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Death hits the ranch - hard

I knew being a rancher (and I use that word loosely) would be hard. I knew death would be part of this venture; I'm all too familiar with the circle of life. I thought I was ready...I was wrong.

Last Sunday I was getting ready to go out to clean our little barn. When I say little I mean it. It is 11 feet by 24 feet and I bought it on Craigslist. Probably from the same guy my dad bought the big goats from. It was custom made in Milaca and hauled to our house on a trailer. It is red white steel trimmed in white, wired, insulated, goat-proof and beautiful. My dad and husband (Ryan) stalled it out with three stalls and built a shelving unit and work bench for me to house all the milking supplies, feed, bottles, treats, tattoo kit, kid box and other things you need to have for livestock. It's small but perfect for what we (and by we - I mean me and the goats) need.

Ryan went outside before me to let the goats out and came back in and said that one of the buck goats, William, was sick. I didn't think much of it, finished putting on my 50 layers of clothing and we headed out to do chores. When I got to the barn the lone goat was in his pen lying down. I shut the gate and started cleaning out the doe's pen as quietly as I could. William kept looking at me so I gave him some grain. He didn't even get up to eat it. I kept working and he finally got up. He came over to the gate and I opened it so he could go outside. Instead of going out he went into the doe's pen to rest. I cleaned as much as I could, put down fresh straw, filled the hay feeders, hauled fresh water and called it a day. Later than night Ryan went to let the other goats back in and got everyone separated. He said the goat was still acting weird.

The next morning I got a call at work. Ryan said William was dead. Seriously. I don't get it. They are well cared for. I called our vet and she thinks he died from urinary calculi. My cousin who is a sheep farmer agrees. Both said it happens fast and furious and there isn't anything you can do to fix it. According to, "Urinary Calculi is almost always the result of improper feeding by the producer. A proper calcium to phosphorus ratio in feed, hay, and minerals is critical; this ratio should be two and a half to one. Although the disease is called Urinary Calculi, the real culprit is phosphorus -- specifically too much phosphorus in relation to the amount of calcium in the diet. Feeding too much grain concentrates and/or feeding grain concentrates with an improper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is a major cause of Urinary Calculi."

What?! I didn't even know that could happen! I'm not a vet and I don't have an advanced degree in Animal Sciences or Crop Science; I'm a business major turned hobby farmer with a dead goat. Great.

After doing some research I am pulling all grain from the bucks' diet and strictly feeding them hay, not alfalfa, and getting them a huge mineral block. Maybe this is common knowledge - but it wasn't to me.

"They" say bad things happen in threes and sadly that was true in our case. The death train didn't stop at William, in fact, it didn't stop at three. On Tuesday we found two guineas and peahen dead as well. We aren't entirely sure what happened to them but the other birds are doing well.

One of my friends asked if I was going to have a Viking funeral for the deceased livestock. I didn't laugh. I responded by saying that since the deaths were sudden I didn't have a wooden ship built that I could properly sent them off on and all sources of water are frozen anyway. We brought the goat out to the woods and the birds are in a container until we can dispose of them properly. I asked my brother if I could have a cremation done in his outdoor wood boiler and he said no.

These aren't the last losses we are going to have. While I'm sad, life goes on and the survivors still depend on us. If nothing else I've learned from this and will be a better farmer because of it.