The natural world is as brutal as it is beautiful. Life and death spiral around each other like yin and yang. You don’t get one without the other. And so it is with goat farming and baby goats!
Last week, a riot of healthy, gamboling goat kids burst forth onto Persimmon Ridge Goat and Honey Farm, pushing away January’s cold dreariness as if it were a heavy theater curtain before a lively spring production. Babies appeared within days of one another, defying the polar vortex with their vim and vigor. I giddily but impotently attended every birth, marveling at each doe’s competence.
Almost as soon as her kid arrived, diving out nose and front hooves first, mom attended it, licking away the caul from around its nose and drying its coat before the freezing weather could chill the newborn.
Amazingly, each kid pushed itself up on wobbly legs and searched for and found the teat with no interference from me. Simply amazing!
Until the last doe.
Reba, my red and white doe, had grown bigger than the others. Maybe she was going to have twins? triplets? All the signs of labor came. Her udder filled, the ligaments on either side of her tail “melted” away, her mucous plug dislodged--but no labor and no kid. I was sure she was going to kid on Thursday as she became restless, couldn’t get comfortable, did not eat, and moved about getting up and laying down only to get up again.
But when evening came, she returned to the goat shed, ate some hay, and settled in with the others. When I checked on her during the night, she was quietly nestled in with her sisters, no sign of labor or distress.
The next day about mid-morning, she began pushing. A strand of broken caul and umbilical cord appeared but nothing more. A little buckling born of another doe romped around her, and between pushes, Reba would lick him as if she were cleaning him of his caul. I thought of restraining him from her but decided to let them be. Usually pushing is followed by the birth of a kid within about 30 minutes.
After an hour and a half of pushing, I scrubbed and lubed up (I used a salve that I concoct of olive oil, beeswax, comfrey, and tea tree oil in hopes of preventing the introduction of infection) and checked her. I didn’t feel anything shaped like hooves or head. I weighed putting her down against a vet bill. A quick bullet in the right spot may sound cruel if you’ve just started out in the farming or homesteading life, but if you’ve been at it for a while, you understand. It breaks your heart, but you understand. I thought the kid was probably dead by now, but maybe we could still save Reba.
I called the vet who said to bring her in, so I loaded her into the passenger seat of the pickup and drove into town. Not wanting to expose her to other sick animals or infected stalls, the vet was more than happy to tend to her in the front seat of my pickup. The kid had died, probably the day before, and would be pulled out in pieces unless I wanted to pay for a C-section. With a C-section, I might not be able to breed her again and her chances of dying from an infection afterward were great. The other option was to sedate her, evacuate her uterus as best we could, give her antibiotics, and send her home to heal, or die of infection.
The vet said that the kid had been malformed and the head was turned back over the body, making it impossible for her to push it out. It had been dead long enough that it was beginning to disintegrate and infection was likely, even with antibiotics. If she survived, the vet believed that she could kid normally in the future. I held Reba’s head and watched stoically as the kid was pulled from her in pieces.
I took her home and propped her up over a straw bale, belly supported and all four feet on the ground, to prevent bloat until the anesthetic wore off. I cleaned her vulva with warm soapy water, applied more comfrey salve, and I waited. At nightfall, she showed no sign of coming around. I left her thinking, she’ll make it or she won’t.
A little after midnight, I bundled up and went out to check on her. She had moved from her straw-bale sling and taken up her place among the other goats--she was going to be fine! And even more amazing, the little buckling that she’d been cleaning while she was in labor was nestled up against her!
Most does are intolerant of and will push away kids that don’t belong to them. But because of the oxytocin flooding her system as she labored, Reba had bonded with this little guy. He now takes full advantage of this fact. He goes home to nurse from his mother, but hangs out in the pasture with Auntie Reba, and she protects him from all those other big, bad kids and their mothers!
A sad beginning or a happy ending? It’s both. It’s the brutal, beautiful spiral of nature.
Picture of baby goat with mom and Auntie Reba.