(Just in case you didn’t grow up in the 1980s and need the reference.)
Two years ago, we bought Jessie the goat from our friends Jamey and Carol. We wanted Jessie because of her great genetics – she’s a milk machine, and a sturdy, healthy goat who makes stunning babies. Zahra, her first daughter is still one of their best does. Her brother was sold as a breeding buck. We were thrilled to be getting Jessie.
Even more thrilled because Jessie swiftly became my favorite milker. (Sshhhhh, don’t tell the others I play favorites.) She’s sweet, she’s gentle, she’s easy going – whatever you do to her she looks at you with mild, interested eyes. She loves to be petted, and well, she’s a cutie. Jessie has a snub nose and big brown eyes. She’s ummm…built for comfort, not for speed. She *always* looks pregnant – but that very wideness gives her great dairy capacity and she has the useful trait of not milking her weight off even during the winter – that’s a good quality for someone trying to breed for low and no grain inputs. Her babies look like what Gund would create if they were to make a Nigerian Dwarf Goat stuffed animal. I couldn’t wait for Jessie to kid last year.
We called her “Moby Goat” because when pregnant, Jessie looks like she’s going to explode for about 2 months. She was so huge I was plunged into speculation – twins? Triplets? Not quads….but she was soooooo big. And after days of waiting and pretending to go into labor (Jessie’s only negative trait is that she (and her Mom) act like they are in labor on and off for days), Jessie delivered…one buck kid. D’oh! I wanted Jessie’s daughters.
Now this is part and parcel of goat breeding – 50% of all kids will be bucks. But I had been particularly waiting and watching for a doeling from Jessie, dammit. So I read her a lecture, explaining precisely what would be expected of her in the coming season – I’d like at least one doe, preferably two, and if she could deliver on time this time, rather than being the last goat at it, that would be nice too. She looked at me benignly and I knew she’d understood . All year I would sing to her, during milking, or while scratching that particular place she likes, excerpts from Rick Springfield “I wanna have Jessie’s girls. I wish I had Jessie’s girls…” It wasn’t art, but it was our thing. I can’t be the only person who sings to my goats!
The funny thing is that whether she understood me or not, she did just what I asked her. Yesterday Jessie went unequivocably into labor. I caught her pawing the ground and licking another doe’s babies, and shut her in our kidding pen with another doe for company. 20 minutes later I went out to check, and there on the ground were two doelings. The boys are visiting Grandma in NYC for Passover (they have my digital camera, so I can’t post pictures today, sorry!), but they’d already left me with a list of names – we’re shooting for 9 muses, so Urania and Polyhymnia they were! (Raney and Poly).
Over the years, I’ve relaxed a lot during kidding – I generally don’t get involved until the kids are on the ground. Once I pulled a kid, from a young doe who got out and got pregnant prematurely, but even she probably would have delivered fine. One of the things we love about this breed is that the babies are incredibly vital and energetic, the Moms are good and everyone is incredibly healthy. I’ve literally never had a birthing problem – no breeches, I’ve never had to put my hands in a goat.
I do try to keep a close eye on the birthing, if only because once we did lose a buck kid to a first-time Mom who had triplets. She was a great Mom to the first two, but never really realized she’d delivered the third little one, and so without his Mom to lick his nose clean, he never breathed. It was sad, but these things happen – and other than one kid born with an obvious problem, that was the only loss we’ve ever had.
This time, however, something was wrong. Urania was already up and trying to nurse. Polyhymnia, however, lay there shivering like a drowned rat. Her mother was washing her, but she wasn’t responding. She squeaked a few times, and tried once to struggle to her knees, but then just lay there.
I went in and toweled Poly off, rubbing her vigorously to get her blood flowing. I squirted a nutritional supplement into her mouth that sometimes helps weak kids. It was cold in the barn, if sheltered from the cold rain and wind, and I ran in and called Eric in NYC to ask him where the heat lamp was from brooding the chicks. When I came back, she was back on the bedding, lying there shivering, Jessie was still trying to get her up, but was distracted by her more energetic and active sister.
I toweled her off again, but she still looked more dead than alive. She was shivering convulsively. I took her in the house. Now this put me on the horns of a dilemma. We do not bottle raise our kids. For the first two weeks, they nurse unimpeded. After that, we separate them at night from their mothers, and milk in the am. We get less total milk this way, but the babies are healthy, and it is a lot less work for us – since we don’t run a dairy maximizing milk production isn’t necessary – we get plenty. Keeping the babies with their mothers also means we can sometimes go away from our goats – we don’t have the milkers 365 days a year tie to home. We have never had a case of scours (diarrhea) or any other health problem, and we attribute some of the health of our herd from the fact that they are raised as naturally as possible. Other goat keepers do things otherwise, and I’m not arguing that they also get good results – this is our way.
I have to ask myself – do I want to keep Jessie’s girl alive enough to have a bottle baby? There is considerable evidence that weak kids often don’t survive anyway, What if her mother rejects her now? The reason Jessie might reject her baby is that in order to raise Poly’s temperature back up and stop her shivering, I’m going to give her a hot bath – at 105 degrees, the water is the same temp as her uterus was. She’ll be warm, but she’ll stop smelling like Jessie’s baby. Jessie might not take her back.
I had also milked some colostrum out of Jessie while I gave her her post-birth treat (goatmeal – oatmeal with lots of liquid in it, some salt, goat mineral and molasses), and I bring this with me. I float Poly in my roasting pan (she weighs about 3lbs, way smaller than a chicken, although she’s longer than one). She squeaks in protest, but seems to like the warmth. I wrap her in a towel and rub her dry, holding her against me to be sure she has stopped shivering. I give her another dose of the nutritional supplement, and then first with a bottle (she can’t suck) and then with a needle-less syringe, slowly drip colostrum into her mouth. Most of it drips out, but I think she gets some. She’s not sucking, though, or seeking it. That’s worrisome.
We sit together, she and I in my warm living room, snuggled, looking at each other, and I wonder if she’ll be living in the house with me for a long time. I don’t really want or have time for a bottle baby, but if I can save her, I want to. But she’s still not really sucking, still weak. I need to accept that she may die anyway. I debate whether to bring her back to Mom or just keep her in the house with me. If I bring her back to Mom, the shock of being in the cold again might kill her, even if Jessie accepts her. She’s still not really sucking. She might die anyway, but she’s more likely to die in the barn if she gets cold and stressed again. Maybe I should just keep her. On the other hand, her Mom is what she needs most – and maybe what can get her sucking. And it may not matter.
My principles say put her back. My desire to protect the little creature says keep her with me. I sigh, and bring her back. I will check back every few minutes, making sure that she doesn’t get chilled again. But really, I expect her to die no matter what – she’s still weak, still can’t stand, still not sucking. I think the odds are good I wouldn’t be able to save her even in the house.
I’m lucky – Jessie butts her away once, but she has just finished delivering her placenta. I grab a handful of placenta goo (I’ve already got every gross thing imaginable on me already, I’m way past worrying about a little placenta) and rub it on Polyhymnia, and I step out of the kidding pen. I watch, and Jessie licks the goo off Poly, but she is still lying there, shivering and weak. I am crying when I go back into the house, knowing I will come back in 15 minutes to a baby in crisis, knowing I will probably lose her. I call Eric and ask him to reassure me that this is right.
I make myself take a hot shower, set the egg timer for 10 minutes. By the time I am dressed and ready to go out to the barn again, I have come to terms with my decision. If she’s alive when I go out there, but in crisis, I will bring her into the house and keep her there. If she has died, she has died – that’s part of farming. I expect one of those two things will be true, but I also accept that I cannot sit in the barn staring at the goats for the rest of my life – there are other chores to do.
To my shock, I go out and Polyhymnia has staggered shakily to her feet. Her little tail is wagging as her mother washes her some more. She’s still shaky, but not shivering convulsively. She butts her mother’s udder, one head butt, then two, the universal goat signal “milk, please!” I’m crying again.
I go out again, first every 1/2 hour, then, as the night advances, every 2 hours, I drag myself out of sleep (or what little I am able to get for worrying about my little charge – I jerk awake over and over again, worried I’ve forgotten to go out to her, that she is freezing….), dress, grab a flashlight and go to the barn. Each time she is sitting or standing next to her mother. Each time I go back to bed, reassured.
Eric calls before I’m even awake this morning to find out how she is and leaves a message. He will call back shortly. I go out to the barn, and Jessie stands protectively over two little goats. Urania and Polyhymnia are exploring each other, sniffing tails, bouncing slightly back and forth. Jessie has done what goat mothers do, she has taken care of her baby. The sun has risen. The morning has come. It is hard now to tell which of the two was up and nursing in moments, and which bedraggled baby barely breathed, they looks so much alike. The two babies bicker over who gets which teat, and I go back inside singing “I’m glad I have Jessie’s girls. Where can I find me a goat like that?”