Artemis in her younger years.
Seven months ago, I blogged about my 12-year-old dairy goat who had been diagnosed with heart trouble. The vet clearly was trying to tell me she ought to be put down at the time. I heard the message, but couldn’t bear the thought, provided she wasn’t uncomfortable.
I got a prescription of diuretics for her to try to clear the fluid from her lungs. It seemed to help a little…until she got wise to the medicine and began to refuse it. By then it was springtime, and I thought she might just be okay without the medicine. I stopped giving it to her, and she was fine. With the spring grass growth, she put on condition, and toward the beginning of summer, her udder started to fill out.
Artemis has always been a strong milk producer. In years when she’s kidded, her udder gets so full, it drags in the grass, and her kids have trouble finding the teats. I haven’t actually gotten her in kid for two years, and she still gives milk every year.
This year, she was supposed to be officially ‘retired’. I replaced all my other dairy goats with fibre goats so I wouldn’t have to be tied to daily milking.
Artemis had other ideas. In spite of her dicky heart, in spite of her age, her body decided to produce milk.
At first, I ignored it. If there was no demand for the milk, she’d stop producing. At least, that’s what the textbooks say. It’s never worked for Artemis in the past (drying her off in winter has always been challenging)–I don’t know why I expected it to work this time.
Eventually, I had to milk her. And once it milked her one time, her body responded by producing more milk. It was a vicious cycle–the more I milked, the more she made.
I’m now milking her twice a week. Not much, really, compared to the usual daily milking. I have to say I appreciate the milk, but more importantly, Artemis appreciates the milking.
She knows the signs I’m coming to milk her. When she realises that’s what’s happening, she saunters over to the gate, full of self-importance, nipping haughtily at the fibre goats. She slips out the gate when I open it and trots to the milking stand. She talks to me a little bit as I milk her, as if to bring to my attention what lovely milk she’s made for me.
When I release her from the stand, she leaps off and scampers like a kid back to the paddock, kicking her heels in the air. When I let her back into the paddock, she skips around the other goats, as if to say, “See, I’m useful, unlike some around here.”
It clearly gives her so much pleasure, I feel bad that I hesitated to start milking her.
Maybe producing milk will be the last straw for her heart–just too much to ask of her body–but I believe it makes her happy.
And so, I will milk her. For as long as she wants. After all, isn’t that what we all want? To be useful? To be needed?