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Being a Farm Nurse

Vol. 4 •Issue 8 • Page 12
Express Yourself

Being a Farm Nurse

One nurse finds her assessment skills valuable down on the farm

I vividly remember my first days of nursing school in 1972. What I did not anticipate was the scope to which I would find my assessment skills beneficial in living on a farm!

My husband and I live near Gettysburg. Our extended family of 19 Nubian goats, four geese, one duck, five rabbits, two dogs and one cat keep us busy. They are all part of our family-oriented barn business, where we sell plants, gifts and crafts. Customers' children delight in seeing our "kids" and feeding them from a jar of "goat grub."

When I said, "I do," in 1998 to my husband Pete, I never imagined what those vows might include. At the time of our marriage, I was a single mother to three wonderful girls, and worked as a nurse in a community hospital ED. I was sure I could also handle being a wife, but never dreamed where that road would take me. With my extended farm family, that road continues to lengthen and encompass new challenges and fond memories.


I was always drawn to the country and had a deep love of animals. In fact, I often wondered if I wouldn't be happier working with animals than people. After all, they are truly dependent on their caretaker for shelter, food and, in times of need, a caring heart. Yes, there are some similarities in nursing humans, but an animal's helplessness makes the care even more rewarding. I consider myself blessed to practice nursing to both!

Initially we had three Alpine goats, but our family soon grew to include five Nubian goats on our farm in Gettysburg. Soon after we moved to the farm, our goat family began to grow. Little did we know that our "girls" would all deliver twice that year — quite unusual, according to our vet — and we lost a few "kids" that cold November and December. We were probably the only couple in Gettysburg with a goat in our kitchen on Thanksgiving day!

We lost "Mirabella" in spite of days of nursing; we couldn't overcome her fragility. We all have had similar losses in our nursing careers, but must always remember that in spite of doing everything possible to save a life, sometimes the odds are against us. We should take comfort in knowing that we did all that we could do to make those final days as comforting as possible.

Then "Snow" was born. The daughter of a baby herself (her mother was only 8 months old), her mom didn't seem to realize she had given birth to a "kid" of her own. Sparky and Bandit, our two dogs, grew quite attached to her, and she quickly became one of the "boys." She became yard trained and would race the dogs back to our kitchen door, to the warmth of the fireplace.

Snow did well after a week in the house, then seemed content to be back in the barn with her own kind when, suddenly, she died. I had noticed her stomach getting large, but thought she was eating too much. I now know that most likely a parasite caused the abdominal distention. The loss was deeply felt — we had nurtured and watched her grow from an abandoned "kid" to a beautiful, friendly and mischievous little goat.


Nurses always use past experiences to enhance their skills, as I did that fall when "Avalanche," a 6-week-old "kid," developed the same symptoms. This time the vet was called at the first recognition of abdominal distention and early treatment saved the animal's life. We have suffered other losses of "kids," and every passing has hurt. But my nursing assessment skills have been put to good use with many calls to the vet and, through early detection of abnormal observations, we have saved more than one little life.

Most recently I found my experience as an ED nurse helpful again. It was a cold day in January when Pete found "Maggie" had given birth to triplet females. Cold and shaken, one died the first day from hypothermia. While I held her in my arms and watched her sleep away, a friend called and shared her experience caring for hypothermic calves. I didn't realize then that this knowledge, combined with the experience of caring for hypothermic human patients, would come in handy the following day.

"Jana" and "Oprah" did well that first night. We brought them into the warmth of our house and fed them through the night with syringes of their mother's milk. They seemed to get stronger, and because the next day wasn't terribly cold, I took them back to the barn to their mother, who was unhappy with the separation.

Only 3 hours later Pete found them limp and almost lifeless. He rushed them to the house; both suffering from hypothermia and most likely low blood sugar. Again, it was time to use those nursing skills and knowledge.

Remembering patients with hypothermia and hypoglycemia that I had nursed, we slowly rewarmed the kids with warm water baths, towels and even a hairdryer before making a bed for them in front of the fireplace. We also syringed some warm formula into them once they became responsive. Careful not to cause aspiration pneumonia, we watched for signs of respiratory distress.

While the outcome seemed dim for a time, they finally recovered! We never thought we would be so happy at the sound of two kids competing for nourishment and attention.

One never knows what challenges a marriage will bring, but I can't think of a more fulfilling feeling than to see two "family" members rejoin life on the farm after a shaky start and some caring nurse expertise.

Mary Ann Bochek has been a nurse for 28 years.


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