Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I'm Kidding

"Greatest Funeral Ever is playing at California Cafe on Friday night. You should come into town and see them."
"Sorry, no can do."
"Why not? I thought your farmers markets were over for the season."
"I'm kidding."
"Oh, cool. You can spend the night if you don't want to drive back."
"I can't go."
"I thought you said you were kidding."
"I am."

This is a goat farmer's version of "Who's On First." When I said I was kidding, I wasn't joking.

The bodies are growing wider and udders have begun to swell which can only mean one thing--kidding season is about to start. And today it did. When one pops, they all go. That means round-the-clock vigilance. I thought I gave up this lifestyle when I quit mudlogging--awake for long stretches of time and then catching naps, listening for tell-tale sounds of events that require immediate attention. Instead of drilling a well, I'm kidding out a herd of goats.

A few of the ladies in waiting.

My project was to clear out all the lumber from the workshop area of the barn and rearrange my work benches so I can pull a vehicle inside. I was well into the pile separating two by fours and planks from conduit and PVC when I heard it--the precious nicker a doe makes seconds after the birth of a goat kid and the subsequent newborns' cries. Kidding season has officially begun.

For the next four to six weeks, my ears will be tuned for that sound. Yes, I cheat and use a baby monitor, but I have a large batch of does popping and shutting them all in the barn on these bitter cold winter nights isn't an option. The older gals know enough to go into the barn or shed both deeply bedded with straw, but there are a few maiden does and dumb shits that will plunk their newborns on the hard frozen ground and walk away.

Chipping a frozen kid's body out of the dirt with a digging iron is no fun. Sometimes I get lucky it's barely alive which requires pulling out my canning pot, filling it with warm water and submerging the kid's body to bring up the core temperature. Then it's a blow dry and into a Rubbermaid tote with the electric heating pad. By this time, it's easier to milk out the colostrum from the doe and tube feed the kid which requires inserting a rubber tube with a syringe attached at the top down the animal's throat and inserting colostrum.

Unfortunately, this isn't something anyone learns on the first try. The pitfalls include getting the tube in the trachea instead of the esophagus and overfeeding--both deliver the same results, a dead kid. Fortunately, I've paid my dues and don't kill 'em anymore.

The winner of the First Kids of 2011 was a maiden doe. At first, I thought she had triplets. There were two live kids on the ground in the warm afternoon sun. I've found over the years it's best not to interfere if all looks as if it's going well so I watched from a distance. The doe would lick the newborns for a few minutes and then lay down, get up, squat and do all the gyrations they go through prepartum. I appeared that a third kid was on the way, but when I went out at dusk, there were only two kids--a buck and a doe--and a large placenta.

A buck and a doe kid...perfect.

The chances of a maiden doe being a good mother is nothing I'd bet on so into the 'jug' they went. Plus, in colder weather I like to have kids in a place where I can set up light barrels that provide additional warmth.

These are 55-gallon plastic barrels turned upside down with the open end on the floor. There is a shoebox sized hole cut near the lip and on the bottom of the barrel, a single light fixture is installed. This accomplishes two things--first, the enclosed area and incandescent 100 watt bulb creates plenty of heat and more importantly, if the heat source gets tipped over (we're talking about livestock here, folks), the barn won't burn down. I've had a few friends lose their barns to heat lamps on piglets, calves and lambs. For less than ten bucks and ten minutes, the misery of a barn fire can easily be avoided.

Bugsy, the kitty checks out the light barrel & the kiddies.

Once in the jug (small enclosed area), I keep an eye out to make sure the kids receive their colostrum otherwise they'll drop dead. First timers can be a little touchy about their teats and have a thick waxy plug so it pays to pop the cork and make sure the kids are latched on well before calling things good.

Tonight required a headlock for the doe between my legs and pressed up against the wall so the kids could suckle. This will be the routine every two to three hours until I see them nursing without assistance. Unlike the summer when I'm checking eye membranes for anemia, the holes in my pants and matching bruises will be on the backside of my thighs.

I'll wear a path to the barn and go through a set of batteries in the big flashlight. I'll gaze at the stars in the still coldness of the early morning. I'll listen to the silence of the darkness until the animals sense my presence and begin bleating, mooing, baaaaing and nickering. I'll feel the sting of winter on my face and the wind moves across the top of the hill. I'll spoil my horse with lots of treats she demands of me by grating her teeth across the trap door in the wall each time I enter the barn. I'll be thankful for the smell of birth that will permeate my skin and clothing until every last doe had kidded.

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