March 12, 2010
Ten days, thirteen ewes, and twenty-eight baby kids, leads one to live differently than eight days ago.
Most of the time does and the newborn kids have no need and really no want of help from humans. It’s not that humans are mean or even unhelpful at times, but rather, I think; just don’t understand the life or the mindset of a goat. So, they really can do without human help. Of course that does little to stop me. I am fine with leaving the doe alone while she is having the baby. Really, I am pretty much okay with quite a bit of time after the kid is born leaving the two of them alone. Sometimes I am fine with leaving everyone alone all together, but I have one stipulation.
I want to see every newborn on the teat at least once before I walk away from them. The first suckling is full of colostrum. Colostrum is that stuff the mother produces before real milk production. Full of minerals and antibodies, colostrum gives the kid much of its early immunity needs and does well to hold off infections. Too often, when a kid does not get their dose of colostrum, they don’t make it past the second day of life. This has made it important in my life to see the kid on the teat within the first hour of life.
At the beginning of the ten-day run of kids, I would climb in the nursery stall with mother and baby, and lean over. Holding the baby with one hand under the belly towards the hind end, and the other hand with split fingers supporting the chest and the base of the neck; I place the kid’s nose next to a teat. The hand at the hind end then stands the kid on its feet, which frees the hand to scratch and rub the back of the baby just above the tail. This scratching stimulates the sucking reflex in the kid in the same way the mother does when she licks the baby. If everything goes according to plan, the baby starts sucking, the mother lets down her milk, and the kid receives its first dose of colostrum. Seldom is it that easy. This process often takes five to ten minutes of scratching and coaxing. At which time I am worn out from leaning over.
Not long after leaning over to get the first kid on the teat do I change strategy and kneel down on one knee. The stance allows for the knee that remains up to support the arm keeping the nose at the teat. This works for a day or so. As days wear on I move from kneeling to placing both knees on the ground, then lean over, place both elbows on the ground, with my nose nearly as close to the teat as the kid’s—there is always the hope when in this position this isn’t one of the doe’s that distains help of any kind and will turn around and butt me in the head. As days wear on, knees and elbows and back ache, there is no comfortable position left, and the only choice left—and by now a grateful choice—is to lay down on the straw on my side, or my belly, and hold the baby. By now, I no longer care that poop or after-birth is seeping through my jeans or my shirt. The smell and feel never fully goes away with being tired. It’s just that having a goat’s internal liquids puddle around your ear while holding their baby, matters a whole lot less than it did ten days ago.
Of course, many of you, probably rightfully so, wonder why in the world do you do this? After all, goats have been getting by a long time without this care! True. But with domestication comes a responsibility of care. How far does one take this care? Hard to say. What I can say is life is lived differently after ten days of birthing. Life is a little slower, a little more tired, but there is wellbeing in have twenty-six out of twenty-eight babies alive and healthy…and even greater, creation seems a little livelier.
March 13, 2010
If one is going to have and work animals there is always more. Every farm does things a little differently. Some chores are a must for some and not a must for others. At the JustLiving Farm, there is one must, and that is the de-horning of kids. While we think it is invaluable, others have raised goats for generations and would never think about de-horning a goat. For some folk, it is hurtful, for others it is a matter of safety. For those who run goats in large acreages or where dogs and other animals can take down a goat, horns are a necessity and a safety issue. For us, horns are a safety issue as well. One of a number of reasons is when we have had goats with horns, they get their head through the field fencing and the horns keep them from getting their head out. Thereby locking them in the fence and vulnerable to dogs who might come along and injure or kill. No horns means the goats always get their head out. So, though the birthing is over, there are essentials that must be done in the first few weeks of life.
By Saturday, all kids are about a week old or older. At this stage it is important to give each goat a clostridium & tetanus shot and de-horn. For the boys it is also time to castrate (more on castration another day). Saturday is an important day to get these chores done because it is also the one day of the week when Belinda and I are both at the farm. Thankfully, though, Saturday is also a day when neighbors come by and help. With twenty-six baby kids, a week of birthing behind us, and generally being worn-out, friends who have an opening in their day-off are a big deal!
Two old friends came by Saturday afternoon and brought two folk who are now new friends! Together we gave shots, de-horned, and castrated all the babies. Yep, that’s right, all twenty-six of the babies! Life is very good waking up Sunday morning having that behind us!
The day though is more than getting the work done. There is also a level of trust that is in the midst of the day. De-horning and castrating are not easy jobs (nor safe jobs) to wrap your mind around if you have never done it before—it is still hard to wrap my own mind around it after all these years! No one who showed up Saturday had ever done either. Yet, they got right smack in the middle of it all and got the job done. They did it, in part, because our old friends trusted us, our new friends trusted our old friends, everyone trusted that the day’s work had been given much thought and that the work would be done in the kindest of ways. And that is the best of community working together, trusting in the strength of one another and trusting in the integrity of one another.
Trust of strength and integrity isn’t a bad way to end two weeks of birthing!