The Old Goat
D. E. Larsen, DVM
I had joined this practice in Enumclaw when I finished school in March of 1975. This was only my second weekend to be on call for emergencies.
The phone rang as I was helping Sandy clear the table after lunch. It had been a quiet weekend so far, and I had promised Sandy I would go shopping with her and the girls, something I really looked forward too. I winked at her as I picked up the phone.
“This is Doctor Larsen,” I said. “How can I help you?”
“Doc, this is Joe, and I have an old goat that I just bought at the sale, and I think he needs some help. Could I get you to look at him this afternoon?”
“Old goats aren’t worth much,” I said. “Are you sure you want to pay an emergency call to have him looked at this afternoon?”
“He is a neat-looking old guy,” Joe said. “If I can help him, I would like to do it.”
“Okay, I will meet you at the clinic,” I said. “How long is it going to take you to get there?”
“I’m waiting in the parking lot right now,” Joe said. “I have the goat in the back of my pickup.”
“It will only take me a few minutes to get there. We don’t live far,” I said.
Joe was right about the goat being a neat-looking old guy. If he had been wild, his horns would be a trophy. They were more than a full curl.
I grabbed my stuff and climbed into the back of Joe’s pickup. This old goat was skin and bones and covered with lice. And when I opened his mouth, he didn’t have a single incisor tooth.
“Joe, did you look at this old guy before you bought him?” I asked.
“Nobody bid on him, Doc,” Joe said. “I got him for five dollars. I figured I couldn’t go wrong.”
“Do you have any idea why he was being sold?” I asked.
“I guess I didn’t give that any thought,” Joe said.
“The owner was selling him so he wouldn’t have to be the one to bury him,” I said. “I would say he was on his last leg, but he probably left that leg back at the sale barn.
He doesn’t have any incisor teeth, and he is skin and bones and is covered in lice. If we do a fecal exam, he is probably wormy as hell. It doesn’t matter much what we do today, this old guy probably isn’t going to live to see summer.”
“So if you worm him, treat his lice, and give him something to pep him up, do you think that will give him a chance?” Joe asked.
“Joe, the parasitism is there because of his debilitated body condition. It is the end result of his poor condition, not the cause,” I said. “We can take care of those things, but he still doesn’t have any teeth upfront. That means he can’t eat grass or hay, and there is no chance he can browse on the brush.”
“You don’t sound like you want to treat him,” Joe said.
“I think it borders on being cruel to keep this guy going,” I said. “Joe, there are worse places to be than dead.”
“Do you think if you treated him and I took him home and fed him grain, that he would have a chance?” Joe asked.
“You’re grasping at straws, Joe,” I said. “If I treat him, will you agree to bring him by the clinic at the end of the week for a recheck? And, if he isn’t showing improvement, then we put him to sleep.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Doc,” Joe said. “By the time I pay this call and then the recheck, I could have bought a young doe.”
“You could have looked in his mouth before you bought him,” I said. “That old saying about a gift horse has cost people more grief than anything else. I would say the only thing worse than a free horse is a five-dollar goat.”
“Okay, Doc, you win. I will bring him by next week,” Joe said. “What are we going to do for him today?”
So now I had worked myself into a corner. Nowhere in my training or experience was there anything dealing with the geriatric care of a toothless old goat. I could not believe that anything we could do would buy this old guy any more than a few weeks or months.
“I’ll give him a dose of Resorb. That is some oral fluids mixed with some energy stuff,” I said. “Then I will give him an injection of Levasole for his intestinal parasites and powder him for lice. He will need a little more than grain. You will need to pick up some pelleted feed. Alfalfa pellets, if they are are small enough for him to eat. I don’t know; you might end up feeding him rabbit pellets.”
“You think that will work?” Joe asked.
“When you say work, I am not sure your expectations match up with this old guy’s situation,” I said. “I think this guy is going to die. If we do nothing, that is going to happen this week. We might buy him a month or two if we do all of this. I will be amazed if he makes it through the summer, but who knows.”
Now I just needed to figure out how to get a half-gallon of Resorb into this old goat. I didn’t have a speculum that I could use on a goat, and I didn’t have a drench gun. I was stuck with using an esophageal feeder that we used on calves. This was a plastic tube with a rounded bulb on the end that would prevent the feeder from entering the windpipe and would deliver two quarts of liquid into this old guy’s rumen.
So I mixed up the Resorb and filled the bag connected to the esophageal feeder. I handed the bag to Joe and instructed him to hold it as high as possible when I got the feeder tube inserted and opened the clamp on the hose.
I thought I would have no problem getting this feeder tube into this old goat. Boy did I have some things to learn.
Here we are in the back of a pickup with shakey side rails, the old goat, Joe, and myself. The old goat has figured out that things will not be to his liking. Joe is no young buck, and he is holding this bag of fluid that is connected to this esophageal feeder that I plan to shove down the old goat’s throat.
I pushed the goat’s butt into the corner by the passenger side of the pickup bed. Joe doesn’t quite know where to stand. I try to position him in the other corner on the driver’s side, not wanting him near the tailgate where he could fall.
With everything in position, I grab the goat by the horns. This skinny old goat, on his last leg, was having nothing to do with this business. I was surprised at his strength. But at thirty years of age, I was no weakling. I pressed his neck against the side rails with my hips, and with my elbow between his horns, I lifted his nose up with my left hand.
I pulled on the tubing to get more slack, and Joe bumped into me as he repositioned himself. I insert the esophageal feeder tube into the goat’s mouth with my right hand.
All hell broke loose! The goat bleated and bucked as if he was being strangled. Joe was right behind me now, and I nearly knocked him off his feet as I struggled with this bucking goat.
And then there was a loud crunch. A really loud crunch.
I pulled the feeder tube out of the goat’s mouth. He had bitten off the plastic ball on the end of the tube, and there was just a jagged end now.
“What happened?” Joe asked.
“He bit the end of the tube off,” I said as I held up the plastic tube for Joe to see. “And he swallowed the plastic end.”
“What do we do now?” Joe asked. “Is he going to be okay?”
“If you remember from your comics, goats eat tin cans,” I said. “This won’t bother him. It will just settle in his reticulum and stay there. The reticulum is the little pouch in the front of the rumen that catches things like this. It is just going to make getting this fluid into him a heck of a lot harder.”
I considered removing the plastic tube and drenching the old goat with the tubing coming out of the bag. But considering the trouble I had with the esophageal feeder, I didn’t think that would work.
“I think we are going to do this the old-fashioned way,” I said to Joe, who was looking a little concerned about the situation.
I got a bucket and emptied the fluid out of the bag into the bucket. Then I started to fill a sixty cc syringe out of the bucket. While I struggling to maintain the old goat cornered and fill the syringe, the goat sniffed the bucket. I moved it in front of him, and he stuck his nose in the bucket and drank the whole thing.
“I think he is smarter than the both of us,” Joe said as he watched the goat drink down the Resorb.
“Yes, he probably likes it,” I said. “I will send you home with a box of packets, and you can give him one twice a day.”
I gave the goat an injection for worms and powdered him for lice.
“You need to powder him once a week for the next month,” I said. “This powder kills the lice but not the eggs. Remember to pick up some pellets to feed him, and I will check him next week.”
Joe was right on time for his appointment on Friday morning. Although he was still skin and bones, the old goat was still with us and looked a little brighter.
“I have named the old guy,” Joe said. “I call him Billy. He eats grain and those rabbit pellets really well, and he just sucks down those buckets of Resorb. I think he is doing great.”
“I agree, Joe,” I said. “Billy looks like he is going to be with us for a time. Just don’t get your hopes up about celebrating Christmas with him.”
I lost track of Joe and Billy for a time and assumed that things must be going well. It was in late November when Joe came into the clinic to let me know that Billy had passed away.
“He was doing pretty well all summer and fall,” Joe said. “But he never seemed to put on any weight, and when the weather turned cold these last couple of weeks, he just seemed to give up. But I want to thank you for helping me give him a few good months. And you were right; I ended up spending a lot more than the five dollars I gave for him.”
Photo by Boris Hamer from Pexels.