Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not Kidding...

Why do mama goats always seem to have their babies in the worst possible weather? I'm not kidding- out of the many baby goats born here on our rocky hillside farm, the only ones not born in pouring down, very cold rain were ones who were born on a baking hot 117 degree day, which may have been worse.

A friend suggested the rainy labor days are Mother Nature's way of washing away the mess, but it seems more like a way of having me have to wallow through mud and other muck to dry off soaked, shivering babies, and get their mama's into shelter.
We decided to take a break from baby goats of our own after our last batch gave us three sets of twins and a set of triplets- who promptly overgrazed our pastures. A couple years of not enough rain, and too many goats left us with dusty hillsides, so we scaled our herd down to our four favorites (well, the 3 favorites of most of the family, and my husbands ornery goat.) We vowed to keep the ladies away from any intact males, so we would not have to deal with babies for a while. (Not always easy when we take our herd hiking in the open forest near us. Occasionally, they make a beeline for "Romeo"- the buck down the road, and we have to chase them, and drag them home, "maaahing" mushy talk to their would-be-lover all the way.)
Babies are fun, and cute of course, not to mention all the real life learning involved. My daughter has gained quite a bit of hands on midwifery and medical skills from all the babies we've had here. But, it really can be quite a bit of work. Like humans, some mama goats take to motherhood naturally, and others are not so maternal.

Our goat SweetPea, had triplets for her first motherhood experience. We were a little worried about three babies for an animal with only two udders, but she nursed and cared for them all equally and wonderfully. If they were all that easy, it would be no problem.

But, they weren't all that easy. Most of the time nature takes it's course, and things work out fine, but we have had a few stillbirths, which are heartbreaking, retained placentas, which required very hands on help, and rejection of babies, which requires long term work.

My husband's goat Abigail (AKA Evil Abby) has had two sets of twins, and both times I had to force her into caring for them for at least the first week. She was just not the least bit interested, and so I had to go out in the muck every few hours and force her to nurse them. This sometimes involved calming, sweet talk while I tied her up, and other times involved holding her in a headlock while she tried to horn me and my daughter attached the babies. Some people suggested I just bottle feed them, but I was opposed on a number of levels. It smells bad, is expensive, and isn't as healthy. Plus, then I'd have more dishes to wash. No thanks. If I was going to have to feed them every couple of hours, I was going to make that mama goat earn her keep. Most feedings, she would fight like crazy until the milk would let down, and then you could visibly see the hormonal reaction- she would relax and finish the feeding. If only there were an ethical way to get people to just slow down and just nurse their babies.With the goat, after a few weeks, she caught on and would just nurse and care for them on her own.
I often wonder at the fact that I went from fashion designer to goat catcher in a few short years.

Anyway, we decided to be done with babies of our own for a while, but, we do live in goat country, and it's that time of year. Our recent excitement started with an early morning phone call. I debated not answering because we were cozily reading aloud in front of the woodstove, and in the middle of an exciting chapter. I decided to see who it was, and it was a neighbor, who was driving by, when she saw that a goat across the street had just given birth and was standing in the cold rain with two very wet and shivering babies beside her. The goats owner couldn't be reached by phone, so the other neighbor and I met in the rain with our human kids, a leash, some towels and some hay. The owner arrived in time to help us lure the mama into a makeshift shed with some fresh hay, dry off the babies, and clean the cords. This time, nature seems to be doing it's job, and the babies both were nursing in a short time. I love when things work the way they are supposed to.

I'm sure the rest of her herd will be birthing in the next few days, in the worst weather, if history repeats itself. It will be fun to see the new little ones romping on the hillsides- almost fun enough to make me nostalgic, and to want babies of our own again- but not quite.

I know the baby boys will need to be neutered, and I know from experience, that's not a fun task. They'll all need shots and food, and they'll eventually need to find homes or they'll end up in the freezer. There's definately a lot more to having kids (goat or human) than the cute baby stage.

For now, I think I'll just live vicariously through my neighbors, be glad the responsibility isn't mine, and enjoy those adorable babies at a distance.