By Ryan Price
Goats hate being trapped in the barn. So do I. The smell of manure is strong, and the goats are hungry and rowdy. Green pasture is visible just beyond the barn door.
I entice the kids away from their mothers with a little grain. Once separated, the real song begins. Kids calling for their mothers. Mothers calling for their kids.
My grandparents finally join me in the barn. My grandmother pulls a sheet of paper out of her flannel pocket. The sheet is covered with pen marks, goat names, goat weights, and medication dosages. She holds the sheet of paper away from her face at an angle, her glasses rest on the brim of her nose, she squints her eyes, and attempts to read the paper.
Eight goats need to be dewormed, 15 kids need to be weighed, and organization is nothing but an afterthought.
My grandfather grabs a metal medicine drench out of a barn cabinet. A white bottle of Safeguard rests in his shirt pocket.
“Let’s do Snowflake first,” grunts my gram.
Snowflake? She’s the largest and healthiest of the goats. What’s the point of deworming her? She’s the boss goat of the herd. She eats first, her kids eat first, and the other goats stay out of her way. In the winter she lies by the barn door, getting up only to chase the other goats out of the barn.
I corner Snowflake in the pen and grab her firmly by one of her horns. My grandfather comes strolling over with a drench full of Safeguard. I pin her, open her mouth. Snowflake writhes in fury and frustration. She’s strong and fierce. My grandfather forces the metal drench into her mouth and flushes the white medication down her throat. She spits some of the Safeguard out. It blends in with her pure white fur.
“Shit,” says my grandfather. “I think we underdosed her.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “She’s pretty resistant to worms anyway.”
“Tulip’s next,” says my gram. “She needs 4 cc’s.”
Tulip lost one of her kids this spring – a large buck kid born dead. Her doeling, who is still alive, is still a runt. Tulip isn’t regaining any weight either. She’s thin, her frame boney.
I grab her by her horns. I pull down on the skin around her eyes to expose an inner eyelid. Pale, pale pink. The worms are draining her blood supply.
I pass Tulip onto my grandfather. He straddles her easily, squeezing his legs around her neck. Tulip can barely resist, and my grandfather quickly shoves the metal plunger into her mouth.
Inside her gut, the worms are surprised when the chemicals attack. They wriggle away from the white liquid, but the chemicals throw punches left and right. Some of the worms detach from Tulip’s stomach wall and instantly become thirsty. They writhe around inside her stomach, but the chemicals in that white river decide their fate. The worms who survive attend their neighbor’s funerals.
The remaining worms have grown resistant to the medication Tulip receives. The Haemonchus contortus or the barber pole worm, has taken over her body just as it has for numerous species and breeds of livestock.
Most animal farmers struggle with this worm, but my grandparent’s herd seems to be doing fine. The other goats we deworm don’t appear to be sick at all. As a Grade Boer goat, Tulip doesn’t fit in with the rest of the herd, which is made up of primarily Kikos and Boer-Kiko crosses.
One of the Kiko does, Annie, brushes up next to me. I know she has worms, but if you look at her, you can’t tell. Her orangish brown coat is untouched, her inner eyelids are nice and rose pink, and her body is in mint condition. Annie can handle parasites, Tulip can’t.
Still I grab her for my grandfather. Five cc’s of Safeguard cascade down her throat with ease.
Tulip’s genetic capacity doesn’t allow her to handle parasites. Kiko goats, like Annie, outperform other meat goats because of their genetic capacity to resist parasites and the diseases they cause. Kiko goats often carry a heavy load of parasites without exhibiting any clinical signs.
Despite this, or perhaps because of this, barber pole worms are becoming increasingly resistant to anthelmintic medication – much more so than other nematodes.
We deworm five more goats, and the chorus of blats and maas echo throughout the barn. When I open the barn door, eight does rush out the door and race through the field up into (literally) greener pastures.
But back in the barn, 15 hungry kids still need to be weighed.
Ryan is a sophomore environmental studies major at Ithaca College with a minor in writing. He enjoys spending his free time on his grandparents' farm.