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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Honey, I think his ear fell off"

Into every dirt farmer's life comes the day when she must dive into blood and gore...

I was doing my usual morning barn feedings, conversing with the usual line of suspects sitting on the hay bales. As Samuelle Noel entwined himself around me, the black protruding goat belly of Frankie crashed into my calves.

"Hey, what about me? I'm down here!" she stated as she pushed Samuelle out of the way.

"Excuse me! I may be the low stray on the fish line here, but I think your manners or lacking there of are very hurtful." Samuelle said.

"My low physical stature make me the brunt of many jokes. Pushing helps me compensate." Frankie explained.

Their discussion then meandered into the ethical issues surrounding in line breeding that creates midget caprines or bulging eyed Pug faces. By then I was already on my way to feed the rams. The threesome of faces that encountered me every morning at the gate were there, and I greeted them as usual.

"Who IS the man?" I asked Joe Pye Weed, emphasis on the word 'is". I ask him this every morning to feed his ego. Mr. T stands off to the side, not wanting to be a bother, but his quiet glance is an acknowledgment that we both know who the real man is in this bunch- Mr. T. But he has no need to hear me say he's the man, he just knows he's the man. Chickweed is too much of a gentleman, and too low in the ram pack, to really partake in the discussion.

I turned to leave but I had one of those, caught-out-of-the-corner-of-my-eye seconds.

"Hmmmm, what's wrong with this picture," I mused.

Upon looking again at the three gents, I noticed one of Chickweed's ears was a dark brown, and floppy, like a Labrador ear. Chickweed is chocolate brown, and as I looked closer I realized his ear had been ripped or chewed- or both. My heart sank and then rushed up to my throat.

"Coyote?" I asked. Chickweed watched me...straining with silent words to tell me exactly what happened.

In our five years here, we've never had a coyote strike, even though we hear them within a mile most nights. We keep our ewes in at night to help alleviate strikes, but strikes can happen in broad daylight, especially with lambs or old animals. The rams come into their respective stall in the barn, but have 24 hour turnout to their pasture. If it was a coyote that dared to mess with a 250# ram, the whole barnyard was in danger.

The ear looked like someone had bit into at the bottom, and pulled. I took Chickweed out of the crowd and began to probe the ear.

To say the "eeewwwweeew" factor rushed over me is an understatement. The ear had actually been sliced through vertically like a cheese slicer. His once intact ear was now hanging like two separate flaps, raw exposed flesh everywhere. It was...gross. And stunk to high heaven.

After 5 years of making up Doctor Quinn episodes on the fly, I leapt into action. Step One, to keep the animal calm, pretend to know exactly what you are doing. I proceeded to give a shot of penicillin and washed the ear. I knew the ear either needed to be cut off, or taped. But it was beyond taping and infection might have been more prone to set in. Upon working with the flopping flaps of flesh, I decided that what had most likely happened was Chickweed put his head through a fence, got his other ear stuck because it has one of the dang nabbit ear tags on it [which I do not put on anymore]. When he went to pull, his head was stuck, and he kept pulling, and his ear found an old part of fence that had dang nabbit barbed wire on it. Hence, sliced ear. Yum.

Relieved it wasn't a predator attack, I still fretted all night that I should just cut it off. It might get further infected, or get caught again. We walked the fence line and never found a trace of blood. A vet call would have been $200+ so you learn to take these matters into your own dirty hands when you can. I figured I could just snip it off. The entire night I spent imagining my self doing this, like an episode of Animal Planet on the go.

I made my way to the feed store the next day and got some SWAT - a gooey, medicated goop that keeps flies from landing on open wounds. After rubbing that on, I wimped out about cutting off the ear, as it had already started to dry and shrink. I decided a vet call by phone was in order. Fortunately, I've spent so much money with my various vets that they know I'm not a total freeloader, and he gave me some free consult by phone. He told me I had done everything right. Amazing! Now flies lay eggs which turn into maggots which eat raw flesh. A few maggots is fine initially to eat bacteria, but as my vet said, "Get 'em outta there or they'll just keep going." This sounded way too much like that one Twilight Zone episode where the guy gets a bug in his ear that goes into his brain and he can hear it chewing. Upon sharing this memory of Rod Sterlings's genius, my vet assures me they won't go to his brain, but they'll just keep eating the ear flesh. Oh, thanks, that makes me feel better. He told me to hunt and seek maggots each day like and nuke them if found. I had now become a maggot seeking missile.

Then I bravely ask the vet, "Um, well, do I have to cut the ear off?"

"You know, give it a few days, I think it will just fall off."

Well righto then! I'll watch for that!

And that is why, one day, I heard myself calmly state to my husband, "Honey, I think his ear just fell of."