“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” — Robert H. Schuller
I’ve been fighting in the Battle of the Horns for some time now, and the horns are winning. When the horned lambs(mostly the little guys) get to a certain age there is a constant game we play called, “get my head out of this fence!” in which the participant enjoys grass through the fence line but then when trying to withdraw his head back into the pasture he’s in, gets his horns hung up on the grid of fencing. So you are somewhere on your property in the middle of something and the wailing baahing begins. You go to free the little lamb from the fencing so he can enjoy the pasture with his buddies until he soon gets his head stuck in another spot.
This continues until the lambs’ heads just don’t fit through the grid of welded wire fencing anymore, coinciding with autumn usually.
Where the ram and the buck are concerned, their constant game has been “get my head untangled from this electric mesh fencing that doesn’t hold a charge and doesn’t do anything worthwhile in the winter.” This game is the grown-up variation in which the larger animals easily, happily push through the mesh fencing which was installed to deter them from ramming into the corner posts of the permanent fencing or to give them a little reminder that they’re not allowed to go through. But because the wintertime snows and ice have grounded it, rendering it frozen, stuck and un-electrified, the buck and ram see no reason to avoid it and, several times daily, include the fencing in their playtime. I have had to liberate the very strong animals with very large horns more times than I can count now, and that was how I’d begun my chores on Tuesday evening this week.
How many times has mom said it’s all fun and games until somebody loses a horn?
Last year at about this time, our Shetland wether Gandalf had been bullied by Winky, the young horned ewe, and broke his horn with a crack I’ll never forget. It happened at the end of the day. And that’s when little Brigid, our Angora kid goat, had her injury.
That evening, after I’d untangled Milkweed, I began evening rounds which ended with the goats. It was then that I observed that all of the Angoras were marked with blood. Some to a lesser degree than others. The first thing I thought of was “someone has a broken horn.” And sure enough, there was little Brigid, blood pouring out of the top of her head. But she scrambled about with the others, jostling to get her dinner like any other evening.
With that kind of energy and interest in eating, I had a little time. So I pulled out some of the several books I own on Angora goats and combed the indexes for ‘broken horns.’ I thought, based on the previous year’s accident with Gandalf and the full arsenal of First Aid products in the tack room, I ought to be able to handle this. Not one article, not one paragraph about what to do when horns break. Of course, I could pull out my smart phone and search on the internet, but the next course of action was to go to Jim for help. “Jim, I hate blood. Can you help me with Brigid’s broken horn?”
Jim doesn’t mind blood and so he agreed to pull together the horn repair kit that I dictated: Gauze, adhesive bandage, iodine, and Blue Kote(I don’t know why I wanted that, it sounded good and we use it on the animals’ open wounds sometimes.)
Jim and I succeeded in infuriating and traumatizing Brigid so that the blood pumped and poured more profusely out of her noggin and our bandaging efforts were inadequate. The problem with an Angora goat is that they have a lot of mohair, a lot, and very thick beards. So trying to wrap over and around the horns and head, snugly to keep the gauze and bandaging in place means that unless you can shave the excess mohair, it’s either too tight or too loose. We had to take the bandage off because she was choking from it being too tight, and the bleeding was amplified after that.
Our sheep and goat vet was not on call and so we started working the phone to find help. If we could sedate her, we thought we had a better chance of bandaging her for the evening. We found that our horse vet could come out to the farm and help us, but first she had to drive to another town to get some equipment from a friend with goats in case we needed to cauterize.
Meanwhile, she’d advised me to pack her bleeding with cornstarch or a styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Right! Why hadn’t I thought of that?!
Found the blood clotting powder in the cupboard, then Jim and I tortured Brigid again by pouring it into her open wound. We attempted more bandaging.
Goat screaming is very unsettling. Painful and loud, resonant, operatic. The entire barn quieted when Brigid bawled.. Even Princess Peppermint, the very opinionated pig that rules the aisles, stopped her squealing.
At long last, our horse vet arrived and then, so did our vet friend who cares for small animals. Between them might they have something to knock a little kid goat out? No, they didn’t. But then, Tara arrived! Tara, a riding instructor and so much more, had texted me earlier to see if I’d needed help because she’d caught the rumor of my distress.
Tara relieved me, because she is a fan of the macabre. “Tara – here. You can wear my coat and hold Brigid. It already has blood all over it.” Tara said, “Cool”, sat down on the ground and held Brigid on one end, while Dogtor held Brigid on the other end, and Willing Horse vet shaved Brigid on the horned end, and Jim held the light for all to see. I ran to the house to get another coat for myself, and bags of goodies to send home with our A-Team.
We succeeded in cleaning her up, wrapping her and watching to see if she could breathe, chew, ruminate.,, It appeared that she could and so we deposited her into her hospital ward in the stall with the other Angoras. Jim had installed her little kidding pen into the corner to give her room to repair. After observing her for about 15 minutes, we decided to relieve her of the tightness of the wrapping and cut into it so that it would give. That made all the difference and Brigid was then comfortable for the night.
The next morning I called the sheep and goat vet, Dr. Rob, and it was decided to bring Brigid in to their office to be dehorned. The problem with Brigid is that she is the bottom of the pecking order and she has weak horns. The same was true for Gandalf, the Shetland wether. We could trim up the wound when it was less tender, we could help her to stay isolated while she healed. We could keep her from infection by cleaning the wound and freshening the bandages. But none of that would change how the barnyard hierarchy works nor strengthen her genetically weaker horns. I opted for her to depend on her wit and her speed to help her defend herself in the future and asked the vet to remove both of her horns under sedation.
The crates I own were either too big for the car I drive, or too small for Brigid to fit in, so I put a blanket in the back seat and she was very happy, and very quiet, for the half hour ride to the animal hospital. She fell asleep with her little chin on the seat back behind me. What do they say in the south? Precious.
While we were waiting for her to shake off the anesthesia and wake up, Dr, Rob and I had a good chat. He shared the stories of his schooling days in North Carolina where he’d heard-tell of the farmers that would saw the horns off the calves and turn them out, just like that, to bleed in the pasture. That led me to share with him that I’m all done with horns. I said that I couldn’t disbud my own lambs’ or goats’ horns because I just don’t have the stomach for it. I know that on some farms they disbud when they’re quite young, but I just couldn’t see myself following through. Rob said that sure, they could help, and that they’d give the little ones some Lidocaine to deaden the nerves so as not to hurt them.
Something for me to think about.
Meanwhile, we’ve got this adorable little kid goat, bloodied and Blue-Kote-stained in the stall, finding her feet again, under a heat lamp. Jim and I had checked her at bedtime to make a cut in her bandage because it was rolling, or “roping” as they call it, and getting too tight on her. The weather is too cold for flies, saving us some troubles, but I’ll be so happy when we’re past the tender beginning of her trying to heal. The other goats had crashed through her pen and I’d had to reconstruct it before I could put her in it when i’d gotten back from her surgery. Good hygiene will have to be observed during recovery to prevent infection, and for an animal that lives in a barn, that means vigilant care. Meanwhile, there’ll be lambs and kids being born, and this wintry spring we’re having will mean that confined and stir crazy animals are going to test fences and kick it up in the barnyard.