Friday, April 16, 2010

Losing Elsie

We purchased our goats from our neighbor’s farm; they had a decent sized herd comprised mostly of Nubians with a few Toggenburgs. I dealt with Melody, who seemed to be quite pleasant and knowledgeable. We started with three. Each of my children picked out a goat. Emma was Shelby’s choice, Ginger was Anna’s and Miles selected the Tog and named her Elsie.

Elsie appeared to have the sniffles from the first day we brought her home. I mentioned it to Melody, and she told me that it wasn’t unusual and she promptly sent her husband to our farm to administer antibiotics. He did this a few times. I thought that Elsie would be fine because neither Melody nor her husband showed signs of concern.

After another month of Elsie exhibiting symptoms of ill health, I knew she was failing. Melody and her husband blew it off so I called our veterinarian, Dr. Lester, and he suggested that I bring her in.

Elsie – still a baby – fit in the back of my Cherokee (the ‘mobile manger’), so I put down a bed of hay and sped off to Ashland to see Dr. Lester. He told me that she had a fever and he showed me how to administer antibiotics by injection. He watched as the syringe shook in my hand and explained the significance of conquering my fear if I was going to be a farmer.

Focused and determined, I carefully injected the medicine into our goat twice a day, for three days, still unsure if she was recovering. She appeared to be unchanged.

Early in the morning of the fourth day, I was filling the bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds when Miles ran down the hill. “Mom! Mom! Come quick. Elsie’s dead!”

I raced to the barn. Elsie was lying against the door of the pen. I reached in and touched her; she was still warm, but not breathing. She must have just died. Miles stood behind me crying quietly. The other two goats weren’t interested in Elsie, they were interested in us and if we were going to feed them or let them out.

This was a first. I simply did not know what to do. I opened the door and crouched down beside the dead goat. The other two goats leaped to freedom and headed straight for the chicken feed barrels tossing the covers off with ease. I stroked Elsie’s innocent soft face while tears streamed down my cheeks. What did I do wrong? I reached for Miles. “We have to bury her.”

“Why did my goat have to die?” He ran his hand over her tawny velvet coat.

“She was very sick, and I guess she was too sick to fight it off.” I got up and pulled the single-minded goats’ heads out of the chicken grain. They bleated in protest, but I shoved them out the door into the yard. “I’m going to call Dr. Lester.” I walked down the path that led to the house with the other two goats frolicking close behind me.

When I told Dr. Lester about Elsie, I started to cry. He calmed me and said that when I brought her in she had advanced pneumonia. He told me not to blame myself. It was hard to follow his advice, but I decided that if I was going to succeed as a farmer, he was right. No more crying. So I thought.

Carrying shovels, we climbed up the steep part of the mountain a little ways behind the barn and found a level clearing with a remarkable view overlooking the valley and the meandering Pemigewasset River. The boys dug a grave; Anna picked wildflowers.

We returned to the house where I got a flannel sheet. I returned to the barn; my three children followed closely in silence and wonderment.

I was surprised at how heavy Elsie was. Miles and I slid the sheet under her body and wrapped it around her like a hammock to carry her to her final resting place. I struggled with the weight, but forged ahead. Every few feet we stopped so that I could get a better grip. Shelby grabbed my end with me and we carried her up the sharp incline. Anna brought her basket filled with flowers (she always had a basket of flowers; she is still that kind of girl) and walked behind us leaving a colorful trail.

We arrived at Elsie’s spot and laid her body in the waiting grave, sheet and all, and the boys covered her with the fresh earth. We sang Lavender’s Blue and at least one other song and the kids each took a turn saying something nice about Elsie before planting a handful of iris bulbs to grow in her memory.

I called my friend Cynthia and cried about losing our first ‘big’ animal. She gave me the best advice that one farmer could give another. Maryjane, when you have livestock, you will have dead stock. You’ll get used to it.

She was right. The cycle of life and death on the farm seemed to be a dance. When something died, usually a day or two later, there would be a sign of the miracle of life.

1 comment:

  1. Hello friends,
    Some of you may have gotten this post with "Curtis" mentioned. I edited this, as I used the name Curtis for "Miles" in my memoir. I missed it in one place. I wanted to clear up any possible confusion. My sons are Miles and Shelby.