Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence


Posted by Nika On October - 7 - 2009


(Some of the contents of this post might be disturbing to the more gentle or delicate reader. I do not mean to offend you, please accept my apologies. I dont mind if you stop reading and visit other of my posts that are much less gory!)

Make no mistake, if you get goats, you will get your hands dirty, less sleep, more manure, lots of broken fences, some broken hearts, and some experience pretending like you actually know something about goat health and veterinarian practices.

If you are a long time reader, you will remember the excitement of this last early, snowy spring, when we had our kidding season. We lost one goat (RIP Wheatie, our sweet goat girl), gained lots of goat babies and some modicum of caprine midwifery experience.

I even got to reach into the back of a screaming goat momma, up to my upper forearm, to pull out what I was certain to be a dead goat to find it perfectly healthy and I didnt kill the momma either (was certain I would do that too). As I was holding that baby, feeling more alive myself although also a bit shocky, I re-learned something I always know as a scientist – I know little but in knowing that I know little I am open to learning a bit more. As I knelt there, holding a strong little buckling and watching the momma goat de-stress, I knew that I had no idea if she still had another kid inside. I palpated her tummy but it all felt like a round tummy and I had no objective concept of what another kid might feel like.

Our goat mentor arrived and kindly helped re-assure me that we had done well and that the momma had only one kid.

I have been trying to steel myself for the next kidding season since. We have been breeding the girls up in recent weeks so it seems we will go through that hell again!

But, of course, I always have something new to learn. One is that its not just kidding season that can bring medical emergencies. About a week ago last Saturday we noticed one of the 6 month old kids was acting odd, tilting her head, acting dizzy, eyes sort of vibrating around in their sockets, back and forth.

The followng images shows you a bit of what it was like. She essentially had no control over one side of her body because the bacteria were attacking her brain stem. The movements or the odd positions you see were involuntary and also very painful for us to watch.

This first shot shows the improvised enclosure we made for her.

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Here are a few positions of note.

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

Goat Listeriosis: Felicity in throes

My first and relatively long lasting response was to feel panic, panic I KNEW was counter-productive but which was there anyways. Panic because we have no way of affording any vet care at all. Period.

I looked in our goat health books and realized how hard it is to do a differential diagnosis while in a panic and also while looking at these diseases for the first time. I googled her symptoms and was able to triangulate closer to the possibilities.

I finally settled on two diseases which are commonly co-diagnosed because they are so similar: Goat Polio (thiamine deficiency – easy to treat) and Listeriosis (HARD to treat and bad prognosis).

What is Listeriosis? Its a bacterial infection, run away infection of listeria. It occurs in goats, cows, all sorts of animals including we humans.

Wiki says this about this disease:

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by a gram-positive, motile bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is relatively rare and occurs primarily in newborn infants, elderly patients, and patients who are immunocompromised.

The symptoms of listeriosis usually last 7-10 days. The most common symptoms are fever and muscle aches. Nausea and diarrhea are less common symptoms. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it can cause meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of meningitis are headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Listeriosis has a very low incidence in humans. However, pregnant women are much more likely than the rest of the population to contract it. Infected pregnant women may have only mild, flulike symptoms. However, infection in a pregnant woman can lead to early delivery, infection of the newborn, and death of the baby.

In veterinary medicine, listeriosis can be a quite common condition in some farm outbreaks. It can also be found in wild animals; see listeriosis in animals.

More specifically, in non-human animals:

Listeriosis is an infectious but not contagious disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, far more common in domestics animals (domestic mammals and poultry), especially ruminants, than in human beings. It can also occur in feral animals—among others, game animals—as well as in poultry and other birds.

The causative bacterium lives in the soil and in poorly made silage and is acquired by ingestion. It is not contagious; over the course of 30-year observation period of sheep disease in Morocco, the disease only appeared in the late 2000s when feeding bag-ensiled corn became common. Moreover, in Iceland, the disease is called “silage sickness”.

The disease is usually sporadic, but can occur as farm outbreaks in ruminants.

Three main forms are usually recognized throughout the affected species:

* encephalitis, the most common form in ruminants
* late abortion
* gastro-intestinal septicemia with liver damage, in monogastric species as well as in preruminant calves and lambs

Listeriosis in animals can rarely be cured with antibiotics (tetracyclines, chloramphenicol) when diagnosed early, in goats, for example, by treating upon first noticing the disease’s characteristic expression in the animal’s face,[4] but is generally fatal.

The Merck Vet Manual describes the symptoms as follows:

Initially, affected animals are anorectic, depressed, and disoriented. They may propel themselves into corners, lean against stationary objects, or circle toward the affected side. Facial paralysis with a drooping ear, deviated muzzle, flaccid lip, and lowered eyelid often develops on the affected side, as well as lack of a menace response and profuse, almost continuous, salivation; food material often becomes impacted in the cheek due to paralysis of the masticatory muscles. Terminally affected animals fall and, unable to rise, lie on the same side; involuntary running movements are common.

I called my goat mentor and she has had the great fortune of never dealing with this disease in her 20 years and 100s of goats (she has a great business – Shepherd’s Gate Dairy). She cautioned that the prognosis was poor if it was listeriosis. She suggested I call Tufts Vet.

I did a postdoc at Tufts Vet and have had animals vetted there so I know how massively expensive they are. I was profoundly fortunate to be able to talk, on the phone, for free, with a vet who was able to tell me some things about this disease.

The consensus was, put her down. I have grown an aversion to killing and I do not own a gun or injectable drugs to do the job so I chose to do the treatment and see what happened.

At that point I was less worried about the sick goat and MUCH more worried that my son was going to get it from the does in milk who might have it and be asymptomatic (we drink – drank – their milk raw). My son has seen enormous healing strides from a non-verbal autistic child to a verbal intelligent child who just started preschool today. He got almost a year of daily one-on-one ABA therapy and gallons upon gallons of raw goat milk with I think was instrumental in his progress.

Now, I was panicking that the raw milk was also going to kill him. Panic is an evil evil human emotion. Must remember to be more Vulcan next time.

I found this amazing resource on treating listeriosis at Onion Creek Ranch.

So 8 days ago we started injecting our little goat, Felicity, with 3.9 ccs of 300,000 IU Penicillin, subcutaneously, every 6 hours, 24 hours a day. She was almost paralyzed when we started. I pinched up her skin over her ribs and injected the milky white antibiotic into the gap between her lifted skin and the muscles and ribs just beneath.

Our schedule was this (rain, shine, wind, light, dark, cold, chilly, somewhat warm) 12 noon, 6 pm, 12 midnight, 6 am, rinse and repeat.

She was a trooper and continued to eat. My daughter was my vet tech this whole time. She forced water into the goat’s mouth the first few days but the goat has been eating and drinking on her own.

Goat Listeriosis: Q force feeding water

We have likely 2 more days, possibly more, of this schedule. She, against all the odds, is healing! She still seems to tilt her head so we need that to resolve. She is HATING her isolation and she gains strength every day.

You can see her here. She fears me now, thanks to the brutal injection schedule.

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

Goat Listeriosis: on the mend!

We have to be careful when we stop treatment with the antibiotics by treating her with probiotics to repopulate her rumen with beneficial bacteria.

Right now, she is one sick animal but I think she is going to make it.

Before this, I had never given an injection to anything but chicks, rabbits, and mice. Now I am quite a pro at it.

I would prefer to not have to do this ever again.

We love her now, have grown attached.

The rest of the herd seems perfectly fine.

Homesteading is all about the DIY worldview. You may gain some sense of mastery but its illusory! We are now battling a massive drop in milk production due to the seasonality of this breed and we STILL need to get things ready for our -20 F winter days.

12 Responses to “Listeriosis”

  1. Katrien says:

    What a story, *many* stories, of resourcefulness and courage! Reading this makes me more optimistic – or is it less pessimistic – about our society’s prognosis.

    (I found your blog via your comment to Sharon’s post. Your story resembles mine. I’m also unemployed, woefully over-qualified, but I’ve stopped looking and moved on to “my own” projects. DH luckily still has his job, also in academics. I’m going to train for Transition in November. I’m also in MA.)

  2. Nika says:


    Glad you made the connection! I hope your transition training is fantastic! Its an intense experience. Lets connect so we dont lose touch (this comment willalso be sent to you via email so I think you will have my email address) – am always glad to meet a fellow transitioner! Not much transition happening here in rural south central MA – lots of urban and metrowest transition activity, lots of really great people! My region is much less progressive so there is a lag.

  3. Holly says:

    Dear friends,
    We have our fingers crossed for the goat and all y’all. Must come see you before we get goats (a recurring fantasy that probably needs a reality check, but who knows?).
    Hugs, Holly

  4. Katrien says:

    Dear Nika,
    I am awaiting my first bottle of raw milk (delivery next Wednesday). In the meantime I am trying to find my way in all the pasteurized-raw milk literature and propaganda, especially as my four-year-old daughter, who has mild asthma and a somewhat compromised immune system, will want to partake of it. Several friends and family members have expressed concern…
    You are a scientist, and after reading your blogs I have come to respect your analyses and insights, And you give raw milk to your children.
    Can you point me to some discussion, some insight, that guides you? Has this particular incident changed your mind, or strengthened it?
    Thank you and I hope all is well with everyone, man and beast,

  5. Nika says:


    First, let me say that any decision you make is yours. I dont say this thinking about liability or anything just as one mom to another mom. When I make decisions when I feel I completely understand it and feel at peace with it (as in, I am not being “told” what to do) I deal better with the decision and also any potential problems down the road. Make any sense?! Its not easy being a mom!

    Depending on where you get your raw milk, it may be more highly tested than main stream commercial milk! Most of the illness that comes from milk in the US is from pasteurized milk during or after processing. That is in part due to the shear volume of industrial milk sold.

    Because we are most familiar with sterile milk in our culture, we think of it as this pure homogeneous fluid, sorta like sterile apple juice.

    Sterile milk has, as you know, fats and proteins and sugars. Being sterile means that it is a perfect growing medium (we use it in the lab for growing some bacteria).

    Raw milk is profoundly different from sterile milk. Raw milk is more like an extension of the animals body and it is made, as we all know, for the baby – not likely to be dangerous for the baby! Raw milk contains not only nutrition but also some immunity for young ones (as you know with breastfeeding – colostrum). Beyond this, raw milk also had cells in it, living cells, that work to keep the raw milk free of pathogens. There are also other cell free cytokines and other effector agents that serve to foster a non-pathogenic environment.

    If you put a quart of raw milk and a quart of sterile milk on the counter at room temperature the sterile milk will become nasty sour (not a nice sour) after a couple of days. The raw milk seems to take many days before it begins to clabber (tho you can clabber raw cream overnight in a warm oven) and it is fermenting via lactobacilli – what you are getting is yogurt or perhaps a fresh cheese. I blogged a bit about lactofermentation of meat on this blog post at one of my other blogs –

    Some people believe that the asthma our kids suffer now is due to living in a too sterile environment (I think its that AND the stuff we clean our carpets with and clean other surfaces in our houses as well as our food).

    Part of this is because of our modern diet of sterile foods – we do not eat the lactofermented foods of old and, on top of that – like a mountain, we use antibiotics (even in tiny kids) which stops the infection BUT also wipes out our healthy gut flora. Doctors get so little nutritional training that they dont know to also prescribe probiotics to help our gut heal.

    I do not know what sort of condition your daughter has but some would suggest that she might see gains in health from exposure to raw milk. I do not know. I have not had to look into that aspect deeply as we do not have such issues (tho we do have asthma and I have an undiagnosed autoimmune process going on).

    I do know that there are people who feel very strongly that raw milk and cultured raw milk products like yogurt are especially helpful for people with HIV/AIDS. We have shared our raw milk with a friend with long standing HIV/AIDS and he has enjoyed it tremendously. The rest of his diet isnt too hot so he is still working on it all.

    I have been reassured by vets and also goat mentors that the listeria doesnt pass through into the milk (like a virus might). Once we are done with our seasonality problem (likely next spring once they all freshen again!) we will drink it raw again.

    I would suggest that you talk with your raw milk supplier and find out what sorts of testing is done on the animals and the milk so that you can have peace of mind!

    If you get information back that doesnt make sense to you, ask me and I will see if I can help.

    Have you come across this site yet? –

    lots of info, tho lots of politics. I am certainly a liberal progressive, I just dont enjoy divisive politics over food. If I want raw milk, I find a way to make it, I dont turn into an activist. Maybe I am selfish!

    (am really sorry for the length of this reply!)

  6. Katrien says:

    Dear Nika,

    thank you so much for your informative and thoughtful reply! You have no idea how well you cleared things up in my mind.

    I will call up the farm and ask them questions: when do they milk the milk that I get (same day, my guy said, but I want to check), and how and how often and by whom is it tested, and I’ll ask them to tell me about their milking procedures, etc.
    I am so hopeful about this milk, but also cautious. As you said, once I get all the information about *this particular* milk, the milk *I* am buying, I will have peace of mind and will be able to proceed having done the best I can.

    I’ll keep you informed and thank you again!


  7. Nika says:


    I am glad my way-too-long reply was helpful :-) Looking forward to hearing about your milk adventures!

    Your pantry looks delicious! I have all my filled jars packed back in their boxes, food in the dark and away from little hands. I just dont have a place to put them so I can look at them and appreciate them! All my open shelves have dry goods (rice, flours, wheat berries, sprouting seeds) which I go through faster than the canned foods.

  8. […] this Wednesday to ask how often and by whom it gets tested, and what their milking procedures are (thanks again to Nika). Then I’ll make my first yogurt, and I’ll try butter and […]

  9. […] Well, this year, we had another trying time. You may remember Felicity, who we treated aggressively to save her life from a nasty illness. For details on that see: Listeriosis. […]

  10. Andrea says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Our beautiful goat went blind today, starting circling, and then went lane within a matter of hours. We called the vet and have began medications for listeria. The worst thing is that I am pregnant and after two miscarriages am completely beside myself with worry not only of losing our beloved family milking goat but of the listeria harming my baby. The fact that you were able to heal your goat is a lovely thought to keep me going the next 24 hours. Great blog post. Many thanks.

  11. Candy says:

    Such an awesome story.

  12. Lanae says:

    I would love to know more about your situation on how you dealt with knowing the family could be infected. My goat just died from assumed listeria and I found myself in your shoes. I have some questions and would love to hear back from you.

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About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.



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