Friday, February 9th started off as a normal day in the barn, but as I was doing chores and feeding the horses and goats, I quickly suspected that Greta, one of our La Mancha goats, was showing early signs of labor. It was her due day, so I wasn't surprised.
I removed her from the herd and placed her into one of the three kidding stalls in our barn so that she could have some peace and quiet. Four hours later at 10:46am, she delivered two beautiful big twin boys. As per her normal (this is her third year with babies), she was quite proud of herself and insisted on showing them off to me nonstop.
The twins were up and wobbling around in no time and Greta was a busy mom fussing over them.
Saturday morning was uneventful and Greta and her twins were comfortable in their kidding stall, but by early afternoon, something wasn't right. Greta wasn't finishing her meals and she just seemed tired. I took her temperature at 3pm and it was normal -- 101.9 -- even though she felt a little warm to me.
Around 5pm, since she was continuing to act more and more "off", I took her temperature again. 101.9. Normal. Something wasn't sitting right with me, but I just went on to continue watching her.
Sometime shortly after 7pm, I took her temperature again. 101.9. Again, normal. And again, my gut was telling me this isn't right. She was tired and refusing even her favorite snack (animal crackers). She wasn't talking or paying attention to me. She felt clammy -- which I didn't know a goat could feel, but since I have touched her almost every single day for the entire five years of her life now, it's the only way I can describe the difference of what I know she should feel like. That is what got my attention and made me rush into the house for the thermometer in our bathroom.
She had a fever of almost 107.
My heart sunk. I panicked, grabbed my phone, and called my farm vet. I told her what was going on and she came straight over.
We helped her up onto the milking stand, which normally she could easily do alone, and gave her a handful of grain which she had no interest in. Dr. White verified her high fever and checked her from head to toe. She did an ultrasound look look for any evidence of a retained placenta or unborn kid, neither of which were found. She called and consulted with the NC State Veterinary School. We gave her fluids, antibiotics and Banamine.
Sunday was a full day of giving Greta fluids, drenching her (a way to get fluids into goats orally) with electrolytes and concentrated nutrients, and syringe feeding her a slop made of her grain and water. I kept the babies with her for comfort, and she would still get up to let them nurse while she drank water, but I also started supplementing them via a surrogate by letting them nurse from one of Greta's sisters on the milking stand.
I knew that the babies would need to be bottle fed, and I knew that Greta needed my full attention. So I contacted a friend who also has goats who agreed to help me and take them, and I drove them to her the next morning.
Do I look exhausted here? Because I was. I forgot to mention the fact that I had just gotten over the flu and that it had turned into a sinus infection that I was dealing with. And my husband was working out of town for the week.
Monday and Monday night was me juggling what little work I could get done (the Spring Collection boxes had to be shipped out the next day) with monitoring, helping, feeding, and medicating Greta around the clock. I made plans with the vet for her to come do bloodwork the next morning.
I sat with her for hours. I watched her nonstop while I was working and, at night, when I was trying to sleep, via the live cameras we have in the barn. She felt horrible. I felt helpless.
Tuesday morning the vet arrived and Greta was continuing to weaken. The suspicion was a uterine infection, but she was continuing to decline despite the antibiotics and fluids. Her fever, which had been so very high days before, was bottoming out and too low. I kept her covered in blankets. By Tuesday afternoon, we decided that Greta needed to get to the NC State Vet School. Her right udder had begun to swell suddenly and was turning a dark color. It was also cool to the touch. Dr. White called and made the arrangements and at 6am Wednesday morning, with Greta loaded in the back of my car (in a kennel), I set off across the state.
She laid down and barely moved for the entire 2.5 hour trip. All I could do is drive and hope. She stopped responding to me when I would call her. She just slept.
As soon as we arrived, shortly after 8:30am, several helpers came and lifted the kennel, with 150lb Greta inside barely acknowledging them, and toted it inside the livestock hospital to a waiting stall. She was bombarded by a team of three veterinarians who specialize in livestock (namely ruminants like goats) who assessed her from top to bottom. Luckily they had been on the other end of the phone with Dr. White for the last several days so they knew what she had been going through. I answered as many questions as I could.
A couple of hours later, I had to leave her behind and go home. There was no doubt that she was going to have to stay when I brought her in, but the moment when you have to physically walk out of the building is not easy. Things were not good, and nobody knew why yet. All I could do is drive the 2.5 hours back home and wait for the call with information about the emergency tests they were running.
Once home, I completely collapsed in a chair and slept for over two hours. I honestly don't even remember sitting down in that chair.
I was woken by my phone, which was in my hand, and it was the head vet (Dr. Wilson) on Greta's case at the Vet School. Test results were in, she said. It was bad, she said.
I could hear the shaking and pausing in her voice as she told me, carefully, that Greta had a very dangerous type of infection in her udder and that they've done everything they can at this point. She had continued to quickly decline after I had left. They'd pumped her up with antibiotics and did a radical surgery to remove a huge portion of her infected udder, and that from this point on, all we could do is wait. It was a hard conversation to have that spilled realistic facts into my lap, and I could tell that she was just as upset as I was over an animal... a goat... that she had just met for the first time that day.
Greta was positive for gangrenous mastitis in one of her udders. Unlike the typical mastitis in goats, which can be prevented, detected easily and treated, the type that Greta had developed was something different altogether. Gangrenous mastitis comes on suddenly from a completely different bacteria with no warning, and is not detectable in the early stages like regular mastitis. Once the udder starts filling with milk, such as when Greta went into labor, the bacteria then has the perfect medium to run rampant and destroy everything in its path.
How did she contract this dangerous bacteria? There is no way to know because it is just something in the environment, and it just got into the wrong place... like inside her udder. What could I have done differently to prevent this? Nothing. I went over all of our sanitation procedures and milking protocols and regular udder care and Dr. Wilson repeatedly told me I had done everything right. And that sometimes this just happens.
All we could do was wait.
That night was hard. For the first time I realized how empty it felt to not be able to walk outside to the barn to comfort and take care of an animal that you knew was fighting for her life. She was over two hours away, and there was a really big chance that she may not survive the night.
Thursday morning the phone rang. Dr. Wilson was on the other end and I braced myself for whatever came. Greta was still with us, she said. She's still very, very weak. She's got a long way to go. But she's still with us.
By that afternoon, Greta was lifting her head some. She was noticing the new large wound on her udder from the surgery. She was still on a heavy dose of IV fluids and she was nibbling at a little bit of food. Dr. Wilson said that she was 'hopelessly optimistic' but that Greta was by no means out of the woods.
Greta made her first real turn for the better on Friday. Dr. Wilson called to tell me that she was getting up some, trying to eat a little, and making attempts to clean her udder wound. It was a baby step, but a step nonetheless, and in the right direction. Greta was fighting back.
Early Saturday morning, as I was getting things ready for the day at the farmer's market, Dr. Wilson called me with more news: Greta was increasingly alert, eating more, and her temperature and blood work had stabilized. She had decided to attempt weaning her off of the IV fluids to see if she would maintain her hydration on her own, and if so, she could go home on Sunday.
I was nearly in tears.
After calling Sunday morning and getting the "all clear" to make the trip, The Boy and I loaded up and set off to bring Greta home. I was so excited and so overwhelmed that I realized well after we got home that I got absolutely NO photos of Greta with her team of vets like I had planned.
We arrived to find Greta alert, but still extremely weakened from the ordeal. She was able, however, to walk on her own from the hospital stall to the car waiting outside, and with a little effort, she got into the waiting kennel in the back. We went over all of the care instructions with Dr. Wilson, who reiterated that Greta still had a long way to go, but at this point she would be best off at home to recover. She would need a lot of monitoring, a lot of antibiotics and pain medication, and a lot of encouragement to eat, drink, and take it easy. She would also need to be on her own, kept in a clean, dry space away from the herd, for at least a month if all continues to go well.
Greta rested comfortably the entire way home. I think I smiled the whole time.
We removed the divider between two of the kidding stalls to give her a space to live for the next several weeks. This area is also directly underneath one of our barn cameras so I can keep an eye on her around the clock from the house.
Greta has been home for a few days now, and in those few days she has continued to improve. Slowly, but improving. I have taken her on short, slow walks around the barn and she has started to nibble on brush and grass occasionally. When I walk her up to the pasture gate, where the herd she has lived her entire five years with is, she shies and looks away. She isn't ready for interaction yet, but she will get there eventually.
She is eating a little more each day, and so far drinking water like she should. Her udder is what it is... due to the nature of the emergency surgery, which leaves a gaping hole behind, her right udder is naturally and very slowly dying. Eventually it will detach and the dead tissue will come off in pieces, leaving her single, healthy left udder behind.
This process is expected to take several weeks or more, and during this time it is very important for her to continue to build her strength and not develop any further infections. We are taking it day by day and she's fighting it head on.
Greta, who grew up as that local "infamous baby goat" on the internet, celebrated her birthday just days before all of this happened. And now, at the young age of five, she will be permanently retired on our farm.
There is a long road ahead of us but we are moving on that road in the right direction right now. I want to sincerely thank Dr. Becca White DVM of Eastern Equine Associates in New Bern, NC and Dr. Joanna Wilson DVM, Dr. Derek Foster DVM PhD DACVIM and remaining crew of the N.C. State University Veterinary Hospital / Farm Animal Medicine. It is because of them that Greta is still with us. A big thank you also to Heather Wolk Clark of Little Hope Farm for stepping up with no notice and taking Greta's twin boys to her farm to bottle feed so that they would get what they needed to thrive.
I also want to thank everyone who helped and offered to help last week when Greta was here and at the vet school in Raleigh, as well as those of you who listened and talked with me through this situation. We have a long way to go, but it is a much easier road to travel when you know so many people are on Team Greta cheering her on.