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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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.