Getting help isn’t always easy

I thought I’d prepared well for the goats. I shoveled years of the previous owner’s left-behind bedding from the barn. I built stalls with little mesh windows that would allow them to communicate even when they were separated. I read site after site and article after article about goat care. I joined caprine forums on the internet. I researched everything I thought I’d need to know about feeding, breeding, vaccinating, worming, grazing, socializing, milking. I bought buckets and hay and feed and wood chips. I truly though I was ready.

I had no idea how hard it would be.

The goats are angels. Contrary to every popular stereotype about goats, they are picky eaters and don’t chew on anything they shouldn’t. They jump up on the edge of their stall and “Mehhhhh” at me until I come close enough for kisses. They are as friendly and affectionate and sweet as any farm animal I’ve ever met, and when I realized this I thought it would be easy.

But then the spots started.

Maybe a week after I got them home I noticed a few spots on Sprocket – quarter-sized hairless spots with little crusties inside of them. I thought that maybe she’d been rubbing on some trees or the fence and so I ignored them. They looked innocuous enough.

Then the dandruff around the ears started, and the hair loss around the eyes. It was happening quickly, and in panic mode I went to visit my vet. Who apparently doesn’t do goats. Doesn’t carry medications for goats. Won’t give me an opinion about goats. “But…”, I pleaded, “It’s a skin condition – maybe mange or lice – surely you could at least identify it – it can’t be that different from dogs and cats and cows and llamas and horses.” They were firm. No goats. No way.

So I made calls to other vets and visited the local feed and agricultural supply stores. No luck. Goats were second class citizens, even pigs were more likely to find help. Finally I was advised of a large animal vet who should know something about goats. I called the clinic and got a receptionist named Bonnie. When I explained my problem to Bonnie she acted like I had recently been evicted from a mental hospital by accident. “We have large animal vets”, she informed me, “but I don’t know what you expect them to do.” I paused, dumbfounded. Then, slowly, I explained that I just wanted some advice on how to treat my goat, a diagnosis and a course of action. Bonnie snickered. “Our vets don’t do home visits for goats and if they did it would cost you a small fortune.” I could feel my lower lip quivering. I didn’t know if I was outraged or about to break down into a blubbering mass of stressed out tears. How could these vet people treat any animal with such disrespect, especially my sweet little goat! “Well, can I bring you a skin scraping for analysis so at least you can tell me if it’s a parasite or a fungus?” Bonnie heaved a frustrated sigh from her chest. “Nobody’s ever done that before. So…no.” I was speechless. Seconds passed and Bonnie relaxed a little, perhaps sensing my near-postal status. “Give me your phone number. I’ll see if a vet will call you,” she ordered. I did so, and hung up with a meek, “Thank you.”

When the vet called he was curt and officious. He asked a very few pointed questions and then diagnosed mites and vitamin deficiency as my problem. He prescribed shots of wormer and penicillin and a change in feed and in minutes he was gone. I felt somewhat relieved to have a “professional” diagnosis, even if it was over the phone. I set to work getting medications and giving needles and switching over gradually to new improved feed and then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

A week later Endo started getting spots too.

This time I took pictures and turned to the internet. If there’s one thing that repeats itself time and time again on goat forums, it’s the sentiment that it’s nearly impossible to find a vet who knows anything about goats. Not very comforting, but it definitely makes me feel less alone. After searching long and hard I finally found a web vet on the JustAnswer service who specializes in caprine medicine. I asked him to chat with me and sent pictures with a detailed description of my poor little goats. He asked several questions and then determined that mites and nutritional deficiencies were unlikely and the fungal disease ringworm is (as I initially susected) the issue. He told me how to deal with it and warned me that I was in for 1-2 months of daily treatment. I have to bleach my stall weekly until the ringworm is gone. “Is there anything else you need help with?” he asked. I wanted to reach through the internet and hug him.

I’ve switched treatments and I am on day 3 of the anti-fungal barrage.

Apparently it’s going to be a long haul and I’m not discouraged by the fact that I don’t see any improvement yet. HOWEVER… there are no new spots on Endo today (knock on wood) and some of Sprocket’s dandruffy scabs seem to have let go, revealing pink skin ready for the healing. I am oh-so cautiously hopeful. Cautious being the operative word.

I had no idea when I got goats a month ago how absolutely stressful it would be. I had no idea that getting a qualified medical opinion would be a problem. I had no idea that something like a fungus could wreak such havoc. I thought I was prepared but I was, and am, a rank newbie. I’m learning the hard way.

I’m determined to get through this one using any means necessary (and I’m not ruling out the power of merlot). I’m sizing up a buck right now and I hope that once I conquer this hurdle I can add him to my little herd. On the smallest scale I’m beginning to understand what farmers go through, and as sick as it may sound, as insane as the stress may be, I kind of like it. With every needle, every mucking of the stall, every treatment of the scabs, every mixing of the vitamins in the feed, every washing of the hands to avoid getting ringworm myself, I feel closer and closer to something real. This is life and death and everything I do has the ability to make a difference.

It’s a good thing to come home to, and I hope it’s going to get even better. Fingers crossed.

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