Apple & Spyder – Part 2

When I first found out Apple was pregnant – talk about a mix of emotions! Of course excitement won out on top, and the closer we got to the birth, the more excitement was in the air. It wasn’t exclusive to just our farm either – I was sharing every step of Apple’s pregnancy with my friends online.

As Apple showed signs of impending labor, my husband and I set up an area just outside the backdoor where we could watch her closely. I strung up a web camera, attaching it to the side of the house, and began to livestream her overnight so that others could help me keep an eye on her.

It turned out that the camera wasn’t needed for that – I was standing nearby as labor began, but I left it streaming so that all my friends could watch the birth. They got to watch me embarrass myself too – which I bet many still remember!

The birth went picture perfect, and as the foal lay steaming on the ground, I asked my husband to get me a towel. It was early May, and still quite chilly at night, so I wanted to help Apple dry the newborn colt off. I got no response, so I repeated the question – perhaps with a bit of aggravation – to no avail. I turned around to see my husband standing there gaping at the spectacle outside our backdoor, totally oblivious to my request. In his defense, he’d never seen a foal born before, but I was on edge from several sleepless nights watching over my mare, and the emotions were running high that night.

I must confess that I have a rather filthy mouth around appropriate company, none more appropriate than my husband. Might be hard to believe for those who know me in polite company, but good lord, I could make a sailor’s ears blister. Having lost my temper with my husband – who was still gazing down at the wet foal in befuddled wonder – I snapped at him.

“Get me a F*&%$# towel!”

He vanished back into the house and I stomped inside to get my own dang towel. The computer that was streaming the webcamera sat right inside the backdoor. I took a quick look to make sure they could see clearly, only to realize that the camera’s audio was not muted.

Oh dear. In a rush I realized almost a hundred people had just heard me curse quite vigorously at my husband. Embarrassment replaced annoyance as I read the chat in a quick glance and then quickly muted the stream to prevent a recurrence. To the people who called me “inappropriate” – well, I would have a hard time arguing with you!

Despite all the excitement, the colt was here and as he staggered upright on his long legs, the people watching chatted happily amongst themselves. A friend pointed out that he looked like a big wet spider with those legs, and it stuck. Using both his sire and dam’s registered names, we settled on Thunder’s Spyder Prince as his full name, and he was our little Spyder.

He grew quickly and was nearly as tall as his dam in no time. Apple wasn’t really a fan of being a mother, and we ended up weaning Spyder quite early to give her a break, which she was grateful for, never batting an eyelash as she walked away from her colt. From the start I halted and handled Spyder. He was a very mild mannered little fellow and I can’t recall many instances where he gave me much trouble. He was eager to learn, and before he was very old, he could be handled as easily as his dam in all aspects.

Shortly afterward, we sent Spyder to live with a friend’s geldings. Socialization is important in all species, horses no less than others, and we knew it would be a great opportunity for him to turn into a well rounded horse. We came to visit him several months later, and hauled him to the vet clinic to get his testicles removed. Slow to awaken, when he finally did, poor Spyder sang a drunken love song to a mare standing nearby.

The next spring Spyder returned home, a polite gelding with legs almost as long as I was tall! I continued to handle him on a regular basis, throwing a saddle over him when he was ready. His response was to go to sleep. Nothing phased him.

As he continued to grow, I knew it was unlikely that I would feel comfortable riding him. The older I get, the smaller I want my horses to be, and as time went on, I was riding less and less to begin with. After we moved to the dairy and my responsibilities grew, I had even less time for my ponies. I couldn’t bear the thought of so much good work and preperation going to waste, so I knew I would have to find Spyder a better home.

I kept him long enough to be the first to climb onto his back, both with and without a saddle. I made sure his first few rides were the best I could provide, and as always, he responded with little issue. So with not just a little bit of sadness, I listed him for sale.

He had quite a few people come look at him – there’s no doubting he was one handsome Foxtrotter! Finally, a wonderful gentleman decided that Spyder would make a great new trail horse, and they went home together. Once in a while I get to see a new picture and hear an update, which is awesome! He’s really in a home where all the hard work me and others put into him is being appreciated, and what can be better than that?

I really enjoyed the experience with Spyder from start to finish. I have, however, reassured Apple that that’s definitely her last one!

 

 

Apple & Spyder – Part 1

The farm’s inhabitants certainly aren’t limited to goats, and one of the most notable among the non-Caprine family is Apple, my Missouri Fox Trotter pony. This chestnut mare has certainly had her time as front and center too, as those who have followed our farm for a long time would remember.

I’d seen her advertised online from time to time, and would often click on it to reread and look at the pictures. I had a much smaller black pony at the time, and I had been toying with the idea of something larger.

Finally I decided to send an email with a few questions, and I had a response soon enough. It ended up that the soonest time we would all be available was Christmas day, and the owner graciously invited us to come out and take a look despite the holiday. I remember that the directions I copied from Mapquest sent us through the strangest dirt roads we’d seen in years. However we arrived safe and sound, and I gave the horse’s owner a Pecan pie, which is rather hilarious to think about looking back.

We then proceeded to catch a little chestnut mare, called Red at the time, along with a nice grey mare. Red fussed and fidgeted when tied, but otherwise didn’t act up too much. I rode the grey and the owner rode Red as we walked along a road, so that I could see how she went. The little mare danced about, spooking in place and generally acting like a silly nitwit, while the grey I was aboard plodded along, probably with her eyes closed. I tried out the foxtrot and enjoyed it, and as we reached a good place to turn around and head back, I switched to riding Red.

Since we were heading home, she perked up her ears and picked up her pace, though she was still a bit jumpy. During the ride the owner and I chatted about her. I learned that she was so small due to being born a twin and a little stunted. She was a registered Missouri Fox Trotter, and the owner had purchased her as a brood mare. However, after being checked via a veterinarian and declared unfit for breeding, the owner needed to find her a nice trail riding home. Most folks who had inquired were turned off by her pony size, and her inability to breed. Neither of which were an issue for me, of course.

After we ended the ride, I was torn – on one hand I didn’t want a pony scared of it’s own shadow. On the other, I really liked how she felt under saddle despite the shy behavior, and for some reason, it didn’t turn me off totally. The owner, sensing my hesitation, offered to bring her out to my place for another ride. If I liked her, she’d just stay, if not, no big deal, the owner would take her back home. That sounded like a good idea, so we quickly made plans and my ever tolerant husband (who spent this time watching some type of sports with the other husband in awkward silence, bless them both) drove us home.

A week later the owner arrived with Red and Storm, (the grey mare), and this time I rode Red from start to finish. This time around, she was nearly perfect, walking along with perked ears and just a bit of looking around. I was delighted, and when the owner and horse trailer pulled away, wasn’t in it this time.

The first thing I did was change her name to Apple, which is a very old inside joke with one of my long time friends at the time, which would take entirely too long to explain and wouldn’t make sense anyhow. Her registered name is Foxy’s Prissy Princess, but as I wasn’t interested in the paperwork, that didn’t make much different and I tried to forget she had such a gag-worthy name. I rode her again that day and she was just as good, and even better, she fit the knock-off Australian saddle I’d become very fond of.

With regular riding, Apple’s spookiness lessened, and I found her to be very mild mannered otherwise. However, her expression was always rather grumpy. She was willing to listen and cooperate, but she would make an ugly face while doing so, obviously wishing she was back in the pasture sleeping away the day. It became a joking point among me and my friends, and despite her sourness, I was very pleased with my new pony. Yet – I couldn’t seem to get rid of that big grass belly she had. My suspicions were really starting to grow when I posted a picture on Facebook.

A horse friend commented, “When’s she due?”

Oh dear me – I contacted my vet and went outside to peer more closely at Apple. The vet ended up being rather redundant, as I could clearly see the foal rolling about in her belly, kicking away so hard I was able to capture it on video. I contacted the previous owner, who was furious! Not at me – at her vet! Apple had been bred, but the veterinarian declared her open and full of scar tissue, making her incapable of settling anymore.

Seems like the vet was wrong.

 

I have to admit, I was pretty excited. I’d handled a few foals before, but never had one of my own. Delighted, we set up a pen right outside the back door, and I even put up a camera and live-streamed a very foul tempered Apple every night so that people could help me keep an eye on her. I was determined to be there for the birth. I documented her progress on Facebook and on forums, posting near-obscene pictures of her teats and backside for others to analyze alongside me. The previous owner sent me a picture of the sire, and as we chatted, we started a lasting friendship.

Apple was a textbook example of what to watch for in a pregnant mare and when she started dripping milk and pacing one evening, I knew it was going to happen soon. I made sure the camera was live and posted on Facebook, then settled in to watch.

Just like with her pregnancy, Apple’s foaling went just the way it’s supposed to, and Spyder was born – read more about him in the next blog post, Part 2 to this story.

Beyond all of that excitement, Apple has turned into one great pony. With regular riding, her foxtrot is a delight to ride, though when she’s out of tune, it’s more like a drunken camel. She’s even become a little more brave in my opinion, though windy days are still a bit scary.

I’ve put many a child and beginner on her, knowing she’ll either following me or follow their bumbling instructions with patience, only pulling an ugly face from time to time. I can let her sit in the pasture unhandled for a year and then bring her in and ride without much more than some grumpy fussing of the bit. Her favorite way to complain: a long rumbling deep snort, her trademark growl.

She even shows restraint with the goats, and has lived with them during the periods I did not have an equine companion for her. She doesn’t like them at all I’m sure, but she’s very tolerant of them. Unlike her gelding companions, who prefer to chase and play with smaller quadrupeds, she can be trusted to leave them be.

Apple turned 21 this year, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think she was an eight year old. Though I rarely have time to ride anymore, I try to make sure to visit with her and her current companion Finn whenever I can spare a moment. I know Apple’s happy to laze about every day, and I justify their otherwise freeloading status by claiming they are picking up goat parasites and killing them off as dead-end hosts. Which is true, though being very easy keepers helps out too!

I hope Apple’s around for quite a while longer – something about that sour old pony really just fits perfectly into my life.

 

 

My Experience with Toxoplasmosis in Goats

Anyone who has kept goats can tell you some years are harder than others. The year we had an outbreak of toxoplasmosis reigns supreme as the worst year in goats I’ve ever experienced, and I hope that nothing ever comes even close to how difficult it was to deal with.

It started out in late autumn – a doe aborted. With a herd this size, that’s generally not an unusual occurrence. Does can slip their pregnancies for a number of reasons, and I tend to expect at least a couple a year.

She wasn’t the only one to abort though – several others did as well, but they were weeks apart and we decided on a round of antibiotics to clear up any potential issues. That seemed to put an end to the issue, but it was really just beginning.

With kidding season less than a month away, another doe aborted her twins in the field. Two does kidded a couple weeks early, and all of the kids were born weak and small, and soon died. One thing that I noticed was that the afterbirth smelled absolutely horrible. A rank rotten smell that filled the air around it. Obviously by now I was incredibly concerned, and we sent off blood to start looking for a reason. I sent a warning to our volunteer barn watchers, concerned that this could possibly be a zoonotic issue, and I cannot put anyone at risk.

We were able to rule out the big-bad diseases every goat keeper lives in fear of, including Q-fever and Johnes, fairly quickly, which was a relief at the time. At this point I assumed our issue was chlamydiosis, and we decided on another round of antibiotics for all the does and kids. More does kidded, and more weak kids were born. The entire farm spent several days and nights pulling all the stops to save them, to no avail.

Finally after testing of dead kids, a set of fetuses, and blood-work, we had our answer: Toxoplasmosis. Not a virus or bacterial infection at all – a common parasite than can infect many species, and reproduces in cats. Cats! We do have cats, but they are almost always indoor and the goats had been exposed to these cats for their lifetime. We’d not added any new cats, and no feral cats are ever in our barn, thanks to the farm dogs. It turned out that the cause of contamination had been a hay shipment – round bales kept in a barn that obviously must have had barn or feral cats within.

The infected birthings were obvious – it affected mostly the Nigerian Dwarf, though many of the La Mancha were also infected. The babies were born dead in varying stages of decomposition, or very weak. Some babies would appear normal at first, but quickly decline and die within one to two days. The placenta and amniotic sacks had a terrible smell and were sometimes decomposed themselves. Particularly interesting were many placenta that had quarter sized red lesions upon them. Most of the does showed no signs of illness, even with infected births, but several did become ill, and one young La Mancha doe died shortly after giving birth to weak kids and an afterbirth that smelled like death.

Just a couple weeks into kidding season and I was totally trashed – running day and night doing what I could to save any kid I could. So many kids died as we held them, and I felt every loss very deeply. Added to the horror of the situation was the fact that many – most – of the kids who died were sired by a very promising young buck that had died young. These were his only kids, and every one that died remains in my memory to this day. To make matters even worse, my best friend from across the country visited for the first time ever, only to find me in zombie mode surrounded by death and devastation. The entire farm had a sad grey pallor over it, and I remember that the weather matched – long days of dreary rain and thick mud. Some of the does would cry piteously after their kids died and were taken away; I’ll never forget Catnip’s confused cries as I milked her out the day after her first kids, a beautiful set of triplets, died shortly after being born.

Not all of the kids from infected birthings died right away, but many were terribly effected. Blindness was very common, as well as failure to thrive. One little black buckling lived for almost two months, and never gained more than a couple pounds. He had only partial sight, and would run along the walls of the kidding pen if he heard me. Other blind ones would just run into corners and wail non-stop, even injuring their faces as they bounced off the walls. Stargazing was common, and some could not stand or walk. There was also several cases of contracted tendons, the worst I’d ever seen.

Only three obviously infected kids survived longer than three months. The first was a little Nigerian doeling, born alongside two rotted siblings. The second Nigerian doeling lived when her two siblings died and after a short time, flourished. The final was a Mini Mancha that developed a terrible infection in the eyes, but with round the clock in house care, survived, though she lost the majority of her sight. Unfortunately, the first was lost to pneumonia and the second to uterine rupture. The blind goat, Pinky, is doing great and lives a very fulfilling life.

She’s the only Toxoplasmosis kid left alive now.

The entire event feels very surreal now, but I only need to look at my paper kidding records to be reminded – an orange highlight slashed through each dead kid is chilling, especially as you turn each page and count just how many there were. I regret not taking more videos and pictures, but I was so depressed at the time it didn’t even begin to register in my head. I do have one video showing a kid stargazing that I will post at the end of this blog. At the time, I talked very little about the specifics of what was going on to the online public, and I closed down even more after a couple of people decided to take that information and run with it, spreading rumor.

The silver lining is that goats are not good hosts for toxoplasmosis. It affects them for about forty days, and is spread through fluids, most commonly birthing fluids. It causes abortions during early pregnancy, and in latter pregnancies, starves the unborn kids in utero, causing them to be stillborn or weak at birth. Once they’ve acquired it and been affected, does develop some immunity to the parasite. Kids that were born among the chaos but not infected had no troubles at all, and most have grown into lovely young does. We deep cleaned the barn, hauling the dirty bedding out to the back of the property to compost, and precautions were taken between handling goats in labor and birthing. I developed a great dislike for the idea of a barn cat – cats belong inside your home, and I’ll not be budged from the thought.

As you can imagine, we were on pins and needles awaiting the following kidding season. I’m happy to report that there were no illness or infections among the kids or births, and it was an all-around successful kidding season.

I’ll never forget that horrible season though – if there has ever been a time I seriously considered calling it quits, this was it.