Post by Sarah York (www.sarahyork.com)
Part I: Phoebe
Most goats are very considerate about having their babies during waking hours for their human companions. In fact, in five years of camping out near the barn on our motor home, with a baby monitor tuned in to the birthing stall, I had not once been awakened to the grunting sounds of a doe in labor. That doesn’t mean I did not awaken several times during the night to listen out, of course. I had learned in the first year that what I had thought was labored breathing was actually the chomp, chomp, chomp of the goat chewing her cud. So I was becoming inured to the soothing night sounds of belching and munching. This would be my last campout, since Chuck was working on a camera set-up in the birthing stall…and then both of us would be able to lose sleep at the house while waiting for a doe to kid.
Phoebe was due on February 13…and so was a humongous snow storm. Both arrived right on schedule. In fact the munching sounds gave way to ever-so-quiet grunts (eh-eh-eh; eh-eh-eh…something like that– with a German accent) at around 3:30 a.m. I was sure it didn’t really mean anything, but threw on some jeans and a sweatshirt over my nightshirt and headed to the barn. Wow! With a full moon sifting through snowflakes and reflecting on acres of pasture, I certainly didn’t need the flash light.
Phoebe was in early labor for sure. “Sorry to wake you,” I said when I phoned Chuck, “but she’s having those little twinges now.” His body must have been synced with Phoebe’s internal clock, because he had just awakened and turned on the TV for a weather report. “Coffee,” I said, before hanging up.
He not only brought a thermos of hot coffee, but was armed with two sets of hand-warmers. I slipped one set into my gloves and the other in my boots. We made a note to get foot-warmers before the next kidding. I also made a note to breed later in the fall. This was our first February kidding.
So, was she talking to her babies (they do that before they give birth sometimes), or was she having light contractions? You would think that after assisting fourteen birthings we would be able to assess where we were in this process. But this one was different. She was obviously having some kind of action in there…maybe babies moving into the birth canal? She should be going into heavy labor soon.
By about noon, we were getting nervous. Phoebe was tired, the hand-warmers were depleted lumps in our gloves, and our adrenalin surge had been wasted on pacing the stall. By a fortuitous circumstance, Dr. Beverly Hargus, our vet, was due to visit the farm to check on a TB skin test she had done three days earlier, but it was doubtful she could make it in the storm. I called her around 1:00 and told her we were afraid something was not right with this kidding. “Has her cervix dilated?” She asked. “I don’t know. How can you tell?” I asked. “Try to get your hand in and see if you can feel a baby,” she said. “If you can feel part of the baby, she has dilated, and you could have a problem. If you can’t get in, that means she hasn’t.” I stuck my hand in and felt something soft. It didn’t feel like a head or a foot. I told Dr. Beverly that all I could feel was something soft. “Probably just tissue,” she said. “It sounds like she hasn’t dilated yet. I plan to come around 3:00 this afternoon, and I can check on her then.”
Whew, she’s coming! What a relief! Now if we can just hang in until then. Phoebe continued to have light contractions for another hour, and went into hard labor around two o’clock. After about a half hour, I decided to “go in” (that’s the term commonly used among goat people). This time I could feel something, but it still was not a head or a foot. It had to be a rump, and that meant trouble. A few painful contractions later, we could see the tail. We had one like that last year—rump first with legs tucked under–and the vet had to deliver the one large baby that was torturing our poor doe. This ramped up the anxiety meter, and I called Dr. Beverly again. “I can’t get there now,” she said. “I have to take a doe back to the clinic for a C-section. This one will die if we don’t help her; your doe is still OK. There’s a technician who used to work for me—Tammy–and she lives just a couple of streets from you. Do you want me to ask her if she can come help and do the TB check?” “Please, yes,” I said.
Before Tammy arrived, I made about three attempts to help that baby find its way into the world. I had pushed on the rump to get the baby in a better position, and tried to feel for the legs, but I wasn’t able to get in far enough. I felt something bony to its side…another baby at the starting line in a race to be first?
“Oh, Phoebe, I am so sorry about this,” I said.
When Tammy got there, she immediately reached in to assess what was going on. What I thought was a second baby was perhaps a hock. With both hands in the birth canal, she turned the baby, but was unable to get it in a position to be birthed naturally. She phoned Dr. Beverly for advice. “You may need to take her to the clinic for a C-section,” she said after she ended the call. Chuck and I both gasped, taking in the horror of trying to transport a 170 pound animal 25 miles in eight inches of snow. “How could we do that?” Chuck said. “We wouldn’t even be able to get the truck up to the barn.”
“I’ll try again,” Tammy said. Phoebe was weak, but she convulsed with one more contraction as if to expel the invasion of Tammy’s hands from her body, and Tammy eased the baby out. “Is it dead?” I asked, figuring that no creature could survive the ordeal of the past half hour.
Phoebe had already drunk a gallon or so of warm molasses water in addition to several ounces of Nutri-drench (an energy drink for goats), but she was grateful for another helping of warm sweet solace. Her baby, a buckling, was indeed alive, but she was too exhausted to do more than lick him a bit and acknowledge that he was indeed her baby. When he stood and wobbled to her searching for his first sip of colostrum, we noted that his rear legs folded at the hock and his feet were turned under. It was like he was trying to walk on rear knees. Did we injure him? Or did he just need some time to unfold? We gave him cod-liver oil and a bit of selenium, and hoped for the latter. Meanwhile, he was having a difficult time chasing his mom around the stall. As soon as he caught up with her and (with our help) found a teat, she bit at him and pushed him away.
I milked some colostrum from her and we fed him with a bottle for two days, during which time his rear legs corrected themselves. Phoebe didn’t want to feed him, but would otherwise tend to him, licking his butt, nudging, etc. After she had had a few days to recover her strength, I placed her little buckling under her and she stood patiently while he punched around, sucking at everything on her underside except the end of the teat. Eventually nature triumphed, and mom and baby are doing just fine.
Part II: Chickadee
Our friend Louise knew that kidding season had started on our farm in February with a difficult birthing that required veterinary assistance. “Y’all deserved an easy birth,” she said, when she heard that our goat, Chickadee, had just had an uneventful kidding. An easy birth means the doe had a few hours of early labor (stand up, lie down, stand up, lie down; stretch head to one side to talk to babies; stare off glassy-eyed into some mysterious maternal ether; tear up the nice clean stall by pawing through the straw in order to make a nest…then tear up the nest…etc.). Then she went into hard labor for about twenty minutes before we saw the purplish bubble that signaled a baby headed toward earth-living. Then the best part: we saw two little white hooves, and resting on them, right where it ought to be, a head. Grunt, grunt, grunt, and the first baby was out, breathing, and ready for clean up. Hooray, a doeling! Chickadee went right to work, even trying to eat the umbilical cord right off her kid, so we swept the baby up, tied off the umbilical with dental floss, dipped it in Iodine solution and returned her to her mom. Within a few minutes, the baby had discovered the mother lode and was suckling like a pro. Whew, another hurdle passed! We have had times when we spent hours just trying to help a kid take those first few swigs of colostrum. This kidding was a breeze!
The baby was born at 7:00 p.m. We kept watch, expecting at least one more. At 8:30, Chickadee expelled a big gloppy blob of afterbirth, which Chuck quickly scooped into a trash bag. Finished. One doeling. We gave thanks for a smooth kidding and heated soup for dinner around 9:00. We named the baby Wren.
Three days later Chickadee stood lethargically leaning her head against a wall. She looked depressed. She had no milk in her udder. And she would not eat. Suspecting something seriously wrong, we whisked her off to our vet, who wasted no time reaching a latex-gloved hand into Chickadee’s vagina. “She has a dead baby in there,” she said. “And she’s septic. I’ll have to do a C-section right now to get the baby out. She can die, though.” (We learned later that the kid was poorly positioned and could not enter the birth canal.) As Chickadee was prepped for surgery, an assistant handed me a pen and a document for my signature. I didn’t read it before signing. I knew what it said: She can die.
An hour or so later, we loaded Chickadee into the trailer, but not before we were reminded once more that she could die if the antibiotics did not counter the sepsis. And if she lived, her milk could dry up.
Once home, we returned her to her private stall with Wren, who immediately lunged for a teat, reminding her that she was a mother. For two days, Chickadee would not lie down. We force-fed her with an energy blend, but her body had become skeletal. Still, she stood patiently when Wren nursed.
I am a goat farmer, not a goat psychologist, but I know sometimes it takes more than medicine for a suffering creature to hang in this world. Chickadee was in too much pain to lie down and too sick to eat. But somehow she produced milk for her baby and nuzzled her lovingly. Wren never received the first clue that she was not the center of the world.
Chickadee did not die. Slowly, she recovered and started eating…and she is the best mother a kid could have.