In this story, our doeling's name becomes her. When she was born on Mother's Day, we hoped she'd be a sign of good things to come. She ended up being our canary in the coal mine. Her illness may very well have saved our kid crop, and her strong constitution to live is a testament to the foundation of our herd.
On the morning of 5/17, I began frantically messaging friends asking if there was a chiropractor in the area who would work on animals. Our chiropractor, Dr. Madi Rauch, moved back to NJ and we've been lost without her. I knew something was off with Harbinger, as she couldn't walk without falling over. I hoped an adjustment would help.
Meanwhile, I ran through all the possibilities for Bing's symptoms. I thought it was plausible that Leigh, our bully goat, injured the doeling during one of her runs through the goat kids which sends them all tumbling. I also wondered if maybe I caused brain swelling during the disbudding I performed two days prior. And then I realized what her most likely problem was: Enzootic Ataxia - the loss of bodily movements caused by copper deficiency.
I had noticed that her dam, Helen, was looking rusty colored a few weeks prior. We always struggle with copper levels in our herd because of high iron in our water inhibiting the copper absorption. In spite of bolusing copper twice a year and an iron filter for our water, Helen was showing true signs of copper deficiency and wasn't due to be bolused again until June.
I called Dr. Stephen Angelos, DVM, DACVIM, our veterinarian at Large Animal Medical Associates. He did due diligence and ruled out other possibilities. This could not be floppy kid syndrome because we feed black oil sunflower seeds for selenium and vitamin E (and previous bloodwork on our herd shows more than adequate levels). This could not be CAE because our herd is tested annually and we have 8 years of negative results. This cold not be meningeal worm because the goat kids had not been on pasture yet. This was not likely injury since she was not exhibiting any pain. He concurred that my suspicion of Enzootic Ataxia was correct. He advised me to give her a copper bolus and high doses of vitamin E but said that prognosis was poor. He said that she would likely die and cautioned that if she did live, the myelin degeneration would be permanent. Heartbroken doesn't even begin to describe what I was feeling at that time.
I did what I always do. I turned to herbs, homeopathy, and books. I gave Bing a copper bolus and wheat germ oil for vitamin E. I dosed her with Ruta Grav, and then Rhus Tox a while later. Neither made a noticeable difference. I also began dosing Fir Meadow LLC's herbal NervEaze blend.
I pored over my books. Pat Coleby recommended Copper Sulfate in her book Natural Goat Care, which I had no access to. I didn't feel like more copper administration would be helpful anyhow. I just needed Bing to be able to absorb what was available in her body. Dr. Paul Dettloff, D.V.M. recommends homeopathic Cuprum Metallicum dosed daily for two weeks for this very issue in his book Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals.
By 10:00 pm Bing had agonal breathing, her suckle and ocular reflexes were gone, and she was unable to move. I was certain she would gain her angel wings and I stood in the barn sobbing over her body.
Miraculously she was still alive on the morning of 5/18. I began calling all the health food stores in serach of Cuprum Metallicum and managed to find a bottle. I drove like a mad woman to purchase it and rushed home. I gave Bing a dose and within 5 minutes she was standing, barely.
Over the next couple days, Bing struggled with dehydration and bowel/bladder control. She could barely drink water. She was not strong enough to nurse her mother. She was able to stand but unable to walk in any coordinated fashion.
There were glimmers of hope amongst these days primarily clouded by exhaustion: perky ears, the ability to suckle a bottle, urination, itching without falling over, a tail wag!
On the morning of 5/20, she and I both wore more of her herbal treatments and wheat germ oil than she ingested - a clear sign she was gaining strength. By that evening she was running after our toddler!
On 5/21, she began nursing vigorously from her mom and eating hay and chewing her little cud. Rumination is key for ruminants! We allowed her back outside with the herd. Many of her muscles had atrophied from lack of use and exercise will help rebuild these. Plus, fresh air!
In retrospect, I can tell that this decline began on 5/14, the babies' first day outside. It was evident because Bing couldn't jump on the wooden stump or spools like the rest of the kids and I wondered if she was a little slow. That evening I commented to our daughter that Bing had finally made it up on the cinder blocks and Mallory ran out to snap a photo. Early morning on 5/15, Bing chose to lie near the water bucket while the rest of the kids played and I chalked it up to the heat and bugs.
Enzootic ataxia from copper deficiency can occur in two ways. Swayback, a congenital form, is evident at birth and kids die quickly. The second true form, which we experienced, usually presents at one to four weeks of age and causes incoordination, paralysis, seizures, and death. According to every veterinary reference we have available to us, it's irreversible.
Harbinger defied the odds. As I type this, she is running and bouncing with the other kids. We will continue to treat her twice daily with NervEaze and Wheat Germ Oil for a while, and the Cuprum Metallicum will be part of her protocol for another week at least.
We have supplemented copper to the entire herd. We've had our Kinetico iron filter serviced too. It was discovered that sometime in the last two years (we didn't have it serviced last year because of the pandemic) the system failed and needs a re-bed. High amounts of iron are in our water and this is further inhibiting copper absorption. We are in the process of having this repaired.
There are a few lessons here:
1.) Maintain good husbandry practices so that it's easy to rule out obvious potential disease afflictions. We highly recommend biosecurity disease testing.
2.) Know your livestock and what their strengths and weakness are. We know we struggle with copper deficiency.
3.) Get established with a large animal veterinarian before you need them. Our veterinarian is a board certified ruminant specialist and he is worth his weight in goId! He knows our herd and he knows me, so it makes communication during an emergency more fluid.
4.) Find your tribe of goating friends and be sure to thank them profusely for their listening ears and encouragement. I plan on gifting mine some goat milk fudge next week!
5.) Trust your intuition! "Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind." ~ Albert Einstein