Saying Goodbye: Losing Four-Legged Family Members
I have always been drawn to the written word to express my deepest thoughts and emotions. The words just flow through me onto the page and they paint the most magnificent pictures. As I write this I find myself struggling more than ever before to convey what is in my heart. This week our homestead family suffered a loss so tragic that the words evade me. Perhaps I can paint a picture of the happier times to precede this dark news. Last year our oldest daughter embarked on her journey in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and had to select a project to steer her learning and reveal her passions. One day Taylor and I were visiting a local friend when lightening struck. Taylor found herself the receiver of love from the most gentle doe we have ever known. This little goatie was CJ and I could tell right away that they were drawn to each other. Shortly after, we added CJ to her family and Taylor began working with her for her school project. It became clear very quickly that CJ didn’t realize she was a goat...she was in fact a hooman and ALWAYS wanted to be with the people! CJ marched to the beat of her own drum and was the quirkiest little goat. As you can imagine she needled her way right into all of our hearts.
This week we were waiting anxiously for CJ to deliver her second set of babies. Last year she blessed us with two gorgeous doelings that found their way to wonderful homes. We couldn’t wait to meet the new little ones and intended to keep a doeling to continue to establish our registered herd from our own breedings. When CJ went into labor it was clear that things weren’t progressing quite as quickly as they should. This wasn’t entirely unusual for CJ, which we knew from last years kidding. Her early labor was longer than our other does, so keeping that in mind we practiced patience. By the next morning she had decided it was time! Mia and I were by her side as she pushed and again we noticed she wasn’t making much progress.
There’s a challenge with raising livestock where we are faced with allowing nature to take its course or choosing human intervention. We strive to breed does who have easy kiddings and up until now we’ve had lots of bouncing babies join our family with very smooth deliveries. But the longer you stay in something the more you see. The more you learn. And sometimes those lessons are gut wrenching.
In this circumstance, I chose human intervention because I wasn’t willing to allow CJ to struggle when she didn’t appear to be making much progress the traditional away. After a quick internal exam I could tell that things weren’t feeling quite right and I couldn’t find any babies in what felt like an extremely short birth canal. I quickly called a Vet because I’m able to acknowledge when something is beyond my expertise. Thankfully, the Vet arrived within the hour and we set to the task of figuring out what was going on with CJ. The Vet performed her internal exam and diagnosed uterine torsion. She realized that CJ’s uterus was twisted, which had inadvertently blocked the birth canal and trapped the kids inside. To rectify this we started by employing the least invasive method of correction called the Schaffer‘s method. This involved some rolling, repositioning and external manipulation. The kids felt better placed and we were hopeful. After another internal exam it became clear that there was still some uterine twisting and we were unable to correct it.
At this point the Vet suggested an emergency c-section and I balked. Here??? In my barn??? That can’t be sterile! She won’t make it! What if we lose them all? The consensus was that this would atleast give her or some of them a shot at survival whereas leaving things as they were would surely result in death for all of them. I braced myself for an experience I was in no way prepared for, but I knew there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t or couldn’t do to help save my girl. We proceeded with the surgery.
I won’t go into the details here. What I can tell you is how I felt. Fear. Crippling fear for this gentle spirit‘s life. I just kept praying over and over, “Please let her be strong enough. Please let her pull through.” With adept hands the Vet pulled out twins who were initially unresponsive and then she set to the task of trying to right CJ’s uterus which had become twisted over her intestines. Sam and I were each entrusted with a baby and we knew that we must clear their lungs of fluid quickly to get them breathing for the best shot at life. Due to the traumatic delivery this was a greater task than it typical is for a vaginal birth, but we had hope. One of the kids was making noise and appeared to be coming around. We dried them off vigorously in our arms, willing them to live, to breathe.
CJ had entrusted us with her little ones: a chocolate buckling and a belted doeling. The buckling was weaker from the start and within minutes after delivery he passed in my arms. No heart beat, no breathe. My efforts had been futile. Refusing to be defeated I turned my attention to the doeling who was the stronger of the two. She called out in her newborn cry and we clung to the notion that we had atleast saved one. All this while the Vet worked diligently to piece CJ back together. She turned to me with sadness in her eyes and conveyed that there was far to much tearing and bleeding to right this terrible wrong. We had to make the decision to humanely euthanize CJ to end her suffering.
In her final moments I held her face in my hands and reminded her how much she was loved. How bravely she had fought and that we would care for the treasure she had given us. As she moved on from this world I looked into those brown eyes and was again reminded of what peace she had brought to our homestead. This loss broke me. I had failed her. I had failed to save her son. The sorrow was consuming and I didn’t want to walk away from her because that meant it was over, that I couldn’t fight for her anymore...but she was already gone.
We mustered the courage to focus our attention on the care of the remaining kid. She was unable to stand or move much at all and could only muster little cries of protest here and there. We filled her belly with colostrum and whisked her inside to stay warm under under our watchful eyes. There were moments when we were sure she’d pull through and then others when we doubted her strength. She was with us long enough for us to dub her Shea. She spent her short life nestled in my shirt against my heart or cuddled up in Mia’s arms hidden in her hair. Three short hours after she was born Shea sighed her last breathe. My attempts to resuscitate her failed.
This loss is crushing. It was tidal wave after tidal wave of grief, a brief glimpse of hope only to be dashed on the rocks with even more loss. Sometimes homesteading can be cruel. When you put your whole heart into what you do you render yourself vulnerable. After I laid Shea down next to CJ and her little buckling all I could think was, “I give up.” Nature beat me that day. I couldn’t imagine a way forward without CJ in it brightening our day with her chubby cheeks or contented smile and balancing our herd with her quiet demeanor. I still can’t find a way forward. As I write this I still feel defeated and heart broken and completely lost.
If you ever hear someone say that farmers don’t care for their livestock and only see them as a tool or a means to an end please share this with them. We raise them like children. We love them unconditionally, nurturing their needs at all hours of the day and night; no matter the season or the weather. We walk with them through the fields in the summer while they graze admiring the abundance of life and we hold them to our hearts as they leave this world and all of us behind. I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle. It has taught me unending compassion for all of God’s creatures, both big and small. It has showed me the grit required to muscle through the hard times. It has also clothed me in the grace needed to navigate dark waters such as these and be supportive for my children who also carry the burden of this loss. I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle, but today it weighs heavy on me. We will grieve and we will find a special way to memorialize CJ and her kids. We will try to find a way forward without them. Right now that path is unclear.