Things can only go up from here…

Sorry for the infrequent blog posts this week everyone. I feel like I’ve spent the last two weeks putting out fires only to have another one spring up a few feet away.

Long story short, I told you that when Agnes contracted listeriosis we weren’t sure where she got it. The bacteria can live in the soil for years in a dormant state, but it can also be found in feed, water and just about every where else.  This is terrifying because you can’t keep the disease from spreading because you don’t know where they are getting it from. The disease is rarely passed from animal to animal, but the same source can keep infecting the others.

While we searched for the source of the disease, animals in New York continued to get ill. We lost Chipotle, a yearling buck, and one of the O twins, Ophelia last week. One of Beatrice’s kids, Katie, also contracted listeriosis but she is still hanging on.

In addition to treating the infected animals with penicillin, I had Emily, Andie and Harry scrubbing down all of the handling equipment with bleach and rotating the animals through different pastures in  an effort to stop the spread of the disease. It seemed to be working until the animals in the Vineyard started getting sick.

So far we have treated Daisy, Alabama, Salina and Jekyll for listeriosis and every one of them responded to treatment immediately. Sheep are better equipped to handle this kind of thing, because the are less fragile than Angora goats in the first place but also because they have more fat. If there is good news about the Vineyard animals coming down with listeriosis it’s that there is now no question as to the source- the ONLY thing the two flocks had in common was hay from a single delivery. Hay that, upon close inspection, had mold spores growing inside it.

The hay must have been baled wet, something that should never be done. Because of it I have lost three lovely animals and nearly lost a whole lot more. We have destroyed the rest of the hay shipment and informed our hay broker in case anyone else is having the same problem. I should be angry but I’m just too tired from anxiety and grief to get mad. The farmer we buy hay from, is one of the best men I know and he clearly had no idea there was any potential danger, or he never would have sold it.

As a side note, knowing that I was feeding my animals the very thing that was killing them is terribly upsetting. Obviously there’s no way I could have known the hay was diseased, but it still makes me feel bad, like a mother accidentally giving her baby poisoned baby food.

The past two weeks have been a big set-back for the farm, but I’m not giving up. I’m just going to rest a bit this weekend and regroup. No animals have gotten sick since we removed the hay and, for now, that’s good enough news.


  1. Oh NO!! Susan, no, no, no!!

    I am so, so sorry.

  2. Oh my goodness – how utterly awful!! So glad you found the source though. So sorry for the losses to the flock.

  3. Susan,
    It is going to get better, you are over the worst part and you do have a lot of people pulling for you. Get some rest, go play with the animals. These guys have the best life any animal or human could have because they are so loved.

  4. And, yes, what your Mom just said. Your animals have WONDERFUL lives. Now, go and share some of it with them and concentrate on all the good, happy, life-affirming stuff…

  5. Wow… this sounds absolutely awful. I just wanted to send my sympathies about the animals you’ve lost. It sounds like you’re handling an extremely difficult and stressful situation with patience and grace. I really, truly hope that things begin to improve soon, and that a period of truly restful rest is on the horizon for you. Many thanks for doing all that you do!

  6. Susan – I am so, so sorry… my thoughts are with you and prayers for the recovery of the ones being treated. Take Carol’s advice and rest and play with your beautiful animals. They are definitely loved and love you in return…. we all do :)

  7. I’m so, so sorry, Susan! Loving vibes headed your way from the west coast. Hang in there!

  8. I am so sorry Susie! How absolutely awful! And not poor little Ophelia! No!

    At least you know the source which is easier to get rid of than something at the farm (in the ground).

  9. SusanI (Olliepup)

    July 17, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I am so sorry. Follow your Mom’s advice and go play with the animals. You are doing a great job and you found the source. I am so sorry you had to lose three animals, little Ophelia especially. We are all here for you.

  10. So sorry to hear about the losses :(

    Big Hugs to you and your flock.

  11. you surely deserve a rest…relas and regroup..come back stronger and wiser…we will be here waiting for you 😉

  12. I am soooo sorry to hear of the trouble you’ve been going though with this – anxiety seems like to subtle a word to describe it.

    But, thank you for sharing all sides of farming with us. If we only read the good, we wouldn’t understand how hard your job is, and why everyone shouldn’t be a farmer. You need to be made of sterner stuff – which you obviously are.

    Hang in there – hope all the fuzzys & woolies are back to full health soon.

  13. I’m so very sorry for the animals you’ve lost. Your mom is right–spending time with the ones you still have will be healing balm for your soul. I’m thankful you found the source & hope that’s the end of the losses.

  14. I am truly sorry for your losses. Knowing the cause doesn’t ease the pain but you had no way of knowing what was causing the flock to get sick. Now listen to your Mom, get some rest and hug all the flock, and let me know if there is anything we can do to help out.

  15. Carol P. (peckcpeckc on twitter)

    July 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Shepherd Susie,
    You love your animals…..all of them. We love your animals and you and your family. So, if there is anything we can do for you, other than “cyber hugs”, just ask……….OK?

  16. How terrible for you all. Thank God you found the source. I hope you and your whole team can get some rest, and that the new lives coming are some consolation.

  17. auntyannknits on Ravelry

    July 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I am so sorry you lost three beautiful animals. Look at it this way. It could have been so much worse if you hadn’t found the trouble with the hay. Your flock is so lucky that you care so much for them. Thanks for sharing the info with us. I agree with Heather. It makes us appreciate your hard work more because we are learning how hard your job really is. You are one strong woman and I admire you. Thanks for being the caring shepherdess we all love.

  18. Susan, I am so sorry for these losses. But so thankful that with your diligence and love for your animals that you found the source and have been able to, hopefully, put a stop to this. You have got to cut yourself some slack – we all do the best we can with what we have. You put your whole heart and soul into your farm – make sure you keep something for yourself. Farming is a tricky business – and sometimes forces beyond our control hit us at the worst time. Rest, refresh – and when you are ready to pick yourself up you have a whole cyber group out here to use as a crutch. Be well!!

  19. I can’t say much more than everyone already has. Farming has it’s ups and downs and always will. Get some rest and take solace in the fact that you are very good at what you do. Be well….

  20. You all are great sleuths- way to figure out the problem in short order! I’m sorry you lost three of your animals. We have become so fond of all of them since you share them so generously. As the saying goes, this too shall pass – and soon you will be enjoying life on the farm again! You know there are those of us who wish we had what it takes to do what you do – you are amazing!

  21. I’m so, so, so sorry. What a horrible thing to happen.

  22. How tragic! I’m so sorry you had these losses…but I’m glad you were able to find the problem and treat at least some of the sick animals. Hugs, rest, tea…you need a little recuperating time from this, too.

  23. I’m so sorry Susie! I can’t imagine how hard this must have been. You take such wonderful care of your animals, and your diligence prevented very bad from turning into something even worse Please do relax and get some rest.
    Sending lots of love and hugs your way!

  24. I’m so sorry, Susan. But you are doing such a wonderful job taking care of everyone – no one could do more. Thank you so, so much for being such a good mum to all of the critters. Playtime and hugs are definitely in order.

  25. OHHHH Susan! My heart is breaking for you. When we were there last week, you made it look so freakin’ easy. I’m ready to jump on board and create some fun up there. I’m just about finished with my first goodie for you guys, so I’ll be in touch and we’ll give away some sunshine and maybe sell some yarn??? Think happy thoughts, you really are a shining light to so many. Wish I could wrap my arms around you guys right now, KissHugStitch XOV, CM

  26. Lori aka knittingfool

    July 17, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    oh. oh. oh. this is awful. oh Susie, Emily, Andie, Harry, Patrick, Erin. how awful.
    Snorgles for all of you: ready now, GROUP HUG!!!!!!
    love, snorgle, hug, kiss, love.

  27. you are entitled to feel exactly how you are! so hard! you are a blessing to the animals/children!
    one day at a time…

  28. Susan, I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope that you can rest and regroup next week. It’s great that you found the cause so it didn’t continue to effect other animals. You’re in my thoughts.

  29. Susan,
    I’m so sorry for what you and the flock have been going through. My thoughts are with you all. I too have to agree with your mom, you have given your animals such wonderful lives.

  30. Oh guys, I am so, so sorry! God, this has been a shitty week all around. How totally, totally heartbreaking.

    You know, as very, very sad as this is, it just highlights how lucky your flock is- I am so glad that every single one of your animals have people who care so much about them.

    I think it’s time for some ice cream. Love you all!

  31. I’m sorry to hear about the animals getting sick. It’s good that you could track the source though. Do you think the hay being baled wet had something to do with how unpleasant the weather has been this year?

  32. I am so sorry for the losses you have suffered this year, but I admire your forgiveness of your hay supplier for this sad situation. It is good that you figured out what was happening so quickly! I am especially sad about Ophelia…she was a lovely little one. Hopefully this will be going better for you again soon.

  33. Oh, Susie – that’s so terrible. An invisible enemy – how frustrating. Thank God you figured it out before you lost any more. I’m praying for your heart to heal and your energy, enthusiasm and bountiful ideas to come rushing back in due time. xo

  34. From my good ‘ol Alanis: Day one day one start over again, Step one step one without much making sense just yet.
    My thoughts are with you, your family, staff and all the beautiful animals that we all love to know.

  35. To All the Fiber Farm Family,
    I hope that the outpouring of sympathy from your friends and cyber buddies can help just a little to ease the pain and fatigue that have plagued you these last days. The amount of this stress is small in comparison to the love and caring you have for all your goats and sheep and chickens and dogs.

  36. Lucy- 6toknit4

    July 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Love, kisses and peace for your weary heart.

  37. This cuts me to the quick! I gasped when I read this. I’m so sorry! Our Ophelia! A tragic death for a tragic heroine. How is Linda taking it? And our little Chippy who was happily playing in the pen while we watched! Did he have it when Pat isolated him?

    And how ironic and sad that it was wet hay that caused this when you posted about how dangerous wet hay is. This makes me so desperately sad for you, Susie, and for the farm, and the rest of your virtual flock.

  38. Susan,
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
    x o x o,

  39. Oh my god Susan, I didn’t think anyone could have had a worse week than I, but it looks like you did. I’m so sorry about your losses, my heart aches for you.

  40. How truly sad. Thank goodness you found the source. What a tough week for you and I imagine your new apprentices must be in shock. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  41. This is so very, very sad. I can only imagine how upset you must be.

  42. Oh no…I’m so sorry :(. I’m glad that you found the source and that no more animals got sick. I know how much you care for your flock and it must be heartbreaking. I hope that you get some comfort knowing we’re all sending you our best wishes and prayers.

  43. i’m just in shock. i don’t think any words i could say would be enough in this situation. just know i am sending you and the animals hugs and good thoughts from l.a.

  44. I was so sad to read this news. It must be heartbreaking for you. We’re thinking of you and hoping that all of the other goats and sheep are doing OK now. Farming, of any kind, is a very difficult job.

  45. What a horrible thing….. how very sad :(

  46. Please don’t beat yourself up over this. You are the best shepherd out there. Your animals are lucky to have you watching over them. Follow your mother’s advice – get some rest and play with the animals. Go see a fun movie or read a good book. You deserve some fun. Things will get better.


  47. dear susie,

    i am so sorry for the losses of the animals
    a very sad thing
    especially because someone did something they must have known was not right (harvesting the hay wet)

    other than some sort of hay mold detector (is there even such a thing?) there’s nothing else you could have done better than you did.
    despite losing some beautiful animal friends/flock (and yes i know even one is too many) you did all you could to to find the cause and you did, thankfully.

    my heart is with you
    i can relate to the sadness and grief
    it’s not easy
    and it sucks, quite honestly.
    but you’ll be fine and your flock will be too (fingers crossed) now that the source of that terrible disease has been found and removed.

    all the best to the animals who are being treated now
    i hope no other cases show up
    and i hope you do take some time to do some things
    like sip tea
    or dance in your cowboy boots
    or bake bread
    to recapture feelings of peacefulness, serenity and joy
    that all is well
    as well as it can be
    and having your sweet, dedicated, creative spirit
    makes the word and all of us
    you tend to in the ways that you do
    a better place.

    hugs, love and all the best basking all around you always,

  48. That was a horrible ordeal. I admire your strength to persist and discover the source of the problem. Thank you for not holding back the awful challenges. I will cheer all the louder for your good days ahead knowing what bravery has gone into them.

  49. I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus to say that I’m sorry for the losses of your animals. To work as hard as you do and have the inevitable sicknesses and injuries must be so very tough, and no wonder you need some time off and rest/relaxation. Peace and comfort to you.

  50. Totally heartbreaking and incredibly sad. I can’t imagine how you feel. I’m so sorry for your losses and I hope the other animals improve quickly. {{HUGS}}

  51. Cindy aka counting goats

    July 18, 2009 at 6:59 am

    I wish there was something I could so to help. Just saying some prayers. So sorry.

  52. I’m so sorry to hear about all that you and the farm have been going through. Just know that there are many of us out here thinking positive thoughts for you and appreciating the work that you do! Hang in there!

  53. I don’t know what to say . . .

  54. that is so sad. I so understand how you would feel, of course that is part of the learning process and life. You caught it as quickly as you could. So sad to lose those family members though.

  55. In frustrating times like these, my dad would always tell me to keep my eyes open, because
    it’s when you think all is lost that you find the most important things in life.

  56. I am so sorry for you all. I do hope things get better for you all and the flock. Wishing you and the flock the best of luck.

  57. Aaaghh! What a nightmare. Try to get as much rest as possible and let your friends give you their support, physically and emotionally. Take care of yourself.

  58. Oh my heart goes out to you and the rest of the fiber farm critters and humans. I’m so sorry this happened I can’t even imagine how hard this must be. Please know that you are in our thoughts. Sending big warm hugs!!!

  59. My heart is seriously breaking… my dearest Susie… I am praying so so hard for you right now…

  60. I’m sorry things have been going so badly lately. I’m glad you found the source of the disease and hope it stays away.

  61. Hi Susan,
    As one shepherd to another, I can only say that you have survived what is every shepherd’s nightmare–not just one animal that comes down with a disease and doesn’t respond to treatment, but then another and another. Kudos to you and your crew for saving the ones that you did and for identifying the source of the outbreak. And Kudos to you also for not being angry at your hay grower, who is also doing his best in this rainier than usual year. You can only do your best–that is all you or any other farmer can do. Sometimes Nature can just hit you in the face, like stepping on the wrong side of a rake. This also is the reason why, although I buy my veggies from organic growers, I will never go completely organic on my farm with my animal rearing, because of the regulations about antibiotic use that are, in my humble opinion, way too strict to be humane. When I have a sick, maybe dying animal, I don’t want to shilly-shally around–I want to treat with the most effective way known, which in some cases might be an antibiotic. An organic plant farmer can lose a patch of spinach to disease with a measure of concern and consternation and this is nothing like losing a thinking, feeling animal from a disease outbreak. (Organic regulations in the EU are a lot more animal-friendly with regards to veterinary drug use, so I know it can be done w/o compromising the system). So I am “almost organic” and hope that buyers who care will understand that I make this choice for the good of my animals. But one thing that we shepherds do understand is that Life is a gift that is fragile and we must stop when we can, stand in awe and give thanks for that gift. Hugs.

  62. I am so, so sorry for you and the animals. This is one serious bacteria. Last week, my husband, was admitted to ICU with a high fever, 104, and diagnosed with meningitis. The cause was listeriosis – a bacteria that is found in food. We don’t know what he ate and when, this bacteria can incubate from 2 days to 3 weeks after eating something with the Listeria bacteria. To find out more, go to Only 2500 people get this a year and of these 500 die. We are grateful he has turned the corner and is on the road to recovery. However, it will be long and it will be hard.

    My thoughts and prayer are with you. It is one nightmare infection.

  63. I am so sorry that life is kicking you in the ass. You certainly deserve better. Just keep on kicking back for yourself, your loved ones and the animals in your care. You are amazing.

  64. So sorry to hear the challenges you all have been facing both on the island and in NY – what a difficult situation and frightening as well. It’s good that you found the source – and most of the affected ones are responding well to the treatment. To those little creatures who didn’t, my heart goes out – – – always a difficult painful thing to deal with…

    As you said, things can only go up from here – keep your positive spirits up – because of your quick investigation the rest of the flocks will be safe…
    Our thoughts are with you,

  65. Sometimes all you can do is put your head down, keep pushing forward, and hope it gets better. It always gets better, its the hanging on until it does that is the hardest part. Hang on, play with the kids, and eat some pickles. You’ll be ok :)

  66. So sorry Susan! Rest up (emotionally and physically) so you can continue to take care of the animals that love you (and you love!) so much.

  67. Heartbreaking for you! So sorry for your losses. Hopefully, things will turn the corner for you. Hang in there!

  68. I realize I just am one more person saying how sorry I am about the losses of the animals you hold so dear, but I am sorry, and they are dear to you. My prayers are going out for your, your family and your flocks.

  69. I am so sorry for your losses. I know that they were a part of your family and the pain is great. Take care of yourself as it is clear that your running on empty right now. Rest and watch the little ones romp and jump. They will soothe your soul and bring back the joy, just as they have to so many of us. Please take care

  70. Oh Susan, I’ve been thinking and thinking; trying to figure out what to say that might make it better. But the truth is, there are no words that can truly do that. I’ve actually cried over these losses…’our’ babies and mom. And I’ve never met them in real life so I can only imagine how hard this is for you and Patrick, Harry, Erin, Andie and Emily. My heart goes out to you but at the same time I have the utmost admiration for all you do. This loss would be great to anyone, but I know how well y’all care for and love your animals. The stress and exhaustion must be almost overwhelming so please take care of you…the caregivers.

  71. How horrible! I am so sorry.

  72. One more person with no words to express how bad I feel for you and your farm family. I hope things get better soon for all of you and your animals.

  73. So, so, sorry – sending my condolences. We went through a similar thing with cattle years and years ago ande dadness is overwhelming. I’m so glad you found the source. Things will get better – please hang in there.

  74. Being a shepherd is not just hard physical work, but, as you know, it can be so mentally painful at times. Having had my share of ups and downs in my life as a shepherd, all I can say is…take a deep breath, cut yourself some slack and soldier on. Many people are wishing you peace of mind. Soon the joy will return.

  75. mother nature can often be a b*tch.
    hope you and everyone else at the farm are doing better after such an unbelievable ordeal.

  76. Roxanne aka VelvetMarmoset

    July 20, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Oh Susie! Oh goats and sheepies! I wish I had something more eloquent and healing to say, but instead I will just say I’m so sorry, and send snorgly hugs.

  77. omg that makes me feel sick. I am so so so sorry. Thank god you found the source.

  78. o honey…i am so sad…please know that while i am doing my puddle thing, i am praying for you all.

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