Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Last to Know

Here we go again: Johnes.  There I wrote it. I even put it in the first sentence. Hah! Take that goat world.  Katherine has been on a wild rollercoaster of emotions dealing with the latest outbreak of what I call “The Goat Plague.”  Gossip from around the country has been blowing up her phone to the point that she’s having nightmares and staying home from school.  Of course it’s not the first time we’ve dealt with this scourge.  I even drafted a post about it over a year ago (a damned good one, I might add), but my buddy talked me out of posting it for fear that young Katherine’s budding goat business would be squashed by the wrath of the goat world.
Well, to hell with it.  I’ve spent the last couple of decades teaching my kids to live transparently, take responsibility for their actions, and take on difficult topics head-on.   Even now.  So here we go.  Sorry, Julie, I know you told me not to do this… but someone has to.
First, a little background on “The Goat Plague,” or Johnes.  I’ll try not to get too technical.  The Mycobacterium avium subsp. pseudoparatuberculosis (MAP) is a bacteria that causes unstoppable diarrhea and rapid weight loss.  The devastated animal eventually wastes away.  The bacteria is a global problem, and can lie dormant in an animal for years before some environmental trigger, such as stress from kidding, can flip the switch to “on.” 
Johnes Goat
In the meantime, the goat looks and acts perfectly normal.  Once activated, though, the disease is transmitted via feces, body fluids and milk (doe to kid).   This all translates to, “Once your goat shows signs of it, a la holocaust goat, you are screwed.  Your “Grim Reaper” goat has been pooping all over your field where the other little caprines are snurfing around for grass and stuff.  There is no cure and it takes two or more years for a pasture or pen to be clear of the contagious poops.  So not only are your current goats goners, but you can’t even restart a new herd on the pasture!  You have to move … or get out of goats.
And it’s not just goats.  It’s sheep, deer, cows.  Maybe a contaminated deer bounds through your pasture and poops on the way.  Bam.  You’ve got The Plague.  
But maybe you don’t know it…. because it doesn’t necessarily manifest for weeks, months, years. 
That’s why we test for it at least once a year.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It started on a Friday afternoon when Julie called me in an utter frenzy.  “____ just called me.  You need to call her RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  I can’t say anymore because I don’t want to spread second-hand information.”  WHAT??!  First of all, Katherine is the goat herder; not me.  Why can’t she deal with this crisis?  She’s 17 and knows way more about it than me.  “NO! This requires an adult,” Julie insisted.  What the hell? Katherine is way more grown up than me, too ….but OK.
I called _____ immediately.  She couldn’t talk because she was driving to a goat show, but she’d call me when she got there.  [BTW she called me back 2 days later.]
I called Julie back: “OK. You can’t leave me hanging like this. Tell me something.”
Julie: “No way.”
Me: “What if I guessed it? Would you tell me then?”
Julie: “Yes.”
OK, “20 Questions” it is then.  But I already knew; I guessed it on the first question based strictly on Julie’s level of panic.  As I suspected, someone had an outbreak of Johnes and everyone was worried that this “Johnes Joe” (sort of like “Typhoid Mary”) had infected everyone else’s herd. 
In true Goat World fashion, everyone jumped to conclusions about WHO had the plague.  I’m going to call the target “Susan.”  She’s a major breeder in our area, as well as a goat judge and a 4H leader.  She has champion bloodlines and beautiful animals, which she sells to competitors around the entire country.  She’s also active in our national organization ( on a variety of committees.  Like so many others, she has been involved with pygmy goats for DECADES. Virtually eons! She is a fixture of the goat show world.  Moreover, she’s Katherine’s mentor (now that Bubba has moved on).

Anyway, everyone was pointing fingers at Susan: “she sold goats to so-and-so and they have Johnes. Must’ve come from her!”  “So-and-so bred her doe to Susan’s buck and now they have Johnes.  Must’ve come from her!”
Fox & The Grapes
The one text that really got under Katherine’s skin said: “ Susan wouldn’t sell me that goat that you just bought from her.  It must have Johnes.”  What? That’s fuzzy logic. I call it “sour grapes. “ And just plain mean spirited.  Why would an adult send a teenager that message?
Rather than wallow in self-pity and speculation, Katherine formulated a plan.  Pronto. Information is power.
Within 20 hours she had lined up all her supplies and herded all of her adult goats into the catch pen to draw blood.  It’s a two-person job, so I got recruited.
Most people call the vet to draw blood.  We USED to call the vet to draw blood on all of our PREVIOUS blood testing roundsIt is a veterinary procedure, right?  But not our Katherine.  She’s an industrious girl, that one is.  She Googled “how to draw blood from a goat” and turned up multiple YouTube videos on how to do just that.
Next she went to to get her supplies. Ah, technology.
She figured that  process out a couple years ago, when she got tired of the round around with trying to schedule the vet again.  She now has her own account at the lab and a box full of supplies at the ready: syringes, needs, vials, clippers.
Good thing, too. Because we needed to get results ASAP.
Saturday we spent 3 hours drawing blood from 32 goats.  Exhausting.

We’ve got it down to a system, and those vials were packed in ice on the first UPS plane out on Monday morning, on their way to Washington State University, overnight/express/gotta-have-it-RIGHT-now.
Next step: wait. WSU runs the test on Wednesday afternoon and sends out results via email Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.  That’s basically 5 days of waiting.  Five excrutiatingly long days.
We’ve been through this drill before and had not-so-good results.  I’ll post more about that disaster in my next blog.  We are all about full disclosure, baby, everything. But, anyway…
Katherine and I barely spoke those 5 days.  She woke up with black circles under her eyes every morning from being awoken by nightmares all night long.  She would dream of reading through the results: negative, negative, negative, positive, negative, negative.  Yes, this is what 17-year old girls dream about on a goat farm. Terrifying on so many levels.
Friday morning a photo popped up on my text messages:

Oh, thank God.  All negative. My next response was, “HAH! See that goat people? See, we do NOT have Johnes! Woo hoo! Bite me.”
Hugh relief all around.  Katherine relaxed for the first time in a week.
Then the insidious nature of the goat world set in: the rumor mill kicked into high gear.  She got a call from a nearby goat friend: COME QUICK! I NEED TO DRAW BLOOD! JOHNES IS GOING AROUND AGAIN!
One of the things I like most about Katherine is that she is selfless and kind and helpful in these situations – all without thinking twice.  She ditched her afternoon classes, grabbed her supply box, jumped in her truck, and drove over the hill to the next town to draw blood on our friend’s 15 goats.  Doc McStuffins to the rescue again.  
After everyone recovered from the stress the information began to flow.  
Turns out Katherine and her friend were the last to know about the epidemic.  It’s been going around for 3 months, and people have been whispering about it at all the shows – behind Katherine’s back. 
Lets put this in perspective: Susan, the target of the rotten gossip and Katherine’s mentor, sold Katherine a few goats this Fall and let Katherine breed her does to Susan’s bucks.  If the whole goat community thought that Susan’s herd was diseased, why did they not say anything to Katherine? Not a peep. No warning. No cautionary glances. No nothing.
Katherine was tormented by the thought that her mentor would intentionally set her up with The Plague and destroy her herd – knowingly.  She started hatching schemes to return the goats to Susan.  But what to say? “Um, I don’t like it anymore. Thanks anyway!”  “My Mom says I can’t have any more goats. 55 is just plenty.”
Nothing sounded right.
Finally, we had a flash of brilliance: why not just ask Susan directly what’s happening? Shazam.  What’s the worst that would happen? Susan would explode and yell at her and deny it. Or worse, confirm it.
Katherine and I role-played the various scenarios, best to worst, and she decided that she could live with the worse-case outcome. So, off went the text:
I’m hearing a lot of rumors about your herd having Johnes and I wanted to talk to you about it.
There you have it. The truth. Simple. Direct. Non-confrontational. Honest.
And scary as hell.  All the adults in the goat world chatter amongst themselves, filling in the information gaps with guesses and half-truths.  Avoiding the direct approach at all costs. Like a game of “Telephone,” it distorts at lightening speed.
The response came back:   Call me
Katherine took a deep breath and excused herself to go make the call. Fifteen minutes later she came back with a big smile and looking more relaxed than I’ve seen her in 2 weeks. NO JOHNES! Test results exchanged.  Proof.  Confirmed.  Susan’s herd is clear. So is Katherine's.
Katherine’s keeping the goats and will proudly take them to the first show of next year. (Katherine and half of the goat world are skipping this last show coming up next weekend – too much drama.)
I’m profoundly proud of Katherine for “taking the bull by the horns.”  She didn’t succumb to the gossip and rumors.  She didn’t make up excuses.  She went right to the source, risking her relationship with someone whom she deeply respects. 
And you know what? It turned out even better than she could’ve imagined.  Funny that.   
She maintained her relationship; she found out the truth; she made Susan feel better. Another life lesson from the goat pen.

Gotta remember why we are doing this goat-thing at all