Hi there! I know it’s been a while, and I sincerely apologize. As most of you know, I work off-farm as a research professor, so between COVID-19, my teaching and research, getting the dairy up and running, and the active herdshare program (and larger farm business), I’m afraid I just allowed Herdshare School and the blog to go into neutral. I still worked with my active HSS students and answered any questions that they have, but I’m afraid my creativity was in a doldrum.
I know that I have promised a breakdown of our time building the dairy, and I have at least outlined that series of posts (it’s a long one, with lots of useful tips!), but for today, I want to talk about something that happened at our farm about a month after the dairy was licensed, and how I am still actively working through what happened.
On June 8, my relief milker Joshua was milking while I set up our Tuesday deliveries. He called me into the parlor and showed me Jasmine, a really gorgeous little yearling first freshening doe. She didn’t seem to feel good – he had noticed that she staggered a bit when she came in but was eating her breakfast. I took her temperature and it was a little elevated (104, when a normal goat temp is 101.5-103.5). I did a CMT test to check for mastitis, and it was clean. I listened to her lungs, and didn’t hear anything bad. Since she was eating and the temp wasn’t too high, I told him not to milk her (she had a buckling in the barn who could nurse her), but we did not medicate her because I usually don’t until and unless I know what’s going on. We rotationally graze, and that day’s pasture was a bit of a hike – at least 300 yards – and Jasmine walked normally with the herd without lagging. I kept an eye on her all day, but every time I looked out, she was standing, walking and grazing.
By dinnertime, though, she was staggering and circling *just* a bit. She definitely couldn’t take the walk home, so we carried her back to the barn, and there I found her temp to now be 105. I contacted our vet, who advised that we put her on a listeriosis protocol (Thiamine, antibiotics and banamine) every few hours. She didn’t improve overnight, and was unable to get up the next morning. When the vet arrived, she said what had floated across my mind about an hour earlier – while it looked like listeriosis/polio, could it be rabies? Neurologically, they look pretty similar in a goat, and there isn’t an approved vaccine for goats, so my vet and I had discussed it and decided against it.
The vet examined her, added some medications to our protocol, and gave me a deadline. That day was Wednesday, and she told me that we had to see improvement in Jasmine by Friday morning, or she would have to be euthanized and necropsied to test for rabies. Both my daughter AND I had been exposed (my daughter often helps treat goats), and there is a 7-day window for an exposed human to get rabies prophylaxis. If we waited over the weekend for Jasmine to improve, there wouldn’t be enough time in that treatment window if she was positive for rabies for the test to come back and for Alyssa and I to begin treatment.
So that was a major hammer blow right there – having a sweet young goat, one that is possibly the best I’ve bred yet – seriously ill and likely to die from listeriosis is bad enough. Add to that the potential for rabies and exposure to my daughter? Holy Cow. But we’re not done yet, friends. We have a raw milk herdshare program, remember? What if I’ve just exposed 40 people to rabies (OR listeriosis?)
I backtracked and reviewed my milk records. Jasmine was sick on Tuesday, and we didn’t milk her then, but she was normal Monday am and pm. Monday milk was turned into chevre. I decided not to sell it until I knew more, even though it was pasteurized. Sunday milk went to herdshares. OK – I think the possibility of transmission in raw milk of either rabies or listeriosis 48 hours before symptoms started is pretty low, but I spent a few hours reviewing the scientific literature. Not much there, I can tell you. I think an animal scientist could do a couple of projects on those questions.
Back to Jasmine – she seemed slightly better on Thursday morning, but by evening I could tell that she was starting to weaken. We’re 48 hours out with no food, and I am giving fluids and electrolytes via tube but that’s just barely enough to keep her alive during hot summer days and nights. By Friday morning it was clear that she was giving up. I called the vet, and arranged to meet her in a parking lot to euthanize Jasmine, and then I had to be on my way to the state lab. I can’t express to you how devastated, worried, upset I was – but I can tell you that I cried for the entire day that day. Not just tears – violent, racking sobbing all day. I was so very sad for Jasmine and her sweet baby and mother, who hovered near her sick pen. I was sorry for myself, worried about rabies exposure to my daughter, worried about my herdshare members’ potential exposure to either rabies or listeria, worried about my dairy that had been licensed for less than 30 days, worried about what a national mess I would make for the growing raw milk movement with exposure of rabies to 40 families, and about what it would do to our farm business, when my husband had just quit his job this January to work full time on the farm.
My vet met me between her other visits and euthanized Jasmine from the back of my car. I then had to haul quickly across the entire state and over the mountains to get her to the state lab before they closed at 4 pm (GPS told me I would be there at 3:52 pm). I called ahead and after a little confusion, they told me they’d be ready for her. I texted my dairy inspector, and after a while, he told me that I couldn’t sell any dairy products (even without her milk in it), until they came out, took milk and cheese samples, and we heard more about the necropsy.
I made it to the state lab with 5 minutes to spare, and met one of the head veterinarians was waiting for me. He was kind and reassuring – he asked about her symptoms, and told me that rabies in a goat was quite rare, and while he might not be able to tell me right away if she had rabies vs. listeriosis, he could immediately identify other reasons she might have had these symptoms during the necropsy.
The vet called me 15 minutes after I had left to tell me what he had already seen so far. No sign of a tumor, no polio. The listeriosis and rabies would take a little more time, but he would let me know as soon as he received the results. I drove home swinging between shell shock and more tears and fear. And sadness. Lots of sadness.
I woke up the next morning nauseous, dizzy, and unable to hear out of my right ear. What? Did I inhale listeria while I was tubing Jasmine? Was this some crazy early rabies symptom? At least is wasn’t one of the COVID-19 symptoms.. :D I was so dizzy, but I had to milk and run the morning farmer’s market. It was tough explaining without explaining why I couldn’t sell chevre and caramel that morning. I came home and slept the rest of the day, and the following day. My symptoms didn’t improve and by Tuesday morning, I decided to go to the doctor about it.
By Tuesday, everything started to turn around. The state vet called and told me that the rabies tests were negative. The dairy inspector came out to collect milk and cheese samples, and told me we would know something by Friday or so. My doctor prescribed steroids and antibiotics, and we hoped they would help my symptoms. None of my other goats were showing symptoms of any kind, so we were relieved on that front as well. On Friday, my inspector called and told me that all of my milk and cheese samples came back negative for listeria, and I could now sell dairy again. So the entire episode is over in 10 days. Literally 10 of the worst days of my life.
I’m absolutely grateful that she did not have rabies. The full necropsy came back with a presumptive cause of death as listeriosis, but the bacterial cultures never came up positive. I’m grateful that I hadn’t exposed anyone to rabies or listeriosis and that I could prove it based on my milk records.
But I’m also still so wounded by the whole situation. I’m sorry that I lost Jasmine. She had a hard delivery 6 weeks prior, and I thought I would lose her then (or her malpositioned twins). I lost her daughter, who had been weak since birth, at 5 days old. It was a hard kidding season. I know that listeriosis has a 50-80% mortality rate, and I had taken my herd’s overall good health for granted. On a personal note, the antibiotics and steroids did not help my dizziness and hearing. It took 3 weeks for my hearing to recover, and I still feel the room spin 2 months later if I move my head a certain way.
I don’t know that I have a lesson in this story for you, because I think that I did as much as I could correctly. I have recalled milk before, even for a low-level mastitis case, so I’m not afraid of that and would have happily done it if I needed to. The whole situation is still very raw for me, and I just wanted to tell my story and maybe help you consider your decisions about your herd’s health and the milk you put out into the world with more care, as I find myself doing.