As our disastrous kidding season came to an abrupt and premature end, another battle was just beginning.
I arrived home from Melbourne five hours after Maude’s horrendous kidding. I found Matt asleep in front of the gas heater with a skinny brown doe kid beside him on a towel. She was wearing an ICU rug with a heat pad inside it. Her eyes were half closed and she was flat on her side. I thought she was dead.
She was floppy when I picked her up, but moving. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electric thermometer couldn’t get a reading – less than 34*.
Since losing Meredith’s premature buck kid, I had learned that it can be fatal to feed a kid whose body temperature is below 37*. This bit of information, from an experienced breeder on a Facebook page, is probably the main reason why Maude’s doe kid survived her first day.
My human children rallied around to help get the kid warm. They warmed her with the hairdryer while I went outside to get the infra-red lamp and set it up over a plastic tub full of straw. Between the heat lamp and the heat pad in the rug she was warmed from all sides.
It took a few hours, but eventually she was warm enough to feed. Her mother hadn’t come into milk properly, but fortunately I had some frozen colostrum that I had put away for soapmaking. I partially defrosted this in the sink and put the rest in the fridge to melt slowly.
The kid had no suck reflex. In another stroke of fortune, the vet had sold me a stomach tube for lambs that he had bought and never taken out of the packet. He thought I might need it more than he would, since he carries a length of tube and a supply of appropriate syringes that do the job. Over 24 hours we got 450ml of colostrum into the kid via stomach tube. The next day we switched to milk.
She took her first feed from a bottle on the Sunday night, towards the end of her second day. She was still only taking a little over 100ml at a feed, but it was progress. That weekend I spent both nights in the TV room, feeding her through the night. It was not unlike having a newborn baby, albeit with significantly less crying.
She spent her third day at work with me, under the desk in her heated coat, next to a heater, where I was able to monitor her temperature and give her frequent feeds. She was still unable to stand at this stage, so in no danger of running off. Luckily I have a pretty casual workplace! She had her photo taken dozens of times and spent most of the day snoozing. Matt had the next couple of days off so he was able to look after her. We would split the night feeds so we could at least both get half a night of uninterrupted sleep.
After a couple of days she was able to stand. We got some non-slip bathroom mat to make it easier for her, as her feet would slide away on the carpet. As she got stronger she started to take a few steps. Her tendons were very lax to begin with, but strengthened over time.
Until this point I hadn’t really expected her to live. But when she was getting up on her own and downing a cup of milk at a time I decided it was time for her to have a name. She was named Ripley after the tenacious heroine from the Alien movies. Also known as Pickle or Miss Kiddy.
She progressed from a plastic tub to a large cage, and developed a liking for sleeping on Matt’s feet while he was at his computer. She liked to sit on the sofa bed with whoever was watching the big TV.
Once she looked like she had decided to stay, I kept in mind that she would eventually have to go outside and live with the other goats. I started to take her out with me whenever I went to the shed, but the other kids were so much bigger and stronger that she wasn’t able to interact with them much and she spent most of her time sleeping in a corner of the feed area.
Into her second week I started putting her out in a pen under the heat lamp during the day. I had not long put elastrator bands on a couple of the buck kids, and this had taken the wind out of Charlie’s sails enough that I was happy to put him in with Ripley for a couple of days. Soon they were standing side-by-side to have their bottles and the other goats started to look at Ripley like she might actually be a goat.
With the start of Daylight Saving Time I decided it was a good opportunity for Ripley to start spending nights outside. She learned how to locate her warm corner and and how to navigate her way between sleeping adult goats to get there. She had also learned that other kids were a good source of warmth.
Over the next few days Ripley had some supervised walks down the paddock with the rest of the herd. The kids started to include her in their games and she became less intimidated by them. The older goats began to tolerate her as they would any kid who wasn’t theirs.
She is still on four feeds most days, but at three and a half weeks she is living outside with the mob full-time and starting to catch up to the others in size. She was finally disbudded at 24 days, the latest I have ever disbudded a kid, but her horn buds were too small before then. This is a sign that although not premature on dates, she was definitely a dysmature kid.
Normal gestation for a dairy goat is 145 – 155 days, but mine have nearly always kidded between 148 and 151 days. Ripley was born at 158 days, possibly due to some level of dysfunction in the placenta caused by whatever infective agent caused the first triplet to die and be so swollen. Ripley had almost no fur on her ears, was unable to maintain her body temperature, could not stand or suck and took an extra 1o days for her horn buds to start to grow. Classic signs of prematurity. We treated her like a premature kid recovering from a difficult birth and she responded. I have lost kids born much more ready for the outside world than she was, but this time we got lucky. I had the right combination of experience, knowledge and motivation and a kid who who was determined to soldier on and never take a backwards step.