them into the trailer, Jane and I went into the house, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and we were on the road to the U of I vet clinic, which is normally a two-hour drive. I'd forgotten how much pulling the trailer can slow you down, so it was a little longer. Once we arrived, it took the vets and techs 15-20 minutes to get her out of the trailer. Oscar was very upset by the whole thing and spent more time spinning and jumping around in the parking lot. The poor little guy has only seen about five human beings in his whole short life, and suddenly he was surrounded by more than a dozen, but Jane did a good job keeping him from getting too wild.

Everyone finally gave up on getting Katy to stand up, and finally six or seven people pushed and pulled and slid her out of the trailer and onto a cart. They wheeled her into the clinic, and Jane led Oscar while someone else was attempting to move him by pulling on his tail, which I've never seen anyone do with a camelid, although I know people do that with cattle a lot. It didn't seem to work at all, and I'm not sure why I didn't say anything or offer to just tap Oscar gently on the back of his legs, which is how we normally train llamas to lead.

I'm not sure how we wound up with a professor, two residents, an intern, and a dozen students, but things happened very quickly. At least six tubes of blood were drawn and sent to the lab, then they did a complete abdominal ultrasound and even got an imaging specialist with whom to confer. There were lots of white spots all over Katy's liver, and although that was not normal, it did not explain her symptoms. They poked and pinched her in various places and discovered that she had very little feeling on the right side of her body. Blood results began to trickle in with some results that were not terribly surprising, such as, she was dehydrated. Another blood test looked like she was fighting an infection and that she might have a parasite problem. Ultimately a spinal tap confirmed a diagnosis of meningeal worm. One of the students showed us the spinal fluid, which was cloudy. It should have been clear enough to read through. The fluid was sent to the lab, and about 90 minutes later, at 6 p.m., as we were already driving home, we got the phone call with the confirmation. Yes, it was meningeal worm.

Katy will be in the intensive care unit for five days of treatment. It sounds scary. The resident said that she could have seizures, but they would be ready to handle that, if it happens. She will need massive doses of dewormer, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs, which could cause ulcers, but they know that and will treat accordingly. Oscar is staying with her so that he can continue to nurse as much as possible -- and also keep her stress level down.

Oscar actually continued to be a challenge after we got into the clinic and they began examining Katy. He was jumping up and down a lot, even when he was allowed to be right next to his mama's face. First they tried putting a blindfold on him, as that generally helps llamas to calm down, but it didn't work with little Oscar. So, they then asked if it was okay to give him a mild sedative because they were worried that he might hurt himself or Katy by jumping on her head or neck. I agreed, and the sedative did certainly calm him down for about half an hour. He laid down with his head next to his mama's and seemed very content. Even when he became more alert again half an hour later, he remained calm.

Meet the meningeal worm ...

The meningeal worm infects the spinal cord and brain of llamas, which is why it can be so devastating, and you can't just give them a dose of dewormer at home like you could if they simply had an intestinal parasite. Although some people give their llamas a dewormer every month in an attempt to avoid a meningeal worm infection, it is highly controversial. Although you might avoid a meningeal worm infection, you will wind up with intestinal parasites that are resistant to dewormers that are being used so frequently, and intestinal parasites can kill llamas too, especially if they are resistant to the dewormers.

As for how the llama got the meningeal worms -- we can blame the white-tail deer, which frequently visit our farm. They are the normal host for the meningeal worm. They poop out the eggs, which are then ingested by slugs and snails, and then llamas accidentally ingest the slugs or snails when eating grass. Some researchers say that they don't even have to ingest the actual slug or snail; they think that the eggs may be in the slime trail left by slugs and snails. Although goats can also get infected by meningeal worm, it is far less common than llamas and alpacas.

Today ...

The resident in charge of Katy and Oscar called me a few minutes ago with an update. She said that Katy's condition has actually worsened. The paralysis, which was mostly evident in her hind legs and right side yesterday is growing. Her front legs are becoming less responsive, as well as her tail. The resident said that it may still be reversible though, and she asked for the OK to increase the anti-inflammatory drugs. As the worms die in her spinal column, they may be causing increased inflammation, which is what has caused the paralysis to spread ... at least that's the theory.

Although Katy appears to still be making milk, and Oscar has been helping himself as much as possible, they are concerned that he isn't getting enough, so she also asked for permission to begin giving him a bottle with goat milk. Of course, I said yes. In addition to making sure that the little guy doesn't go hungry, I also like the idea of them teaching him to take a bottle, rather than me, in case Katy doesn't make it. I know how hard it is to switch a goat from mama to a bottle, so I can't even imagine what it will be like with a cria that is probably 60 or 70 pounds!

Now, we just wait, hope, and pray.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Foul fowl weather

The last few days have certainly been interesting. It all started on Saturday when things got really windy. We lost electricity in the late afternoon. We've learned over the years that if it isn't back in a few seconds, it won't be back for awhile, so Mike tried to start the generator. Key word: tried. It wouldn't start, so he spent the next couple hours working on it. The sun went down, and he kept working with the help of a flashlight, then the barn lights came on.

Good news: Electricity is back.

Bad news: We knew that Sunday's weather was predicted to be worse, and we still did not have a working generator.

Sunday morning, we were lounging in bed, sipping coffee. Mike was texting our daughter who now lives in Ft. Worth, and I was gazing out the window. Suddenly one of the turkey's moveable pens lifted off the ground, flew high into the air, and came down on top of a 12-foot tall pine tree. Mike's head immediately popped up from his cell phone, and as soon as he saw that I was staring out the window with my mouth wide open and spewing expletives, such as "Holy cow!" he whipped his head around in time to see the pen landing on top of the pine tree. He flew out of bed, and as we exited the bedroom, we met Jane, who was also running out of her bedroom. Because I was still in my gown, I was glad to see that Jane was dressed.

She and Mike ran out to the front yard as I ran for my camera. It seemed like it would be entirely inappropriate for me to yell after them, asking them to wait to remove the pen from the top of the tree while I switched to my zoom lens, which is why I didn't manage to get a picture of it. Those pens are not at all heavy, which was good for the tree and good for Mike and Jane, as it was easy to get down, and it had not broken any branches on the tree.

Once they had the pen down, they had to herd the turkeys back in there. Interestingly enough, the other turkey pen did not get blown away at all. We think it's because it was positioned at a 90 degree angle to the one that did get blown. As long as the wind could blow straight through the pen and under the tarp like a tunnel, it didn't get any lift. Unfortunately, the forecast was calling for the wind to shift in the afternoon from the south to the west.

The forecast was also calling for even stronger winds in the afternoon. Ultimately we decided to slide the pens up against the wooden fence, sticking the skids until the fence and tying the pen to the fence. Jane and Mike piled cinder blocks on the two corners of the skids that were not under the fence.

Mike went back to work on the generator, while Jane and I started chores. When we were feeding the sheep, we saw a ram lamb mount a ewe, which should not really have happened because the ram lambs were supposed to be castrated. Jane grabbed the little guy when he wasn't looking, and I checked for the presence of the family jewels. I thought that I felt two testicles that were very uneven in size. Since I had used a Burdizzo to castrate the little guy, I assumed that I had somehow missed the cord on one, so I was heading to the barn to grab the Burdizzo and try again. At that moment Jonathan was hurrying into the pasture to tell us that we were under a tornado alert.

"Well, we have a testicle alert here!" Jane shot back, as she was holding the little ram. I know tornadoes are nothing to play with, but we already had the little guy, so it should only take a minute to redo the job. I grabbed the Burdizzo from the barn and brought it out to the pasture. As soon as we were done and let the lamb go, I heard the roaring that was unmistakeably the sound of a tornado. I told Jane, who is from Baltimore and knows nothing about tornadoes, and we both started rushing to the house. Once we were close to the house, however, she wanted to stay outside and see everything. Amazingly enough, we were getting zero rain -- not even a drop! -- even though the radar showed purple and magenta over us, so we should have been getting buckets of rain. Later we learned that the tornado was only a couple of miles away.

We wound up losing Internet because the tornado knocked out electricity where our service provider's tower is located, but considering all of the people killed and houses damaged, we were extremely lucky. We are only an hour from Washington, IL, which made national news as it had some of the worst damage, and we have a friend closer to Chicago whose neighbor's barn was completely blown to bits. We've also seen a video of a twister touching down near Pontiac, which is only 12 miles from us. So, all things considered, we really can't complain.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sheep debacle, part 2

Sorry it's taken me so long to finish the story about moving the sheep, but you know ... it's been a busy week. And I really wanted to have a picture to go with the story, and that just isn't happening, so here's the story!

Wednesday (the day after the original sheep debacle) is a day when Mike doesn't go to work until the afternoon, so we decided that we would simply set up a lane using our Electronet to move the sheep from their summer pasture to the winter pasture. After all, we have moved them from that pasture to the barn for shearing in the spring, and it worked just fine.

So, Mike set up the Electronet lanes, and no one even told me that they were going to move the sheep. They thought it would work so well. Then they came inside and told me what happened -- and it wasn't exactly what they had planned. Yes, the sheep did run right through the lanes of Electronet just like they do every spring for shearing. Then they ran between the barns (rather than into the barn) and they ran into the winter pasture ... and they ran through the pasture and didn't even bother to stop when they reached the traditional electric fence on the opposite end of the pasture. They went right through those five strands of electric wire and just kept running!

Mike and Jonathan and Jane assumed that the sheep ran around the south side of the pond and right back to their summer pasture, so they had come inside to ask for my help in keeping the sheep from running through the electric fence again after they herded them back the next time. So, I went down to the opposite end of the pasture and was hanging out when I heard screaming from the south, which is the opposite of the direction they were supposed to be coming from. As it turns out, the sheep had not run all the way back to their summer pasture. They had stopped once they were out of sight just south of the pond. So, we opened the gate on the south side of the winter pasture, and the sheep were herded into the pasture! Yay! No ... not so fast!

They ran into the winter pasture heading west, and they kept running ... and running. Everyone (except middle-aged me) ran after them and tried to get ahead of them so they could cut them off before they reached the electric fence on the west side of the pasture and went through it. And believe it or not, they actually succeeded! Yay! Yes, really! Bravo! Okay, not really, bravo ... not yet anyway.

Even though the sheep were in the pasture where we wanted them, it was quite obvious to everyone that they would not stay in there because they have zero respect for traditional electric fencing. Oh, yeah, that's why we moved them to the eastern pastures four years ago! (Those pastures are fenced with woven wire.) Funny how you forget little details like that. I had thought that it was merely because we had been keeping the cattle in the western pastures, and since we sold the cattle in July, we could now put the sheep in there for the winter, which would make winter feeding so much easier. But no, there was a real logistical reason that we had not been keeping sheep in there.

I suggested that we just fence in the sheep exactly where they were. By now, they had stopped running near the northern section of the pasture, and they were eying us suspiciously. I told Jonathan to go get the Electronet that had been used to create the lanes and bring it back and start setting it up to fence in the sheep in the area where they were currently standing. And that is what we did. They happened to be standing in an area where there was woven wire to the north and Electronet already set up on the east and west, so all we had to do was set up Electronet along the south, and they would be secure. It wasn't a huge area, but this was not meant to be permanent -- just to keep them in this area until they calmed down and realized that this was an okay place to spend the next few months.

So, we finally got the sheep where we wanted them, and they stayed put. This weekend, Mike and Jane put up Electronet around the entire perimeter of the western pasture so the sheep would have a larger area to graze and more grass to eat -- at least for a couple more weeks. We have started feeding hay already, and the sheep have calmed down, so this should be the end of the sheep drama ... at least for a few months.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sheep debacle

On Tuesday, we were going to move the sheep to a pasture near the barn to make it easier for us to feed them over the winter. We had been gradually rotating them from one pasture to another in that direction, so it didn't seem like it was going to be a big deal to move them the last leg into the correct pasture.

In addition to myself, there was apprentice Jane, son Jonathan, and a volunteer who's been helping out every Tuesday lately. Since he had zero experience with sheep, we told him to stand in the middle of the ford of the dried-up creek bed so that the sheep couldn't run across there when they reached the pasture. It seemed simple enough. We'd drive the sheep west, and they'd only have two choices -- run into the pasture or into the creek. Simple, right?

We opened up the temporary electric fencing that had been keeping them in their current area, and they were eager to run out.

Things were going splendidly! They ran straight north and then west to exactly where we wanted them to be. Jonathan and Jane were following close behind, and I was way behind because I'm middle-aged and slow.

There were a lot of trees between point A and point B, so I was only getting an occasional glimpse of the sheep, but I could see that they were moving perfectly.

Then suddenly, I see them moving east! What? East? They were coming back! I ran towards the area where I knew they'd be coming through, and when they got near me, I started screaming, "No! No! No!" And they all turned around and started running west again. I was so proud of myself. Then a few sheep ran across the creek before getting to the ford. Jonathan ran across the creek to try and turn them around again.

From this point, it all gets very fuzzy, and there was no more time for picture taking. Apparently the volunteer had walked up out of the middle of the dried up creek bed and was standing much too close to the pasture gate, so the sheep saw him, and they turned around again and came running back to where I was -- and this time they didn't stop when I yelled and jumped up and down, trying to look scary. Half of them ran to one side and half to the other side, zooming right past me! And they kept running ... and running ... and running.

They ran all the way back to their old pastures where they had spent most of the summer. Jonathan and Jane were in hot pursuit. About two-thirds of the sheep stopped in their old pasture, but the other third just kept going and went through the hayfield and then through the fence on the other side of the hayfield and into the woods. Jonathan and Jane disappeared.

Somehow Porter our English shepherd, who has zero herding training, had gotten himself into the pasture and was determined to move two spring lambs into the old pasture with the other sheep. That was not going well at all, and he was completely deaf to all of my commands to "come" and "sit" and "stay." Finally, he did come to me -- probably because he was just too exhausted to keep trying to herd the sheep -- so I took him back to the house. I told the volunteer that he could leave because a bunch of the sheep were gone, as well as Jonathan and Jane, and I didn't know when they were going to be back.

I went back out there, and eventually Jonathan and Jane came back through the woods. They said the sheep were completely lost, but within a few minutes, we heard them. They were across the creek. Everyone split up to go look for them, and at one point, I heard Jane scream. It turns out that the sound she was following was a rabbit that decided to turn around and run straight at her, which startled her.

We eventually got the sheep back into their old pasture. No, we did not try to move them back to the new pasture, which is on the other side of our property. The sun was going down, and we had not even started on evening chores. What we had expected would take about 15 minutes had occupied us for more than an hour.

Check back in a couple of days for the exciting conclusion!


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