Notes from Windward: #71


Birth, Death, and One more
iteration of the great Cycle


     As the birthings are done, and the Kids have overcome the hurdle of their first month of life, I find myself documenting the last of the notable events in the herds health and event logs. Since I am only a novice Herdsman, every event accounts for a large percentage of my total knowledge and experience. So in every instance I have a lot of growth. So, I think it is important to make a more detailed narrative of these events so that others might learn more. Also, I see this as an exercise in recalling observations, symptoms and signs, and documenting which ones were of most consequence to a diagnoses.

     I recognize a gap between the data I have written down on the charts and the actual nature of the events that played out. If one were to look back on this chart, they would not know our thought processes, and the real-time decision making that went on. As it is difficult to quantify this kind of experiential learning I think its essential to express it in another form.

Alison in 2010
after her first brithing

     As was written in the notes earlier one of our senior milking does, Alison, died about two weeks after giving birth to three kids. Although a necropsy was performed, the cause(s) of her death are very much unknown. I cannot help but feel a deep sense of regret for having let her down in my duties as her primary caretaker. At this point the best things that I can do is to make her death a learning opportunity, so that she did not die in vain.

     About a 10 days prior to death, Alison began to show signs of a general illness. Diarrhea, huddled posture, lethargy, and a general frumpiness of her hair. The previous day, when I was letting Becca and babies out of the jug, Alison got access to about a quart of oats (roughly half of her half of her daily ration at this time). When I saw her the next day, my immediate interpretation of her condition was that her rumen biology was thrown off by the additional grain (any abrupt change in feed can wreak havoc on the ecosystem of micro organisms that occupy the rumen. Alison's eating excess concentrated carbohydrates could have resulted in an increase of certain volatile fatty acids in the rumen, lowering the PH and initiating a chain of micro-biotic activity.

     This could reasonably resulted in the symptoms listed above. Basically its like having a really upset stomach: you get the runs, you feel bad, and it generally sucks.

     Over the next few days, Alison's condition worsened. I continued offering her free access to alfalfa, and began slowly backing down the amount of grain. After the second day, Alison was not interested in the roughage but was veraciously eating the grain. This also lead me to believe that it was acidosis she was suffering from. Alison was craving more grain, not eating alfalfa at all for several days. I concluded that Alison was suffering some degree of acidosis because her body was desiring what was easiest to digest.

     After the second day of her looking frumpy, her temperature was at 104, slightly higher than normal. and stayed about that temperature for several days. As the fever set in, Her milk production also dropped off. I checked it regularly and could never get more than one squeeze out of either side.

     After the second day of fever she was started on 3ml of oxytetracycline daily, a broad spectrum antibiotic administered inter muscularly. She died the night of the fifth day of treatment.

     During the first several days of all of this, the weather was particularly wet and rainy. She had access to only half the barns covered area because Becca and her kids where being kept separate but still needed cover. This means that Allison was generally more exposed to the elements. This could have played into her running a fever.

     After a few days of treatment with antibiotics her fever was diminished and she was more alert. Although she still seemed to be fighting some kind of bug. She also began eating roughage and regaining a normal posture.

     It was in this condition that I left Alison to go to Portland for Earth-Day. I left early in the morning, and feeding was to be handled by Nicole who found her dead later that morning. The exact time of her death is unknown.

     As was mentioned by Opalyn earlier, a necropsy was performed on a few days after her death. I was not present at the necropsy, but I recall two main points raised. That the uterus looked relatively large, and that there was a significant amount of placental tissue still attached to the uterine wall.

     It is totally normal and expected for the uterus to expand during pregnancy and birthing. It is equally as normal for the uterus to slowly contract over the course of several weeks back to a size comparable to pre-pregnancy. This leads me to rule out an abnormality in the physical size or shape of the uterus as being inculcated in Alison's death.

     It is also normal for there to be some mucousy vaginal discharge for upwards of two weeks after pregnancy. Sometimes there are pieces of retained placenta that slowly dislodge themselves from the uterine wall in the weeks after birthing. If the mama is healthy, active, with a well balanced diet and immunally strong, they may display no signs of having a retained placenta. Their immune system can effectively dissolve the tissue without detrimental health affects.

     Last year was Alison's first birthing, and she displayed some abnormal signs. A clear-bloody discharge with some sort of pink tissue in the third week after birthing. She seemed fine otherwise, and I did not take any action. After a few days the discharge stopped, and I thought nothing more of it.

Alison with her daughter Aria

     With all of this evidence, I am lead to believe that Alison may have had a genetic predisposition for retained placenta. If this is the case then it would have something to do with the bodies hormonal response to birth. Oxytocin specifically, is associated with cervical dilation and the distention and contraction of the uterus which physically dislodges and dispels the placenta in the hours after giving birth. If the timing is wrong, then the cervix closes before the placenta can get out.

     Alison did release a large amount of placenta after giving birth. But th evidence points to there still being some tissue left-over.

     In hindsight it appears to me that, IF Alison had a predisposition for retained placenta's, AND was immunally depressed from acidoses which caused her to dramatically decrease her feed intake‒along with the poor weather‒then her immune system could have been compromised. Ultimately this could have caused some infection to have taken hold in the uterus which she was ultimately (even with the aid of antibiotics) unable to fight the infection effectively. In this scenario, the ultimate cause of death could have either been the spread of infection from the uterus or an accompanied shut down of the rumen.

     As time passes from these events, a hind-sight diagnoses seems harder to come by. We will never know for certain the cause of Alison's death. And, as it is always sad to loose an animal‒particularly one as charismatic as Alison‒there is very much a feeling that we have lost a member of the crew. But, by examining the evidence and events I feel that we can come to the closest consolation of saving the life. By learning and holding a resolve to implement what we have learned, we will be better able to save a life in the future.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71