Having as many animals as we do guarantees that some will fall sick on occasion, no matter how attentive we try to be.
For instance, there was that horrible week when the hens would get the hiccups then fall over dead, and we had no idea what to do. It did eventually run its course, but we lost 5 chickens.
Then there was the sad event when our new puppy somehow managed to get on the other side of the wall and was accidentally stepped on by Beauty. Sometimes the only thing to do is to sit by an animal’s side.
But in other instances, the illness or injury is completely treatable, if you know how. My husband often calls me to “traer el libro” (bring the book) for me to do some on the spot research on a new symptom of one or more of our animals.
When our rabbits kept getting sore hocks, we changed the entire way we kept rabbits, from caged to free range, well, within our yard range anyway based on a section of the Barnyard book. When the chickens looked droopy, my husband cut a hole in the wall so that they could forage in the goat and horse poop while those animals were grazing, and sure enough, the extra vitamins did a world of good, all based on the Healthy Livestock book. When one of our nanny goats developed mastitis, we checked the books to see what we could do and did what we could to ease her agony until the infection cleared up.
In addition to our resource books, there are local folklore methods concerning the care of animals. Fortunately, my husband is not one of those men afraid to ask for directions, when it comes to the welfare of his animals that is. Some of the information he gets seems to be a bit hokey at times, so we cross reference with our books. If the treatment appears to have some sort of valid basis and not entirely dependent on the warts of a frog during the lunar eclipse, he often gives it a try.
My husband has treated swollen eyes with a spit of salt water. The first patient was Duchess, the goat, who was accidentally hit by a slingshot stone. (Apparently, there was a passing squirrel my son was aiming at.) A spit of water and the swelling was completely gone within the hour. The second patient, Shadow the yeguita (female colt) also was struck by a misdirected stone thrown to scare her back from jumping a fence that was much too high for her young legs. Again, the spit of salt water, my husband actually spits into the eye, and the swelling went down.
The most recent examples of this folklore animal medicine can be illustrated with the unfortunate injuries sustained by our horses, Beauty and Shadow.
Beauty came up lame one day and what appeared to be a superficial cut above her front hoof became a gaping hole overnight. My husband thinks that she opened it with her own hoof while dancing. Yes, she actually dances continuously in her stall at night. As it was on the bend of her foot, it could not be sewn up. He was, at first, dismayed and unsure how to help in the healing since she opened it anew every time she went out to graze. He asked around. One person told him to echar aqua de la mata de toro (bull’s weed water). Another told him to cover the wound with hoja de sábila (aloe leaves).
Now, I had never heard of mata de toro (bull’s weed), so I couldn’t be too sure of its effectiveness. However, aloe is a herb that I know to have soothing qualities for burns and endorsed its use. Beauty’s treatment ended up being a periodic dash of Azul (Blue) for infection, a daily wash with boiled mata de toro (bull’s weed) and an overnight bandage of sábila (aloe). The Azul we purchased at a local vet place, but the other two herbs grew wild in La Yacata, and it was just a matter of harvesting. Her wound is slowly healing, and we hope she will be back up to her regular dance routine soon.
Shadow also recently sustained an injury. One day, she wandered a bit from where her mother was grazing and tried to leap a barbed wire fence. She’s only 6 months old, so she really didn’t know any better. A good section of her skin on her underbelly was ripped open, the fur hanging off in one big sheet. Poor thing. My husband called in a more experienced horse keeper for advice. He brought a needle and thread to sew her up. Of course, she wasn’t too keen on this procedure, so she had to be lightly sedated. Even under anesthesia, she kicked out several times and had to be held down to get the stitches in. This was quite a group project. In attendance in the operating theater, a.k.a. Shadow’s stall, was the tailor, my husband and his father for front and back leg holding, my son, for head holding and nerve soothing, and my sister-in-law, the light holder. I stood outside the stall and ran for things like clean water to wash with, alcohol to sterilize the needle, rags for blotting, etc. Beauty, the anxious mother, was behind me looking on and expressed her emotions noisily every few minutes. It was over in about 30 minutes and took another 30 minutes or so for Shadow to recover from the sedative.
In the morning, my husband made a dressing from hoja de sábila and fashioned a bandage out of a costal (feed bag). He heated the aloe leaves on the comal (tortilla pan) so that the juices would run well. Then he cut the sharp edges off the leaves and sliced them down the middle. The inner sides he placed up so as to be the part that touches the wound and tied on the bandage. We also have been using periodic treatment with the Azul, which is an animal antiseptic, although it is more purple than blue and a round of penicillin and tetanus shots just to be on the safe side. We are all hoping for a quick recovery for our little lady.
I won’t say that we know everything about healing animals and we may yet discover that what we do on these occasions is not the best way to treat injuries, but we do what we can with what we have and have found that the natural remedies offered in our area often outdistance any man-made chemical when it comes to effectiveness.