Staring Down the Barrel

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3 does

Sienna, Maia and Meredith, expanding rapidly.

Three weeks until the first does are due to kid.

I haven’t had does due this early before. It feels like it is still Autumn, with a whole winter to get through before Spring returns. Spring didn’t really start until November last year, when the rain finally stopped after a miserable two and a half months, so based on that, we have a long, cold, wet half a year ahead of us.

And kids due in three weeks. The first to kid will be the older does in the quarantine paddock. Sienna was bred on consecutive days before Australia day and didn’t come back into season. Meredith seemed to miss on the first cycle and was bred three weeks later, but she showed heat on and off for a couple of months so could be due any time. She is the size of a house, though, so no doubt about her.

Maia seemed to be doing nothing for a very long time, but recently it became apparent that she is already in kid. The only time this could have happened would have been when the bucks first came in rut and Fitz broke the gate latch and got in with the does. Making Maia due a day or two after Sienna.

Sienna and Meredith will both be 7yo this year, and it is my intention that this be their last lactation. They are both residents of the quarantine paddock, so their kids will be hand raised as a biosecurity measure to give them the best chance of not contracting cheesy gland. The plan is to milk them both for a full 365 days and get the highest herd recording result possible for them, as well as a Q* 24 hour production award for Sienna, who has proved her ability to get the butterfat and volume required during previous lactations. Maia is only a fairly young doe, who lacks the production capacity of the other two but has a really nice udder. She had really lovely twins last year, but the doe was lost to joint ill, so another daughter from her would be wonderful.

There are still a few things to do before kidding. The gutters have been installed on the shed, which should solve the problem of water running off the roof and coming in under the back wall during wet weather. The feed area has been cleared out and will be used for raising kids. I’ll need to get a lamb bar or similar for feeding multiple kids.

I’m in the process of acquiring a milking machine. With two high-volume does to milk, and a history of carpal tunnel issues, I’ve had to admit that hand milking more than one or two does is more than I can cope with. I’ve found the make and model I want, now it’s just a matter of having it delivered and figuring out how to work it.

After last year, I am pretty apprehensive about facing another kidding season. After the three older girls kid I’ll get a bit of a break before the other five younger does are due, spread over September and October. Hand raising kids is a lot of work, and very time consuming, even when everything goes well.

For me kidding season is about late nights and early mornings. It’s about the moment when you realise that even if the doe kids right now and with no problems you are still going to be up most of the night. It is huddling under the heat lamp, staring at a glassy-eyed goat who could give birth at literally any moment yet manages to hang on for hours. It is the accumulation of straw on the carpet due to all the washing that has to be dried in front of the fire, and all the straw your clothes pick up from the pens while you are on your knees trying to get frustrating newborns to feed. It is dry, cracked hands, the smell of amniotic fluid and colostrum on the cuffs of your coat, and endless trips back and forth to the shed in the dark.

It’s the feeling of relief when all the kids are out, even if they haven’t all made it. It’s the difficult decision of when to wait and watch and when to help a doe to deliver.

I don’t know how many kids we will get this season. Between none and 24 is the reality of it. Somewhere around 16 is likely if things go well. Inevitably we will lose some, but all I can do is hope that the 50% losses we experienced last year were a one-off.

For now I will enjoy the good nights of sleep and the relatively quick morning and evening routines milking just one doe. The calm before the storm. But before long I’ll be under pressure to get up at 6am, fit in feeding kids three times a day and go to bed early. I’ll be working out how to fit in evening milking with footy training. Checking the online camera every hour when there are does in the kidding pen.

There is no going back now. This will happen, soon.

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Seriously, This Feeder is the Greatest Thing…

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Anyone who knows me also knows that my goats are my life. If you want an indication of how my life is going, ask me how my goats are. When they are well, life is good. When they are sick or having problems, things are less rosy. So anything that helps keep my goats healthy also improves my life in general.

I had a specific goal in mind when I set out to acquire a feeder from Advantage Feeders – to resolve the annual issue of newly-kidded does going off their feed and becoming unwell due to the compounding effects of kidding, milking and insufficient feed intake. Kidding time is stressful enough without having to worry about does who turn their noses up at their feed, or get acidosis or scours post-kidding or succumb to worm burdens due to the huge drain on their physical resources.

Saving time, reducing waste and saving money were handy side-effects. I just wanted a way to ease my does through that transition from pregnant to milking, keep them eating and keep them happy and healthy. I rationalised that to save one doe or one kid per year, or even just avoid some of the inevitable vet bills, would give me value from the feeder purchase.

The feeder did all these things. And so much more.

The premise of the three-way feed restriction system employed and created by Advantage Feeders is that consumption is limited by the amount of feed the animal can get to stick to its tongue before it runs of saliva and has to take a break from eating and let the saliva build up again. The amount the animal can eat in a session is limited by the two adjusters and the Adjuster Guard, which control the amount of individual grains or pellets the animal can access in any one mouthful of feed.

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Imagine eating crackers – you don’t get through many before you need a drink. Now imagine if you had to pick up little bits of cracker with your tongue, and could only lick a few bits at a time in order to pick them up. Before long you would run out of saliva and the cracker pieces wouldn’t stick to your tongue any more.  You would go and do something else and get back to eating crackers later.

In a ruminant, this ‘little and often’ style of feeding is the sort of thing these highly-efficient systems of digestion evolved to thrive on. Feeding every couple of days, or even twice a day, is not good for the rumen and its community of microbes that convert what the animal eats into digestible nutrients. The rumen works best when the optimal pH level is maintained. Under these conditions the animal feels well, has a good appetite, and makes the most of the food it consumes.

The feeder itself doubles as bulk storage. There is no moving of feed from storage vessels to feed bins for the stock to then eat. This saves time. Having feed constantly available makes the animals much more relaxed – there is no feeding frenzy to deal with, no shy or anxious animals, everyone gets their fair share.

The feed is kept clean, dry and fresh in the feeder.  This reduces waste, which in turn saves money. I suspect that it also reduces the amount of worm larva the animals ingest, and I certainly had less trouble with internal parasites last winter than in previous years. Buying feed in bulk rather than by the bag is also a huge money-saver for the smallholder like myself. I am currently saving $300 per month on grain by buying in bulk. I buy grain every 4-5 weeks, where buying by the bag had me in at the produce store at least twice a week. More time savings.

But my observations in the behaviour, health and development of my stock go way beyond the basic economic benefits.  Animals who know where their next meal is coming from are much more content and relaxed. There is less competition, less bullying. Even the littlest members of the group get plenty of opportunity to feed. Dams are less cranky and possessive of their offspring, the group is more like a village than a series of separate nuclear families. Everyone is more tolerant and gets along better. This makes my life a lot easier and safer.

The does coped much better with kidding, even with the horrendous wet conditions that prevailed for weeks on end during kidding season. They maintained their appetites due to their rumens functioning efficiently, ate well, came into milk, fed their kids and didn’t get acidosis or suffer from internal parasites post-kidding. This was a major win in solving what had been an ongoing problem.

Rather than milking off all their condition, even the heaviest milkers remained well-covered as they approached peak lactation at 8-12 weeks. The goatlings have grown on well in preparation for the coming breeding season. At shows, judges and other breeders have commented on the improvement in condition and development throughout my herd this year. My kids breezed through weaning without stress, due to their interest in the feeder from a young age leading to earlier rumen development and an easy transition from milk to grazing and supplemental grain.

So everyone looks and feels good. And the flow-on effect is an increase in production. Butterfat levels are up. Milk volumes are up. All without increasing cost or input.

The really exciting part is that these gains will only increase with the generations. As kids raised on the feeder get to breeding age, and their kids are then raised on the feeder, we will start to see the full effects of allowing stock to reach their potential and then pass those gains on to their offspring. All while the feeder sits as a sort of maternal metal monolith, providing consistent nutrition to the herd in all weathers, without asking for anything other than the occasional refill.

No, they are not cheap, but the quality is excellent, the after-sales service is excellent and once you buy a feeder you really don’t need to spend any more on it. It will just work tirelessly to save you money and time, and increase the production of your livestock. Although you may find that once you have one, you can find ways to use two – or several. I honestly think that, in time, it should become at the very least frowned upon to grain feed ruminants without an Advantage Feeders feeder. Feeding any other way is just throwing money away and denying your stock the opportunity to make the most of their feed in the way their bodies were designed to.

Dairy goats, especially those which are intensively managed, are high-performance animals. Even an average milker makes her own weight in milk over a three week period. So the changes I have seen in my dairy animals may be compounded compared to what you might see in meat animals due to the high metabolic rate of dairy goats. But for larger scale farms, and ‘real farmers’, any observable gain converts to dollars. More milk or more meat or more lambs without more work or more expense is a win on any scale. All the ways that Advantage Feeders can improve life for farmers as well as their livestock add up to big benefits.

They say there is no advert like a convert. And this convert is keen to tell you that if you have high-performance ruminants – be they goats, sheep, cattle or deer – you need Advantage Feeders.

** Disclaimer – Yes, I am employed by Advantage Feeders. But when I worked for Major Discount Department Store I used to tell people not to buy the bikes there because they were crap. I certainly wouldn’t have bought one myself. I think you get what I am saying here…

** Footnote – I now have two feeders, one for my big milkers and one for the rest of the girls. And a mineral attachment which allows me to feed free-choice loose minerals without the poultry or horses getting into it.

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Losing Battles to Win the War

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This is my 100th post and it is  something that I have to get out of the way and put behind me before launching into the next 100 posts.

**Content warning – discussion of animals being killed**

It began in the summer of 2014, three years ago. A young doe I had bought as a kid and duly kept quarantined for three months had a big scur on her head. I had read that by putting an elastrator ring on scurs you could make them fall off and never grow back, several people reported success with that method. So I tried it with this doe. What happened was not success, but a doe with a partly attached horn which eventually fell off but later grew back repeatedly. She also developed swellings down the side of her face below where the horn was growing. I assumed that in the attempt to remove her horn with the bands she had bled into her sinuses, causing the swellings. I didn’t think too much of it.

Some time later, the lumps burst, leaving pus in feed bins and on surfaces around the farmyard. I cleaned it up but didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to June 2014. Another of my does had a lump in her throat. I posted photos and asked what it could be. A local breeder came and had a look, stating that it looked just like the cheesy gland that a goat she knew had that had been confirmed by a vet. I examined all my other goats and found similar lumps in a few others. Over time, every goat who was in my herd in June 2014 would become infected.

Over the next two and a half years I would become very good at identifying CLA abscesses. CLA (Caseous Lymphadenitis), known as cheesy gland or infectious abscesses, is caused by a bacteria. The pus is highly infectious. Abscesses can occur in various locations on the head and body, usually near lymph nodes. Most of the early abscesses we found were around the head, neck and face of the animals. Later they appeared in the flank, and a big one appeared on one doe’s chest.

The disease is incurable. It affects different animals to different degrees. Some may get an abscess once a year or so and go for extended periods of time without any symptoms. Others get them in clusters and always have at least a few. Some get big abscesses, up to cricket ball size. Others get smaller ones, more like marbles.

It was suggested to me that if you open up the abscess on a goat, it will encourage the immune system to fight the bacteria and get rid of the disease. This doesn’t work. My first step was to line up a few does and drain their abscesses in the hope that they would go away and not come back. They all came back.

While CLA does not kill affected animals, it does limit the movements of your stock. And if it doesn’t it should. I made a policy of not allowing infected animals to leave the property. That meant no shows and no sales. This was to protect other people’s herds.

I discovered that the vaccine I had been using did not cover CLA, so I changed to a different one – Glanvac 6 in 1. And began a twice-yearly vaccination plan.

I took up draining and cleaning any abscess I could find just before it burst, the idea being to prevent infectious pus from getting into the environment and infecting younger goats.

I counted abscesses on every goat and made notes at every vaccination. The incidence of abscesses wasn’t reducing, but new cases were infrequent. I thought I was getting somewhere. Until I found abscesses on two goats who had been born after the vaccination plan had begun.

Every new case was a blow, but these two made me fear for all the hitherto uninfected youngsters in the mob. Babies with their whole lives ahead of them. That was when I realised that more drastic action would be necessary if I was to rid my goats of this terrible bug and get back in control of the direction of my herd.

In order to keep the best animals, you need to be able to assess them once they have kidded. You only get half the story looking at an unkidded doe. I wanted to be able to run does on until their first kidding and make the decision of whether to keep them long-term once I could see what sort of udder they had and what quality of kids they could produce. With a clean herd you can sell the ones you don’t want as backyard milkers or to people starting out with dairy goats. With CLA in the equation, any infected does I didn’t want to breed on with had very limited options.

I kept a group of clean goats in a small paddock for as long as I could, but with a new crop of kids due for weaning that small paddock was quickly becoming very crowded. The time to make the clean group the majority and reintroduce them to the big paddock was coming. The infected animals had to be removed from the main group, one way or another.

I worked on the cull list for months. I had to keep the number of infected does retained to a minimum and leave space in the small paddock in case of any new cases. With a slow-release grain feeder and new shed, the small paddock can comfortably house 4-5 full-size goats.

Meredith and Sienna, both six-year-old does with milk awards, were priorities for the quarantine paddock. Meredith has given me five daughters, but I would really like a buck from her to keep. Younger sister Hera, a lovely type of doe with loads of milk, would join them. But who would take the last place?

In the end, the decision was partly made for me. Old Rianna, at nine years old, was showing signs of going downhill. She had not come into milk properly after kidding, and I had decided to retire her. She lost her spot at the head of the mob, lost weight, and while still retaining some of the spark that made her such an effective leader for so long, she was clearly growing tired of the whole game. I added her to the cull list.

Maia had been suffering with an infection in her foot, which we treated several times over the spring. A tall, red beauty with one of the best udders in the herd, Maia was one I really wanted to keep. She has so far shown no sign of CLA. After consultation with the vet, who explained that at least one of the joints in Maia’s foot had fused and she would probably never walk with a normal gait again, I decided to keep her, but in the small paddock so as to minimise stress on her damaged foot. So she became the fourth member of the quarantine group.

Cleaning up the rest of the herd involved having a total of seven goats put down. I had two dry does done over the winter and last week, with all the kids old enough to wean, I had five more put down by the vet and buried in the paddock.

So that is the back story of the great cheesy gland epidemic. It leads us to the day when I had to stand by my decision to have five of my goats put down in order to give the rest of the herd a future.

The vet turned up on time. His first port of call was to have a look at poor Maia’s very sore foot and hopefully give me a prognosis more hopeful than having to add her name to the cull list. He prescribed her a different course of antibiotics just in case, but opined that the cause of her trouble was more to do with inflammation than infection. She got a course of anti-inflammatories as well. Two weeks on she is much better, although still has an altered gait. She is her cheerful self and can keep up with the others in the small paddock.

Using the captive bolt to do the killing is a lot safer than using a rifle, and allows for a greater degree of accuracy because you can hold the goat a lot closer and keep it still while the vet positions the bolt gun. The animal is instantly rendered senseless. I’ve seen various methods of humane animal destruction at work and this one is my preferred method.

The vet helped Matt load the goats onto the trailer as they were killed, and soon the excavator operator arrived. A friend of a friend, he proceeded to create a very neat and very deep hole, before helping to lay out the five bodies on their sides next to each other. Once I realised what he was doing I was able to make sure that mothers, daughters and sisters were placed next to each other in the hole. The excavator operator then made sure that the site was neat and safe for the horses should they decide to walk on it. And that was that.

On January 4, 2017 we said goodbye to five does of various ages, all infected with CLA. They were Traybonne Rianna, Elcarim Juno, Elcarim Maude, Elcarim Elizabeth and Elcarim Cecilia.

The next step is to keep a close eye on all the ones who are left. The older infected does in the quarantine mob will probably not get the chance to live out their days, but will get the chance to add to their legacy for a few more years. Their kids will all be hand raised with the clean group, which will be my first experience with hand-raising more than one or two kids in a season. The hard work is not over, but hopefully the worst of it is.

 

 

Raising Ripley

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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.

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Being alive is hard work

 

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.

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‘Bring Your Kid To Work Day’

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.

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Standing up by herself

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.

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Crashed out in my lap in front of Prime Suspect.

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Bottle and nap time…

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Watching the Brownlow Medal count with Callum.

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.

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Visiting the relatives is hard work.

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.

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Ripley with Cookie, who is 10 days older and the next youngest kid.

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.

 

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Off down the paddock like a real goat.

Nothing Like Christmas

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After the last post we had two does with live, healthy kids on the ground and one who had lost her twins. Gaia was being treated for an infection in her joint, and the next doe due to kid was Meredith.

Gaia hung on bravely, hopping about on three legs, feeding and growing, but the antibiotics didn’t work. She was put down at 23 days and buried behind the barn.

Meredith kidded unexpectedly a week early. Her big buck kid was a beautiful mottle, but despite two days of nursing he didn’t make it. He was buried next to Gaia.

At this stage I had four does kidded and only three kids running around. The next three due were maiden does and I wasn’t completely sure when Juliet’s due date was.

Lizzie kidded on a Saturday afternoon at 150 days on the dot. We were out shopping when I checked the barncam and saw that she was getting very close. We rushed home and I watched for a while. After about half an hour, with only the kid’s nose visible and not a lot of progress being made, I decided it was time to investigate. I found that only one front leg had come forward. I dragged Lizzie up onto the head bail, thinking ‘I just need to push the kid back, find the other leg, and it will slip out no worries – I’ll look like a hero’.

Nope.

Being such a small doe, Lizzie, as it turns out, has a fairly small pelvis. I was able to push the kid back a bit and feel about for the other front leg but what I found was more like three or four legs and I had no way of knowing which one belonged to the halfway-born kid.

I called the vet and got Anna, his wife, who I had not met before but who is also a vet. She was in town but came straight out to my place. She had a poke around and discovered what I had – a stuck kid with a leg back and whole lot of legs to choose from. After much pushing and manoeuvring the second leg of the first kid appeared, and with considerable traction she was removed.

The second kid followed hot on the heels of the first. A doe and a buck, both big-boned and rowdy. They were on their feet within an hour and after a little bit of encouragement Lizzie was happily feeding them. I paid the Saturday call-out fee with a smile on my face, relieved to have healthy kids on the ground and a healthy doe to feed them.

Juliet started to make her udder and I was apprehensive, with no way of knowing what stage her kids were at or what to expect when they were born. She laboured all day Wednesday with no visible goo, which also had me spooked. Just after dark I checked the barncam to see that she had produced a very interesting little kid. I put on my outside gear and rushed out to the shed.

The first kid was a boldly marked dark brown and black with loads of white, black ears with a white border, a big white top-knot and a white dot on her otherwise black face. Very cute. I left Juliet with this kid for a while, as they were both lying down peacefully after the effort of birth But after a while I moved it to where Juliet could more easily clean it without getting up and took a look under the tail – a little doe. Juliet cleaned her up very well and after about 45 minutes lay down again and produced two more kids, both bucks. The kids were small, but clearly fully-cooked, they were up and feeding before I got around to weighing them.

My kid population had grown to eight from six does and things were starting to look up. Maude was due a few days after Juliet kidded, but the date came and went. At 154 days she started to make an udder. At 157 days I was due to make a trip to Melbourne for a two-day Radical Feminist conference.

When I bought the ticket for this conference my calendar showed that the dates were in the middle of a 23-day window between Maude’s due date and Hera’s. I should have been fine to leave the farm. Matt assured me everything would be fine, so I left everyone in his capable hands and headed off to Melbourne.

It turned into the sort of scenario that even Murphy could not have anticipated. At 11pm on Friday night, with me ensconced in a hotel room and the next train home not leaving for 8 hours, Maude went into full labour. She was working very hard, pushing and getting up and down. I messaged Matt to keep an eye on her. I used up my hotel free wifi allowance and had to use my mobile data to keep watching. At about 1am Maude lay down, exhausted. I must have nodded off after that, but when I woke at 4am Maude was still lying in the same place. I rang Matt again and told him something was wrong. ‘Those kids have to come out now’ I told him. He sighed, put on his waterproof gear and headed out.

With Maude up on the bail, Matt quickly identified a hind leg presenting first. I instructed him to find the other one, which he did. ‘Now what?’ he asked. ‘Now you pull’, I said.

The kid was stuck. Really stuck. I suspected that it was probably already dead, but didn’t say so. It still had to come out. I could hear the anguish and rising panic in Matt’s voice as he worked to get the kid out. The geese were squawking in the background. Another doe somewhere was calling out. Poor Maude was silent, she had basically dissociated and gone to her happy place.

Matt got the kid out, but the reason for the obstruction was obvious – it was grossly swollen, big but underdeveloped, mostly hairless and incredibly grotesque. With this kid out, a big gush of fluid followed then another kid, front feet first. Then came the words I was not expecting to hear.

‘This one is alive.’

The third kid was also dead, and mostly normal. But we had one live kid, which meant there was still plenty of work to do.

Maude was not at all interested in her kid, so I instructed Matt to bring the kid inside. I told him to take her temp and not give her any milk unless she was over 37 degrees. I left the hotel at 5.45am and caught the early train home. When I got in just after 9am I found Matt asleep in front of the heater with the kid wearing a heated ICU rug on a towel next to him. I thought she had died, but when I picked her up she opened her eyes. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electronic thermometer couldn’t get a reading.

I sent Matt to bed and the boys and myself set about warming the kid up. I got the heat lamp from the barn and set it up in the TV room, while Rohan warmed the kid with my hairdryer. I put her in a tub with some straw and towels, the heated rug warming her from one side and the heat lamp warming her from the other. Then I headed out to milk and feed all the healthy crew and clean up the mess from the hours before.

Hera had a bit of goo under her tail and was clearly uncomfortable. ‘Here we go again’ I thought. With two weeks still to go until her due date I knew her kids had probably died. I put her in a pen and got on with my tasks.

I watched Hera through the day and into the night. She did not look distressed, so I left her to it. In the morning I found her lying flat on her side, legs and neck stretched out, with a recently-expelled dead kid behind her. For a moment I thought Hera herself was dead.

I called out to her and she opened her eyes and sat up. A second kid, tiny, was still hanging from her in its sac. It was malformed, as was the bigger one, and neither would have been viable. She seemed much relieved to have that all over with, and after the second kid came out she was up and about, and I let her out to be with the others. She went looking for food and water, and was back to her normal self by the evening.

In total, four does had either dead kids or, in Meredith’s case, a live kid that died soon after birth. From those four does we lost two doe kids; four bucks, one too small to tell and at this stage one doe kid is still alive. Meanwhile four other does had healthy kids. The only link seems to be that all the aborted or unviable kids were by one buck, the healthy kids by my two proven bucks. Whether that is just a coincidence I have no idea. We have run a few tests which have turned up nothing. The only option is to roll the dice again next season, and do a full investigation if we encounter any similar problems.

I used to say that kidding time is like Christmas – you never know what you are going to get. After a couple of bad years I now approach kidding season with trepidation rather than excitement, and when things go well I can hardly believe it. Just when I think I have seen all the problems goats can throw at me, and learned how to deal with them, something comes up that scares me. I am incredibly grateful for my vets who are not far away when I get to a point where the situation has gone beyond what my skill and knowledge level can deal with.

Every now and then you catch a break. A particularly nice kid turns out to be a doe or a first year milker comes in with an especially good udder. The wet weather is making things even more challenging, but with kidding season over and half a dozen does to milk there is plenty of cheese to be made. Show season is around the corner, and that can always go one way or the other.

But when all those Nubian does come screaming into season in Autumn there will be little hesitation in breeding them again. And once the kids are in there, they have to come out eventually. And so it goes again.

 

A Tale of Two Kiddings

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Every year kidding brings something new. You think you have seen everything, you think you have a contingency for all possibilities, but every year a new challenge presents itself.

This year our first challenge was hoping that Maia would hold off kidding until we got back from our trip to North Queensland. Our animal carer Mel was glad to be relieved of her duties without having to deal with a birthing goat. As it turned out, Maia waited until we had been back for three days, which was nice of her, but kidded at around midday on Monday while I was at work.

With my mobile data running out fast due to a high volume of Instagram posts during our holiday, my workmate Morgs got me onto the work wifi so I could monitor my labouring goat without leaving my desk via our excellent internet barncam.

Maia’s first kid was a bit stuck, so I had to instruct a somewhat reluctant Matt to don some rubber gloves and apply a bit of traction to help pass the shoulders.

It was a miracle of modern technology… I had Matt on speakerphone, watching events via the barncam, and he assisted Maia with the delivery of a very nice big doe kid. I was then able to send him back to bed to prepare for his upcoming 12-hour night shift while I kept an eye on the new family.

Of course, a few minutes later Maia delivered a second kid. By the time I got home she had cleaned both kids and they were up looking for the udder. The second kid was a buck, and both are absolute rippers.

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Maia with her twins

Maia is one of those goats I have had a complicated relationship with. An only kid, she was big and flash and went to a few shows. She was champion kid at Geelong Royal, and from five shows as a kid she won three championships, one reserve and was only unplaced once. As a goatling she decided she wasn’t going to walk in the showring. She would lie down, walk sideways, crouch, and generally sulked her way to the bottom end of a lot of line-ups.

As a first lactation doe she was still incredibly stroppy. She took her trick of lying down whenever things got difficult and applied it to milking time. That was once she finally developed an udder – she kidded with almost no udder development and it took a week for her udder to turn into something useful. She would lie down on the milking bail. I was advised to put a bucket under her belly to stop her from lying down, and this often led to me milking with my arm jammed between a tall, crabby red goat and a bucket.

Eventually she became more agreeable, and after a few shows she settled down and was happy to walk. She was also fairly okay with being milked at shows, and as long as I milked from her right side everything was okay. She still will only agree to being milked from the right side. She won a couple of Best of Breed awards as a first-year milker, ending up with 17 points towards an Australian Champion award. She also became my second ever doe to win a Best Udder class.

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Maia at Geelong Show

In order to gain an Australian Champion award a doe needs a milk award. And on the two litres a day she gave in her first lactation, that was never going to happen. I decided that no matter how nice her udder was, unless she could do four litres in her second lactation she would not be shown or bred again. We are here to make milk, after all.

Imagine my delight when Maia came in with the same neat, symmetrical and well-attached udder, but this time with much more volume. She is feeding her two big kids and has a little bit left for the house each morning. I’m not sure exactly how much milk she is making, but four litres is a reasonable estimation and enough to attain a production award with a bit of luck. Whether or not she ever makes it to 100 show points, at least we have a chance.

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Maia’s udder this year

A couple of days after Maia kidded, my little spotty doe Juno, known as Pud, started to show signs that her unborn kids had died. She was three weeks from her due date, in kid to my new buck Anara Eclipse, known as Buddy. She birthed one dead kid on her own and I had the sad and unpleasant task of going in and removing the second one. Two big spotty buck kids. Nothing evidently wrong with them. I put it down to ‘one of those things’, dosed poor Pud up with antibiotics and buried the unfortunate kids.

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Sad Juno after losing her kids

A couple of days after that Matt noted that Maia’s doe kid, Gaia, was unable to walk properly and was drooling. I did a quick Google of what could make a kid drool, and found all sorts of unpleasant possibilities, some of which also mentioned stillborn or aborted kids as their other effects. I called the vet, left work early and arrived home fearing for the health of my entire herd.

Gaia was diagnosed with sepsis, and not expected to live. She was put on twice daily antibiotic injections. My old doe, Rianna, due to kid the next day, was put on a precautionary course of antibiotics and I was left with some extra medication and instructions that if any other pregnant does gave the slightest inclination of being off-colour I should start them on antibiotics too.

Gaia seemed to make a miraculous recovery, and I was relieved to be able to watch her make her first journey out into the farmyard with her mother and brother.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben, enjoying the outdoors

Rianna kidded that Sunday evening, two days after the vet had been. She asked to be put in the kidding pen when I came out to do the evening feeds and jobs, so I did as she requested and headed off down the paddock to put the horse’s rug back on. When I got back Rianna was in the process of birthing her first kid, so I got a couple more tasks out of the way and then came back to watch.

Rianna was my first registered Anglo Nubian, who I purchased at six months of age. Prior to this season she had given birth to 13 kids and raised nine of them. Every year she has given me one doe kid and one or two bucks. Her udder still looks like it did on her first lactation. She has a lot of what is referred to as ‘dairy quality’ and part of this is that she never carries much condition. Even after a year off, and with an appetite that seems to know no limits, she still looks like a hat rack with a blanket over it. I used to worry, but now I know she is healthy and that is just how she runs.

This year Rianna has produced her 14th and 15th kids, a buck and a doe, and only once needed any intervention, when a kid was partway out with a front leg pointing backwards. As I watched her 15th kid enter the world I had a moment of confusion when it appeared to have two front legs on one side of its body. I thought for a moment that there might be two kids trying to come out at once, but at that stage there could only be room for one in the birth canal.

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Rianna with her newborn kids, including a rather floppy Titania

It turned out that the kid had been delivered with its head under one front leg. That was the doe kid who I named Titania. She was quite weak, although very determined, and got around for her first four days as though the ground was a magnet and her nose was made of metal. She did not raise her head like a normal goat until she was nearly a week old. I began to wonder if she ever would. Slowly but surely, with some help to feed, she got stronger and now she looks just like a normal kid.

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Titania stared at the floor for a few days, while her brother Oberon bounced around oblivious

Some years you have those kids who worm their way into your heart, and Titania is one of those. She will be Rianna’s last kid, and she has decided that I am her best friend. I can’t photograph her without her trying to climb up my leg. She is just delightful, and I admire her strength, determination and humour.

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Four kids from the first round of kidding hanging out with the family. Titania is now as strong and bouncy as the others.

Little Gaia, Maia’s sick kid, has had a setback with an infection setting into one of her joints. She is otherwise healthy, feeding, growing and getting around, but there is a chance that the antibiotics she is now on won’t cure her. So for now we wait.

Meredith and Lizzie are due to kid next, followed shortly after by Maude. Meredith gave me a big fright, doing the sort of uncomfortable shuffle that Pud was doing before she lost her kids, so as the vet suggested Meredith got a course of antibiotics and so far she seems fine. Her belly is enormous, and she is due in another nine days. Hopefully these will be Buddy’s first live kids. Lizzie is Rianna’s great granddaughter, so her kid/s will be Rianna’s great great grandchildren and fourth generation Elcarim goats.

Farm Update

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I’ve been finding it hard to find time to write over the past few months, and the simple explanation for that is that I have been working more hours. My job had got to the point where I just couldn’t keep up with everything I had to do in the time I had available, and since so much of what I do is time-critical I spent most of my time feeling like I was chasing my tail. So I put my hand up to do more hours.

This has meant that while work is less stressful because I actually have time to get everything done on time, I have less time at home and I have to go to bed earlier so that I can get up earlier. The rest of the family have had to learn to do more around the house and since I no longer have time to do everything I am also no longer the default person to look after everyone else. We look after each other, we all pitch in, and we all benefit from mum bringing home a bit more money each month.

I took a break from soapmaking and writing just to let everything settle down. Like anything else, it comes down to priorities. You make time for the things that make the most noise. But you also need to make time for the things that you get the most value from, and value can definitely include enjoyment.

When I found myself home alone on Sunday with the sun shining and the birds singing I was almost overwhelmed with excitement and an urge to get as much done as possible while I could. I popped out at 9am to do the milking and ended up having ‘breakfast’ at about 2pm.

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Hanging out with my farmyard friends

I sent Maia and her kids out into the world for the first time. Those babies got to feel the sun on their backs and the dirt under their feet, as well as meeting the rest of their family. This was especially sweet since little Gaia had been treated for sepsis two days earlier, and the vet had warned me that he did not expect her to live.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben

Moving in and out of the house and between the shed and the garden, I got the milking done, cleaned the goat pens and delivered some straw to the garden beds. I did some weeding, thinned the silverbeet, cleared the dead tomato plants from the small greenhouse, baked the sourdough, did four loads of washing, replanted some strawberries, pruned the apple trees and cleaned out the cat litter. It was glorious.

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Yay! Sourdough. My lunch for the next fortnight.

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The food garden, with the berry nets up to allow for weeding, pruning and planting the strawberries.

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None of my winter vegetables sprouted last year, so I cheated this year and used the greenhouse. So far so good, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli and lettuce.

I sat down for a bit around 3pm and ventured out again an hour later when Leo the Italian Greyhound started complaining that it was getting cold and he wanted his coat back on. This seemed like a good time to go around closing up the windows and the big greenhouse door, and put the blanket back on Stella the old Thoroughbred who also got to get her kit off for the day. I was wondering what feat of culinary genius to make for dinner when I found that old Rianna, my boss doe, was about to have her kids.

I popped her in the kidding pen I had prepared earlier and set off to get the furthest away tasks done, which meant wandering down the paddock carrying a Weatherbeeta horse rug trying to find two full-size Thoroughbreds who seemed to have disappeared into the 10 acre paddock. I found them in the back corner behind the dam wall, re-clothed old Stella, took some pictures of the impressively full dams, and headed casually back up to the shed.

Where I found this…

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First kid out, nothing to do but keep on with my to-do list and check on Rianna occasionally. I got the goatlings and bucks in the small paddocks fed, put the poultry away, fed the cat and put out the call to Matt to pick up some dinner on his way home from work.

We ended up with a small but nice set of twins from Rianna. They were a little slow to get going, the buck was frustratingly resistant to feeding from his mother, but they are doing well now and feeding themselves.

After such a long dry Autumn, the recent rain has been very welcome, but it is much wetter here than we have seen it previously. The main dam is at its highest level since we moved in after almost drying up completely a few months ago. The interesting bit of earthworks described by the real estate agent as a second dam actually looks like how I imagine the previous owner had intended the water trap on his golf course to look.

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The main dam

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The back dam, aka hole 3

Days like this give me the enthusiasm to press on through the cold and wet, to make plans for the spring and start thinking about what to plant where. I’m hoping to do a lot more seed propagation this year, rather than buying seedlings, so I’ve got some equipment to use the small greenhouse to start seeds. I’ve started mulching and weeding the vegetable garden and ordered some seeds for the spring and summer crops. I hope to get some peas and beans planted next weekend, and I’m thinking about where I might be able to plant some hazelnut trees.

The daffodils and wattle trees are blooming, the geese are getting aggressive, the ducks are laying and the pregnant does are expanding alarmingly. Spring is on its slow march toward us and will be here before we know it.