Sunday, November 21, 2010

Farm Journal: Shadow died today

Shadow was always the first to be milked.  Here she is at Dancing Turtle Farm in July 2009.
Shadow died today.

We were finishing cleaning up the barn on the goats’ side and were starting to pick up the pot roasts from the water buffalo’s side when there suddenly was a commotion out on the pasture.

This all happened quite a distance away so it was difficult to see and too dangerous to do anything about it.

The buffs were running up and down the west fence line. Running away from what? I couldn’t see who it was or what was going on.

Frequently, the animals play chase with each other, but this was different.  More chaotic.

Then I saw one of the buffs, don’t know which one, head down racing toward the black goat

“Stop that!” I yelled. “Get away!”

But I was locked out of the pasture and at least 200 yards away from this. I could do nothing but hope nothing had happened.  I heard a goat bell ring.

A few of the buffs stopped running and slowly circled around something that was on the ground. I realized a goat was down but even then I wasn’t sure that’s what happened because the goats and the buffs have been living together for two seasons and there have been no problems between them..

Maybe it was a coyote. I saw something brown running in the midst of the circle of buffs.

Meanwhile, the goats all ran to the pasture gate. I petted them and looked around for someone missing but couldn’t account for anyone. One of the buffs had some blood on its face. It wasn’t smeared but more like a sinewy string of blood hanging from its forehead.

Then the buffs ran like mad to the south gate and back to the spot where something bad had happened. They did this a couple times in a run I’d never seen before. It obviously wasn’t playful but was more like panic.

I ran back to the barn and yelled out to Soo and Jessica. (Jessica is Mike’s 15-year-old daughter who lives across the street. She has been helping out Ron on the farm.)

“Goat down.” I cried.

Jessica ran down the hill outside the pasture fence to see what had happened.

“It’s a goat!” she shouted and then started crying.

Soo ran out with a pitchfork.  She kept it in her hand because she didn’t drop it back at the barn for some reason. She climbed over the fence and headed toward the circle of buffs. It was a brave and very risky thing to do, really, but she acted on instinct and her aim was to protect the goat. After she reached the goat, she stood there with it to keep the buffs away who by this time were curious about what was in their midst.

Then she told Jessica, who was just outside the pasture fence, that it was Shadow and to find Ron and have him bring a gun. Shadow had been horribly hurt and was in shock. Soo instantly knew that the best thing to do was to put her down.

“It’s Shadow,” Jessica yelled back to me. “Tell Ron to get a gun.”

I ran looking for Ron and called him as loud as I could, but there was no answer and I couldn’t find him.

Then I realized he was spreading compost on the pasture by the road. It was probably three football fields away so I jumped into my car and drove out there down the farm’s entrance road and then onto the field, honking the horn along the way to get his attention. At first he couldn’t hear my horn over the tractor motor. Then he saw me pull up next to him.

“What happened?” he asked looking worried at my strange behavior.

“Shadow’s been attacked by a buff and Soo says to bring a gun,” I cried back.

Even this message didn’t really compute for him but he turned off the tractor and climbed into my car.

We drove up the road but as we neared the barns he told me to slow down and stop. He looked out to the pasture.  The goats were to the north protected by the llamas and the buffs were in a cluster to the south around Soo. We moved forward again and stopped. I think he had the presence of mind not to let the animals see us rushing toward them because that might agitate them even more.

He ran into the house and got his pistol. I expected to see him carrying a rifle but I saw nothing. He a pistol in his coat pocket. He had Jessica restrain Max, the Kleins' dog.

Ron went down to the pasture and climbed over the gate. He “shhhhhhhhed” the buffs—moving slowing to figure out what happened. Soo was with Shadow. The goat was on her side and a leg was sticking up.

Maybe she’s alright, I thought. Maybe she’ll have to go through another surgery.

The buffs were slowly milling around but not on top of the downed goat as they had been before.

Suddenly, two shots rang out.

The animals jumped, startled, but still hung around. Ron said they were more curious and wanting his attention.  They pressed in on him very slowly. Then Ron fired two shots into the ground and they moved away quickly.

It’s a little blurry about what happened next but Soo had somehow managed to get the goats to go through the gate that leads to the barn. She told me to call the goats and move them closer to the barn so they’d be away from the gate.

Ron was out with the buffs. He “grew big” to let them know who was boss. He did this by opening and raising his coat with his arms in it high over his head. When the buffs backed off, he began to move Shadow toward the gate. Later he was in the middle of the herd petting “Shissssshhhhhhing” the buffs, and trying to calm them down. Soo went back to him to lend a hand. He was probably with the buffs for half an hour or 45 minutes.

Eventually, Ron dragged Shadow’s corpse outside the gate. I had already gone into the equipment barn to retrieve the cart I had seen earlier in the day when I was in there looking for a scraper. I asked Jessica to bring the cart down to Ron while I stayed with the goats. He would have to take Shadow somewhere sometime and he needed something to transport her.

By this time the goats were pretty passive. I realized that as Ron was calming down and reassuring the buffs, it had now become my job to do the same with the goats.

Different ones would come up to me and want to be stroked for a longer while than usual.

When I saw Ava and Dina, the two goats I had “delivered” last January, I patted them.

“Your mama’s dead,” I told each one.

In a dairy, none of the goats is allowed to bond with the mother because they must bond with the farmer. So Ava and Dina surely didn’t know what I was talking about. On the other hand, they seemed distant and reeling. Ava had previously walked into the buffs dry lot outside the barn alone. Dina squatted down on the ground alone. Maybe they knew something.

The goats weren’t their playful selves at all. They just hung around. Many sat down and waited. Maybe they were trying to process what had just happened. Maybe they were heaving sighs of relief that they were now safe. Pastoral animals are very vulnerable because they have no defense other than to run. Maybe this incident was a reminder to them of life’s realities.

I checked over as many goats as I could to see if any of them had blood or cuts on them. They all seemed OK other than to be suffering from the unfathomable scare they had just been through. Layla (a.k.a. Cowgirl) had a gooey, gray snot-like dropping on her head but it didn’t appear to come from her. Some of the goats’ neck hair was wet. Lilly had tears on her cheeks.

Their herd queen was missing and they certainly knew that.


Ron and Soo and Jessica had put Shadow in the cart. I went down to them and Ron asked us where we should bury her. We decided that the grave should be near one of the trees in the little dell by the pasture.

Ron asked me what happened and what I saw. He needed to understand what had triggered the animals and if a single buff had been an aggressor. It could be a danger to other goats. Unfortunately, I can’t tell the difference between the buffs so I wasn’t much help. He and Soo had noticed that a couple of them had blood on their heads and horns. Was that from nuzzling Shadow or attacking her? Others had blood on their muzzles where they had touched and gently prodded shadow. Ron thought the buffs seemed to be either protecting the downed goat or curious.  What had happened and what to do about it in the future probably weighed heavily on his mind.

Ron went back to the front pasture to get the tractor. He wanted to dig a hole deep enough so that the corpse would remain undisturbed by any wandering scavengers.

About this time I took one last look at Shadow. They had put he on her side head down in the cart, thank God, and only a few drops of her rich, red blood clung to her head. 
I touched her flank. Her fur was soft and her corpse still warm. I recalled last December after Ron had slaughtered the three bucks and hung them for butchering in the milk room. The steam still came out from them an hour after they had been killed.

Soo helped Ron bury Shadow while Jessica and I stayed in the barn so that the two of them could manage this tragedy together, alone.

After Ron drove the tractor away, Soo put a few extra shovelfuls of dirt on top of the grave and patted them down securely. Maybe it was her way of saying good-bye to Shadow. Finally, Ron and Soo placed a large log over Shadow’s grave to discourage any coyotes from digging at it.

Jessica and I finished cleaning up the goat pen and layed two bales of straw on the floor. We had a little straw left over so we put it aside in the place that Shadow had adopted as hers for sitting and resting. Three weeks before she was penned in this spot after she had inadvertently gotten hurt by ramming her butt end into something sharp during the move to the new farm. Bob, the vet, came out and sewed her up. She stayed in the private pen for about a week.

Kathy Halinsky helping to prep Shadow for surgery four weeks ago
It’s a wonder if this new farm just didn’t suit Shadow or if it was just her time. She was old and walking more arthritically. At the old farm, she’d return from pasture way before the rest of the herd and she’d lay down quietly by herself. She wasn’t prone to harassing the buffs or meddling with them like Lucy, who has taken again to walking on top of their backs, or like Lil’ Man who used to tease them until one day he got his leg stepped on by a buff, probably in an unexpected rollover. (BTW, his leg seems to have healed as he is walking on it again instead of dragging it.)

We do not know what triggered the buffs. It may have been a predator-a coyote or feral dog running the fence. We saw one feral dog on the north fence line earlier that day. 
Something triggered the buffs and probably the goats and llamas. When Ron came over the hill he saw the llamas had moved the goats to the north pasture as they do when coyotes are running the outside of the fence. Was Shadow initially “run over” and thought to be a threat? Was she seen as weak and “targeted?” But then why would all of the animals flee from the south pasture? Were they driven out by one of the buffs? Or something else? We’ll never know. 
Ron’s friend who has a lot of experience with water buffalo and exotic large ruminants said that sometimes something unknown triggers a startle-fear reflex just as it does in cattle. The behavior of the buffs he said sounded like a response to a predator. We must always remember these are animals and we’ll really never know what they think nor can we always predict what they will do. They are also very large animals and despite their docile nature, we have to be careful and respect them.

These thoughts, however, don’t make it feel any better. We were all pretty sad tonight.

Before I left the farm to go home, Ron gave me Shadow’s collar with the bell on it.

I thought he’d want to keep it and put it up in the barn, but he wanted me to have it. He’s also going to give me some pictures of Shadow when she was a young prize-winning goat. Maybe that’s his way of handling his sadness.

Ron and Shadow had a special relationship. She was one of his first goats. She was dependable. A good milker. When she delivered babies, she did it in style by moving her body in such a way that she positioned the babies for a good, clean drop. And, of course, she was queen of the herd. She kept order and whenever she confronted challenges for that honor from Koo-Koo, she prevailed.

Shadow gives birth and new life to Dina as I assist

Shadow and I didn’t get along at first. She’d snub me every time I approached her. She eventually let me know the rules of my contact with her: “Don’t touch the ears and don’t smother or mother me like you do the other goats.” Then last January when she delivered her triplets and I caught two of them, our relationship changed. I admired her style and she accepted that. In the spring she’d nuzzle her jaw on my thigh over and over and over again. That’s when I knew things had changed for us—and that I had given her proper respect and distance.  She "loved" me back in return.

It’s hard to know why bad things happen to people—or to animals but the loss and the sorrow attached to those we love hurts just the same.

Good-bye, Shadow. Rest in peace. You were a good ol’ girl—and a queen—always.

Shadow with Elle in fall 2009.