Something was wrong. I’d felt it and gone out to check on him at 4 am. He did not rise to meet me. I’d noticed that he’d had a little hitch in his giddy-up the day before. Now he could barely walk when he finally stood. He was hobbling and picking up his front left hoof. I posted a frantic HELP on Facebook.
I called my friend Laurie McCarthy who lives at the base of Mt. Magazine and keeps horses. She flew over, coffee in hand, pink paddock boots on foot at 6 am and helped me take some video and photos of his condition. She is a wonderful and experienced calming force who’s equine background I could rely on.
Some weeks earlier a fellow equine Mom and friend, Beverly Taylor, had referred me to a farrier who is an acquaintance. She uses a holistic approach to hoof care.
Sarah Alishire is a natural farrier who has a great deal of knowledge. There are many out there, but I’d followed her posts and liked the way she communicates about her horses and her attitudes towards care. How a person handles communication helps me to pre-determine how they will communicate with my animals. Sarah knows how to wait for the animal to feel confident enough to participate in his care rather than forcing it. There is no forcing Catalunya into anything.
When I called Sarah I could tell quickly from the questions that she asked that she was the one! She asked me what I feed him. Some may wonder what that has to do with his hooves, but I’d researched and knew that she was trying to determine if it was laminitis, an abscess, or if he was foundering or colicking from having been fed the wrong diet. I sent her the photos that Laurie took and she thought that she saw white line disease and that she could definitely help.
I’d left an hysterical message for Dr. Moon early. He sleepily called me back. He hadn’t even left for his office yet. He asked me questions trying to determine if it was colic or founder or hoof related. I didn’t understand some of his questions due to my lack of experience and couldn’t convince him to leave his practice and come out right away. He was not convinced that it was not something for the farrier.
“So, what on earth am I going to do?” I thought. “How will Sarah be able to work on Catalunya safely?” He knows “knee” and “foot” and “pick it up”. But it’s going to take months to train him to stand calmly for a stranger while his feet are worked on. I’ve only worked with him through the safety of the fence and he still kicks me sometimes when he becomes insecure.
He will have to be tranquilized in order to have this situation relieved. So, if we’re going to have to put him under, may as well have him castrated at the same time. I did not want him to experience anesthesia twice.
I asked Sarah to communicate with Dr. Moon on my behalf and to schedule the castration when he comes for the visit. I hired her to do his feet and be sort of the producer for the procedures. She knows about castration, the various conditions that could be at play, and she could answer Dr. Moon’s questions and assist him in the procedure.
Sarah got it done and the date was set for two days away. We would have to continue to watch him suffer like this and it was the middle of July. Nothing like having a gaping wound that you want to heal quickly in the hottest part of the summer. All kinds of infections love warm moist environments and the flies are horrendous. He will suffer more after the procedure. Ugh.
But, all of the experts say that in order for him to become a good barnyard buddy, he’ll have to be castrated. Most rescues won’t accept in tact males except for the ones rounded up for the government and they are sent to a specialist. Whom I spoke to a few days after Catalunya’s arrival.
After obsessing for 24 hours about how in the hell this was gonna work without a rodeo or a dart-gun, I began to ready Catalunya for what was to come. During our training that day I’d asked him to bring me his tail. He’d arranged his back legs so that his rump bumped into my target hand. I took syringes that have no needles and pushed them into his thickly hided rump. I’d asked Alan to remove one of the 14ft cattle gates from his second turn out pen and to re-set it on a post inside his barn corral. This way when he comes in for food we can get on the other side of the gate and slowly close it while moving him into what would create a narrow chute with the hayloft on one side and the long gate on the other. He’ll be pinned in so that Dr. Moon can administer the anesthesia.
It worked. He walked in. We all moved in; me, Sarah, Dr. Moon, and his 14 year old son. Alan and Sarah’s daughter, stayed on the outside of the surgery area ready to locate a wrench or rope or caribeener or whatever I’d missed from obsessing about the surgical area all night. I’d hung extra lighting, gathered gloves from my hair coloring kit, raked the straw nice and smooth, and filled a cooler of cold drinks. It was sweltering.
He struggled a little as we closed him in but he had been in so much pain for the past three days that he was worn out. He was ready for anything to change his situation. Dr. Moon got the shot in quickly and in just a few seconds Catalunya was knocked out. Dr. Moon’s son lied on his neck in case he woke up. Sara quickly did his feet while Dr. Moon did the castration. Catalunya’s goat buddies peeked through the walls and didn’t let out a sound in reverent support.
My goals for the day were to keep me and my family safe and to be able to give Catalunya the care he needs and deserves. Nothing more; not gonna teach him dressage, nothing less; not gonna let an animal who has come to us for help continue to suffer on our watch.
The sense of relief when the procedure was over was uplifting. After a successful production, we all hung out and shared stories like you do on a film set after the martini shot is in the can. Dr. Moon was very engaging and so special. He and his son have mules and horses and hunt elk and pack on their mules. They and Sarah shared equine treatments, procedures and strategies. The teenagers hung out. I was so grateful and happy for their skill and successful communication that I gave Dr. Moon my grandfather’s Veterinary Medicine book from the 1940’s to show my appreciation.
Before he left, Dr. Moon explained that he’d double clamped the arteries and to watch for pooling blood. Dripping is normal, pooling is not. “So, now I get to obsess on him bleeding to death” my inner voice said.
Catlunya had a rough recovery and Alan I were distraught again. After sometime, it seemed that the problem was balancing on his newly shaped hooves coupled with the pain of the of his incision site rubbing against his inner thigh with each step. One hoof has a deep hole in it. Possibly eaten away by white line disease. It seemed to have something in it and bothered him more than the others. He was still hobbling and drunk on pain killers and anesthesia. He would not allow us to come near him in order to check his wound site or hoof.
Finally, that afternoon we both approached him while he was standing up. He came over to us, Alan with the treat bowl and I with the hoof pick. I asked him to pick it up and he did. I was able to quickly gouge out a small stone form the cavity in his hoof and Alan was able to administer the treat quickly. He seemed greatly relieved after that and things started to trend towards the positive.
The next day I noticed a white, foamy pool of what I guessed was puss. I noticed the incision site on the right side was full of puss. For our training that day I asked him to bring me his belly. He arranged himself so that I could touch his belly through the fence. He allowed me to apply a cloth that I’d soaked with peroxide and then allowed me to apply a charcoal based wound powder on the incision site. Stood perfectly still while I cared for his wound. When he is ready for his environment to be improved, he allows care.
All of our training up to this point, (224 days in a row at the day of his procedure) went a long way in making that day possible. He allowed me to care for this very painful wound in a very sensitive area for weeks until it healed. Our bond went to a new level that day. The moon was in Equus that day.
It is time to decide whether or not Buckminster will be allowed to grow into a buck or have to be castrated and become a wether. Having your own buck is handy come Thanksgiving when your girls are in heat. Otherwise, you have to take the girls on a date with the buck, wherever he is, in November or December. Right during the holidays.
I posted for vet recommendations on goat oriented Facebook groups and watched a million goat-centric Youtube videos. One way of castrating a baby goat is by banding. It’s so simple that 4H youth can do it. It is considered acceptable and humane. I watch a video of a woman and young child banding a baby goat. The baby stiffens as if it’s made of glass and falls over as if it’s dead. After a little while it gets up and bounds off.
A stiffening body that falls straight over is a body that is trying to deal with severe trauma in my perception. The word shattered comes to mind. There has to be another way. What is an accepatble standard of animal treatment by others has always been problematic for me. Especially growing up.
Some of my research reveals threads of people discussing taking their buckling to a city vet for castration only to have the baby die from anesthesia. A rural vet, accustomed to livestock, would know better than to administer anesthesia. A good vet with very fast hands seems to be the method that will spare him the most trauma.
Asking a vet in a rural area to leave his practice to drive out to the middle of nowhere to castrate a baby goat shows how little I know. I may as well have asked them if they had any massage appointments open for a buffalo.
I called Dr. Moon and his office said he can simply perform the procedure in the back of the truck. His practice works mostly with livestock. But, he was the first vet that I took our rescue bird dog, Zippy, to. I found Zippy in a ditch in 14 degree weather with a cluster of tumors on his head and a bad back leg. I’ve met almost every vet within a 3 hour radius and Dr. Moon correctly diagnosed the cause of the leg and honestly said he did not know what was on his head. Neither did the surgeon, Dr. Dew, who did the procedure. So, while I didn’t exactly connect with Dr. Moon, I trusted him and easily recognized him as having some sort of special talent for what he does.
I took Florentina along so that Buckminster could remain calm on the ride. They have never been apart. I was so upset about the pain that hewould have to endure but I sucked it up and continued on. I remembered how I had looked exactly like Melissa Gilbert’s Laura Ingalls Wilder depicted in the television show Little House on the Prairie when I was in the 6th grade. Same pigtails, buck teeth with a split and homemade clothes. I hoped to muster her prairie girl courage. “Buck up half pint”. “Yes sir, pa.”
Dr. Moon came out to the truck with two nurses. He gave the baby a deadening shot to the area. Then, in two fast razor slices it was over. The baby let out two cries and Florentina lowered her head at one of the nurses holding him, presenting her full rack. “That Mamma goat’s about to put a whoopin’ on you” said one of them. The nurses had already drawn blood and taken fecal samples from both of them.
Dr. Moon reminds me of Sam Shephard when he plays a character in one of his own plays or films. (Shepard was still alive at this time) His precision and speed made for the least amount of trauma for my boy. I drove home with the two goats in the back of the 4-runner feeling grateful and relieved; the theme to Little House On The Prairie playing in my head. “Good job half pint” my imaginary father says. “Thanks pa.” I say in Melissa Gilbert’s voice.
The next day while I was cleaning out the back of the 4 -runner I found what looked like a little piece of rabbit fur. Alan walked up as I realized it belonged to Buckminster. I cried again and felt queasy at the thought of his pain ridden groin. Alan hugged me until I was better. It was tough on him too. He grew up with cats.
Bringing home baby
I’d imagined how it would be; bringing home baby Abba. I’d pull into the driveway with her in the back, the two former herd mates would run up to her and they’d kiss noses and jump with glee when they saw their old herd mate.
Just Florentina and her buckling seemed too small of a herd for her to feel safe. So I went back to our friend’s beautiful herd of Nubian, Saanen, and Alpine mix and got Abba. Florentina and Abba have the same mother. So, I thought they’d be like sisters.
It’s a four-hour round trip to Eureka Springs but seeing old friends there makes it well worth it and I wanted to get goats from someone I knew. I’d watched our friend Bill King’s Facebook posts of making beautiful cheese from his goats’ milk and I needed his tutelage for this new venture.
The first thing that Abba did when I popped open the hatch was to fix her gaze on Catalunya and begin bleating. He immediately heralded her arrival.
Abba had a rough time getting out of the car. She was frozen trying to take in the new environment. I imagined her traumatized by the way I’d caught her. Rodeo style. Trap her in the barn, pick her up, put her in the car, and take off. I hated treating her with such disrespect, but, it seemed that trying to build her trust, then ripping her from the herd would have been worse and I wanted to get through the narrow and windy road (known as The Pig Trail) before dark.
I kept looking to Florentina and Buckminster awaiting the sweet goat reunion moment with baby sissy. Florentina head butted her the instant she finally, reluctantly got out of the car. And only then she vacated due to Buckminster head butting and humping her before she could get out. I angrily led the two billy goats gruff to the barn. My frustrated energy upset them more. The doeling ran around absolutely confused and terrified. Alan tried to round her up. This required a stop, drop, and roll to the ground under the barbed wire fence. Something we’ve become good at since Catalunya’s arrival.
As I tried to close the clasps on Florentina and Buckminster’s pen, the doeling ran straight into Catalunya’s pen. This required one of us getting into an open pen with him in order to retrieve the baby. We prayed that he would not kill her. He had not killed Buckminster when the buckling wandered into his pen following Florentina. But, all of my research told us that it was a real possibility.
We yelled back and forth at one another over the barn walls. Florentina and Buckminster ran around their pen terrified by our outbursts . I sat on the floor and prayed “please don’t eat the baby, Cat, please don’t eat the baby.” Alan somehow wrangled her into the barn without a collar or harness. She was loose in the barn. It was around 7:30 and getting dark. It was impossible to catch her again and we were both beyond exhaustion. Catalunya came in looking curious and empathetic. We made her a little straw pile and placed some water and closed the barn door knowing she’d find a way to get out. We just let the spirit take the wheel and soon after fell into bed.
About 11:30 I heard Catalunya bawl and knew something was wrong with the baby. Sure enough, when I went outside, there she was in the driveway, vulnerable, staring through the backyard fence into Cat’s pen. He was watching her. I opened the gate and sat on the deck in a blanket and waited for her to come in from the driveway. I stayed with her in the backyard until around 1:30 hoping she’d come to me for comfort. She still did not trust me. I cried from exhaustion. I sat down by Catalunya and asked him to please look after her through the night ’cause I was done. I hoped she’d be alive in the morning. She was. She probably stayed next to his fence all night. I knew if she was in trouble I’d hear Catalunya’s alarm.
I’d researched fencing for the goats and had been planning to move them around the property with a movable electric fence like the farmers in Mother Earth News magazine do. I’d watched YouTube videos of a homesteading couple Art and Bri and their hipster homesteading, homeschooling family. They demonstrate how easily they are setting up the moveable fence for the first time and watching the goats in order to supervise their getting shocked for the first time. They have to be on hand in case one of the goats charges towards the fence and becomes entangled. One sits ready at the switch.
We pull the wire fence over to the flattest spot we can find and drive the stakes into the god-forsaken rock spawning land. It fell over. The hippy homesteader kids did it with an infant strapped on one’s back and toddler at the hand of the other. Why can’t we figure this out? Alan figures that it’s because North Carolina topsoil is way more forgiving than what we are working with.
We read the directions. Again. After a long while of stretching and propping and pounding, it still sagged a little, but, we let the goats in. Florentina flew straight over the top. Buckminster finally touched it but it did not shock him. We tested the thingy. Sheesh. The electricity was not at the right level. The opportunity to train the buckling was gone. We took it down and moved it to another area as the goats ate my lilac bush and tulips. They have 75 acres to free range and they prefer to stay in the front yard, eat all of my flowers and poop on the front porch. After all of the money we spent on electric wire fencing in twenty acres for Catalunya, none of it will work for goats. We go back to the fence supply piles that have accumulated and I begin to design a goat pen.
The goats are really speeding up Catalunya’s ability to calibrate his actions. Buckminster tests him constantly by going into his pen, walking up behind him, then running away when Catalunya turns to chase him out. Cat softens his approach around the new doeling. He chases her away half heartedly and with a softer touch.
Today is my birthday. I take the goats for a walk around the outside of his pen hoping to guide the integration process. We tromp through the woods and I have to stop, drop, and roll under the barbed wire on occasion as Alan sets more fence posts for the new goat pen.
Catalunya is a good mimic. Having a larger herd structure would help him learn what is expected, how to calibrate his actions, and take some of the pressure off of us. Florentina and Buckminster are my first experience with the caprine. Like the bovine, equine, and hominine, they are herd animals. I figure she feels vulnerable because it’s only her and the kid. Alan and I spend a great deal of time with Catalunya each day creating a calm environment in hopes of diminishing his overpowering and potentially harmful behaviors. It is working. Still; he swung at a fly the other day and his jaw accidentally smashed my finger against the fence and took off part of my nail. Their first meeting was so perfect. Florentina stretched up to him from a bent front knees position, kid behind her, Madonna and child like . He dropped his neck and touched his dromedarian muzzle to her dinosaur bird like nose. He didn’t seem very sure about the baby. The barn was still being readied for the goats so we temporarily housed them in the greenhouse. Kitchen table/bar/and windowsill turned greenhouse contained chard, sunflowers, mustard greens, peppers, Osage orange trees (from the neon green whiffle ball sized seed pod that I’d filched from a park in Ft. Smith back in the days when I protested pipelines), black beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, chamomile, stevia, black-eyed peas, and arugula starts. We also moved 6 overwintered citrus trees, rootings of forsythia, crepe myrtle, rose plum, pomegranate, and hydrangea to the deck. The potting soil all over the kitchen floor added to my goat keeping learning curve induced anxiety. The old columbine and foxglove seeds I’d found that Dad had saved for what must’ve been more than a decade were fruitful. A small victory in the chaotic fails to come. Now their pen is finished and they are finally in the barn and it’s time to get organized. Alan made it beautiful and Scandinavian looking like he intrinsically does everything. I call him Ole. His Norwegian, stonemason, grandfather’s name.
When we first got into the barn Florentina’s ribbed horn landed dangerously close to my orbital bone as she and the buckling charged into their newly constructed pen, knocking off my cowboy hat and flattening me into the poop soaked straw. Not gonna work. Time to get the clicker. To this point I’ve only lured her with food or tugged on her leash out of exhaustion. First, remember that they are reflecting whatever vibe I’m giving off. If Florentina is looking about frantically and running headlong into the barn it’s because I am. If Catalunya is squeaking out anxious sounds when I come near, it could be the result of some of my behaviors. My anxiousness and lack of focus hampers their progress. Ugh. I’m tired. I can’t do this.
I drink wine in the garden after dark. I’ve stayed outside till 11 or so most nights with Catalunya. I’ve become accustomed to the dark.
Before the goats came, trainer Dolores Arste of zenhorsemanship.com came for a session and taught me the proper pace for a training session. It is so slow. My mind wanders off. Catalunya has learned to compensate for me I think. We worked on backing up in order to receive a treat and to contribute to safety in the long-term. So, now, he does it without command. I noticed him backing up rather loudly with hoofs hitting the ground with force. I think he is either trying to swat a fly or he is trying to get my attention and bring me back to the session.
Dear Lord. The animals are training me. It’s a wonder they can learn anything from me. Amazingly, they overlook my faults. They are quick to forgive. So many lessons at once. I’m tired. I can’t do this.
In order to for things to work, I have to lead them. That means, I have to know what my plan is before I enter the barn. I get out my whiteboard and write a protocol. Who knew beauty school could come in so handy? I go for the top latch and ask her twice and she stands down. I give her some pellets. I fumble for the second closure and she stands up to sniff my hand, I ask her to get down, she does, she gets pellets. I can’t even find the clicker much less operate it with my hands full. but, she has watched and listened as I train Catalunya in the stall next to her. She catches on quickly. Me, takes a few tries.
The next day Alan and I find Florentina and Buckminster standing on top of the cab of the 79 Ford. We scream and yell and they look at us as if something is wrong with us. “Get down, dammit’!!! We pace around in frustration trying to figure out what to do. I finally decide to try the training. “Florentina, get down sweetie.” I say calmly. I draw a line in the air with my finger from where she is to the ground. “Florentina, down.” She gets down. I run to find her a treat.
Catalunya has watched Florentina reach for tree branches and pull them down in order to reach the leaves. Suddenly, he begins to reach for limbs. He has always had this ability but we’ve never seen him use it. Now, he looks up at a branch that is too high for him. Alan gets out the bamboo pole and brings it down for him like he has seen me do for the goats. He also had been very agreeable to allowing me to put a leash on him. He gives me his ears or his neck, whichever I ask for, and stands for me to put the leash on the named part. Maybe he sees the goats on the leash and this helps.
I keep Buckminster, Florentina’s buckling, on leash with me and Florentina is free but she looks to me for direction in place of what should be herd-mates of her species. Catalunya’s training times have been cut in half and the dogs have been practically non-existent since the goats arrived. I have to refine our systems.
Still, all the time we put in before is helping. Naming his body parts has helped with the gash on his nose. About a month ago, Alan woke up to let the dogs out into the backyard and Catalunya was standing there with a big gash on his nose and the fence between the backyard and his barn pen was torn down. We don’t know what motivated him to break out of his pen and into the yard. We think it may have been a very loud squirrel skittering on the metal barn roof. I soak a terry cloth with watered down betadine and grab the treat bucket and clicker. After a few successful commands I ask him to bring his nose to my hand. He allows me to hold the cloth there for several seconds at a try. After a few days he seems to welcome the care. It must really hurt.
I focus on slowing my pace to a predictable, rhythmic, plod. I realize how frantic, unfocused and chaotic my natural rhythms are compared to those of the barnyard animals.
The next morning I walk from the porch to the barn practicing my movements with the intent of creating a calm, predictable, pace for them. My memory takes me to walking home from the bus stop to the mansion that I lived in while I was in acting school in Manhattan. It was in Tenafly, New Jersey. I lived downstairs and was the maid and babysitter in exchange for free rent.
A semester at the National Shakespeare Conservatory was expensive and my parent’s did not help with college. My walk from the bus stop to the marble floored mansion (complete with a crazy lady who was too cheap to hire a proper maid and her son who looked like the kid from THE OMEN) was a chance to practice what I’d learned in movement class that day.
I practiced leading my body with my chest, leading with my knees, leading with my chin; all important body work for creating characters. I try applying lessons learned in acting school; learning to change my focus, my intention, my pace, to what is needed on the farm. Who knew acting school would come in so handy?
The next day I try walking the corridor between the horseshoe. We are outside the fence. He is in. I pull a branch down for her and she climbs my body and the fence to get to the leaves. The baby props his hooves up on my leg. Catalunya joins us and cranes his neck up and bites some leaves. He bites the left clove of Florentina’s hoof and she doesn’t flinch. He always tries to bite my feet. He has no fingers. It’s like a child putting everything in his mouth in order to explore it.
I’m relieved that he is not aggressive with his new herd mates. Catalunya seems even more handsome now that Florentina has arrived. She went straight up to him, through the fence, and they touched noses. The first day she and Buckminster arrived she called for Catalunya whenever he left the backyard area for his turnout pen. The first time she did it, he ran back to her. Ran. Came running. Never seen him do that for anything. He was clearly concerned for her.
The first few days he preferred to hang next to wherever she was. Catalunya heralds every arrival and departure as well as anytime something is wrong with one of the goats. Buckminster got stuck in a metal 5 gallon pail, one leg caught between the handle and the pail. He screamed and bucked and clunked down the fence line. Catalunya catterwalled, all four legs splayed, tail straight out, and both nostrils rose from his nose as if someone had pinched him in the middle hard enough to displace all of the air from the middle to the ends. He did not let up until the baby was safe. Then he needs a few “ahbrrrrruuuah, brrruuuuah” lip flutters just to collect himself again.
The goats are really speeding up his ability to calibrate his actions. Buckminster tests him constantly by going into his pen, walking up behind him, then running away when Catalunya turns to chase him out. When the goats are out of his line of vision he butts his head against his fence and brays loudly to mark the second he loses sight of them. So, in an effort to hand over my current goat sitting duties to Catalunya, I begin leading the goats around the outer perimeter of his pen on the outside of the fence. Catalunya has had exposure to this from our pre-goat walks. I finally calm down and allow the goats to wander into his pen. He tolerates them. He steps on a skinny tree and pulls it down like Florentina does. The goats hurry over to join in. He holds it down and eats leaves and allows them to stay. The goats need more herd members in order to feel secure and Catalunya needs a donkey herd in order to become his best self. Now I have to learn how to integrate herd members. Lifelong learner. That’s me. Begin the caprine.