Mysterious Deaths

On Veteran’s day, we were down at the barn at 2 p.m. playing with some of the kids. Since it was a dark, gloomy, misty day, we did not let the goats out onto the big hay field; they have a tendency to forget how to get back to the barn, getting stuck at Hoyte’s fence. As a result, we had a few goats on the lower hay field, some on the hillside, and many just hanging out around the barn.

At 4 p.m. when we went back down to feed, Ophelia didn’t rush into the feed room when given the opportunity. She was laying at the back door to the barn, head up and alert. But when Ken went over to encourage her to move, she couldn’t stand up. She would wobble then fall. We took her temperature – 103.3….not too terribly high.

We put her on the four-wheeler and took her to the truck. A call to the vet’s alerted them we were on our way to the office. We arrived just before closing time. Ophelia didn’t appear to be in any pain; she just couldn’t stand. Dr. Galbraith suggested she might have either polio encephalitis or listeriosis and said he would start treatment with penicillin and thiamin. We suggested he keep her overnight, and he agreed. We were leaning more toward the listeriosis (a bacterial disease of the nervous system that can cause fever and is spread by eating food contaminated with listeria) but knew the symptoms of the two diseases are similar.

The next morning we got a call from the vet. At 9 p.m. Ophelia went into convulsions; she died around 10 p.m. Dr. Galbraith suggested we come over and pick up her body and take it to Nashville to the State Vet’s Office at Ellington Center because he had no idea why she had died. His best guess was some sort of poison – possibly nitrate poisoning.

We agreed. Before leaving, though, we decided to go down to the barn and check on all the goats and feed the little ones. Little did we know our nightmare was just beginning.

At the barn we found two dead goats (Louise and Deanna), three goats down (Ivy, Liza, and Mandy), and several other goats staggering around. Liza was in the white canvas shelter – stretched out on her side, thrashing about and moaning loudly. We agreed she wouldn’t live very long.

Back to the house and another call to the vet’s office. We were told to take the two dead goats to Ellington instead of the one in his office. He also suggested we take along one of the live ones; he thought they might want to draw blood from a live one.

Back at the barn we closed the goats out of the side paddock where a roll of hay had been put out a week before. The also closed them off from the lower hay field. We collected some samples of the hay and a bag of feed. (We were concerned about the feed because we had gotten feed from a new pallet at the Co-Op the preceding Tuesday. We also realized the corn we mixed with the grain could possibly have a mold.)

Since we didn’t think Liza could possibly survive the trip to Nashville and since Mandy was the heaviest and in a location that would be the hardest to move her from, we decided to take Ivy. Ivy was more alert, thus we thought she had the best chance of surviving the trip. After all, we were advised to take a “live” one.

So, we got Ivy loaded into the cage on the back of the truck and the two dead goats loaded on the truck outside the cage, and off we went to Nashville. We arrived around noon and were told the vets were all at lunch, but we should fill out the paperwork while we waited. A word to the wise: read the small print before you sign a document!

The vet came back from lunch, asked us a few questions, and disappeared. The next thing we knew, she was on the back of our truck. Ken rushed out to see what was going on – expecting her to be drawing blood. Indeed, he even held Ivy’s head still so she would be able to draw the blood painlessly.

I can’t describe our shock when we suddenly realized what the vet was doing. She wasn’t drawing blood; she was killing our goat!! When we expressed our shock and dismay, she said, “Oh, we don’t deal with live animals here. I thought you knew that.”

With that, we were dismissed. We were told our vet would be called when they had a preliminary diagnosis.

So, on the two hour trip back to Pulaski, we still had no clue why we had lost four animals – and dreaded getting back to the farm. We had no idea how many other sick animals we would find.

We stopped by Dr. Galbraith’s office, and Joyce called up to Ellington to see what she could find out. Nothing. Wyatt was out on a farm call, so we went home. When we got home we called back to our vet’s office; they still hadn’t heard anything.

We went down to the barn. No more dead animals. Liza was still moaning and groaning, but she was still alive. Betsy, though, was down in the area with Mandy. We proceeded to get the wobbly animals into the section of the barn with Mandy and Betsy – they included Nola, Eileen, Xenia, and Yams.

Back to the house to report in to the vet’s office. They had gotten a preliminary diagnosis of listeriosis. The suggested treatment: 3 cc penicillin.

While Ken was talking to the vet, I was reading the Small Ruminant Production Medicine and Management book by Infovet. That book suggested, as a treatment for listeriosis, 40,000 IU/kg of body weight 3-4 times a day for a week followed by 22,000 IU/kg once a day for another 2 to 3 weeks. Our penicillin was 300,000 IU per ML. After doing some quick math, we came up with a dose of 7 cc per 100 lb. So, we added the 3 cc our vet suggested to the 7 cc the book suggested and decided to give the goats 10 cc per 100 lb.

In addition, we gave 5 of the 7 Poly Serum (between 15 and 20 cc, depending on the size of the goat.)

We tried to reach Coni Ross. When we were unsuccessful, I sent her an e-mail requesting her help.

We called the local Co-Op and told the manager, Damon Deese, what we were going through. Since we feed Co-Op feed exclusively, he said he would pull the lot we were feeding and not sell it until we got a report back from the lab. He would also call the Co-Op nutritionist so they could run their own test. Since we didn’t want to feed the herd anything we had on hand, he graciously offered to deliver some dairy feed and some of the Co-Op’s new, unmedicated goat feed. He also brought us another bottle of penicillin.

Around 8 Wyatt called to check on the animals. This was the first time he realized we were talking about an epidemic – 4 dead and 7 extremely ill animals out of a paddock of about 50 goats.

When we went back to the barn at 10 p.m., we drug Liza (who was still laying on her side, unable to move, and still loudly moaning) into the barn. We gave the seven sick goats an additional 7 cc per 100 lb. penicillin and 1 cc per 100 lb. flunixamine. We also gave each of the seven 10 cc penicillin orally. For the first time all day, Liza raised her head (in an attempt to get that taste out of her mouth). Then we went through the herd giving all the girls in that paddock a shot of penicillin (3 cc per 100 lb.). By the time we finished, no one loved us any more.

Saturday morning we had an e-mail from Coni. Coni said listeriosis does not usually kill that fast. She said it can cause septicemia which can kill faster, but usually in 24-48 hours. Coni recommended giving 10 cc SQ of penicillin a day minimum per 100 lb. She felt we were on the right tract with the Poly Serum and suggested we give Nuflor since listeriosis is susceptible to that also. Coni felt the problem could be Pasturella Hemolyticia or Haemophilus Somnus. Both these cause symptoms like we had, and goats can die in 4 to 6 hours with no prior symptoms. Coni later called to confirm our treatment and said the convulsions could also be from sepsis. Coni suggested that, until we had a definitive diagnosis, to continue to give the penicillin, add Nuflor to their treatment, and repeat the Poly Serum in 3 days. Coni also suggested over the phone that we give them dexamethasone to reduce brain swelling. We will forever be grateful to Coni for her call and assistance.

So, Saturday morning was spent re-vacinating everyone for pneumonia. At 9 a.m. the sickest of the goats got 8 cc penicillin, 1 cc flunixamine, and 3 cc nuflor. We also repeated the poly serum for Mandy, Betsy, and Liza – the three who couldn’t stand. Mandy decided she was tired of being a pen cushion, and weakly stood and staggered away from the inside of the barn.

We made a quick trip into town and bought several tubes of Probios and got more goat feed.

Shortly after noon, Dr. Galbraith came out and tubed Liza and Betsy – giving them a combination of water and glucose. He was concerned about them dehydrating. And he was also concerned about pneumonia since they were lying around, unable to get up. He seemed very leery about giving us a bottle of dexamethasone and warned it had to be used with extreme care. He also suggested giving them Cimetidine to prevent stomach ulcers. In addition, he brought out a bottle of flunixin muglumine since we were running low of Flunixamine.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday we gave the seven sick goats another round of penicillin plus 3 cc fortified vitamin B complex. At 10 p.m. we gave the three worse goats 2 cc dexamethasone. (Dexamethasone is a synthetic steroid used to treat inflammatory conditions and hormonal imbalances.)

Sunday morning when we got home from church, Betsy was up and walking (slowly) around. Liza was trying to stand. And the other goats were outside in the sunlight waiting to be fed. We definitely felt like we had turned a corner with whatever it was we were dealing with.

But just because they were up and moving didn’t keep the needles away from them. Mandy, Liza, and Betsy all got flunixin muglumine and penicillin; Zenia, Yams, Nola, and Elieen only got penicillin.

Sunday evening Mandy, Liza,and Betsy got dexamethasone, Nuflor, and Probios; Zenia, Yams, Nola, and Eileen only got Nuflor and Probios.

On Monday we called our vet several times and the State Vet’s Office twice. Nothing. The good news: Liza, who we had written off as dead on Friday, was up and walking around – running when it was time for shots!

Treatment on Monday consisted of 10 cc penicillin, 10 cc Probios, 3 to 5 cc (depending on the goat) Nuflor, and 1 cc flunixin muglumine. Betsy and Liza also got 20 cc poly serum and 3 crushed Cimetidine tablets.

Dr. Galbraith attempted to contact one of his University of Tennessee professors but was unable to reach him.

On Tuesday a call to the State Vet’s Office revealed Deanna may have had pneumonia (but this did not necessarily kill her). Louise was carrying a 12” fetus that had probably (possibly) died before she did; it’s possible she died of a uterine infection. They still had no information about Ivy other than her calcium and magnesium levels were good.

Wednesday, Dr. Galbraith was finally able to reach his UT professor and told him all the symptoms. The diagnosis: blue-green algae. The professor told Wyatt this is a problem normally found in the fall – animals drinking from stagnant water contaminated with blue-green algae. Wyatt told us he had seen this once before with cattle – 7 cows got sick, 1 died. Dr. Galbraith suggested we not tell the State Vet’s Office of the diagnosis. He wanted them to discover it on their own then provide us (him) with a method of treatment.

On Thursday Ken again called the State Vet’s Office. At this time he told them we had sold some goats that were to go to Iowa the week of Thanksgiving, and he really needed to know if it was safe to ship them out of state. He was told, “That’s not my problem.”

(On Friday we took the animals going to both Iowa and Georgia to our vet and got health certificates for them. None of these animals had been affected - were not even in the same paddock. But the State Vet’s Office didn’t know that; and, in our opinion, their response was irresponsible.)

One week after we took the goats to Ellington Center, we finally got preliminary reports. They told us nothing. In these reports, there was no mention of possible pneumonia nor was there mention of Louise’s pregnancy. Three weeks after the initial problem, we finally got toxicology reports from the State Lab. Their diagnosis: parasites. (They provided us with a long article from the internet that told of resistance to different wormers.)

Our vet was as upset as we were with the lab’s report, but he said he couldn’t protest their diagnosis since he has to work with those folks. When we asked our vet what we could do to prevent this from happening again – or what treatment we could use should this happen again, he said to keep the goats out of areas with standing water if possible. But should they get sick again, all we could do would be provide supportive care/tender loving care like we did this time.

We sent samples of water from various locations on the farm to the University of Tennessee for analysis, but the location we think was the culprit of our problems had dried out by the time we knew we needed samples. We did send along dirt samples from that area. We have to date heard nothing from this test.

In the meantime, we have kept the goats off the lower hay field. This area has flooded several times this fall and never seems to totally dry out before the next flood. We are also trying to find out as much as we can about blue green algae.

All of the goats that didn’t die in the first two days have fully recovered from their week-long illness. Surprisingly, none of the bred does lost their babies. And Betsy, one of the does we had to tube feed, had recovered sufficiently to be AIed two weeks after being tube-fed. Our vet insists no treatment we pursued had any affect on the recovery of the goats; they recovered too quickly. We respect his opinion but truly believe the oral penicillin and the poly serum saved their lives. We also feel bringing down the pressure on the brain and easing their pain gave them the “will to live.”

Our one regret is that we allowed Ivy to be sacrificed at the State Vet’s Office. Based on what we know now, she did not have to die. Her death did not provide us with any usable information (except that the lab didn’t have a clue about the illness). And since she wasn’t nearly as bad off as some of the goats who survived, we’re confident we could have saved her too.


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Ken and Pat Motes
Clear Creek Farms
33 South Clear Creek Road
Fall River, Tennessee 38468
Phone: (931) 852-2167
Fax: (931) 852-2168

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