Begin Again

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It has been over six months since my last post.

In that time, I have quit my job, gone back to school, started a new business, endured an agonizing back injury, and attended my Nana’s funeral.

I’ve also raised seven healthy goat kids, a bumper crop of ducks and chickens, and bought a pony.

I’ve never been one to sit back and observe.

Adjusting to life on one income has been a lot less terrifying than I was expecting, even with unplanned expenses like a new goat shed, significant vet bills, and months of treatment on my back.

I injured my back in a yoga class, of all things, and the surge of fury I felt when it happened was fascinating to observe through the lens of my fourth yoga class that week. I stayed to the end, and I wonder if it would have been quite so crippling an injury if I had not followed it up by straining my abdominal muscles the next morning, trying to keep my eyes open while sneezing as I turned right at a roundabout.

Either way, with the existing weakness from the disc injury that ended my retail ‘career’, a series of physio visits left me no better off, and I limped into the new year wondering if this was my life now. A strange limbo of being able to stand or lie down, but not sit, limited to car trips of less than 20 minutes, lifting nothing heavier than a cat, and loosening up during the course of the day, only to be woken by pain in the midsummer pre-dawn. I spent the summer in slip-on shoes, watching my toenails grow from a distance, unable to reach down far enough to trim them.

The miracle of Bowen Therapy turned it all around, and we located a muscle deep between my ribcage and pelvis that my body had sidelined. Waking it again meant going through a whole lot more pain, but one morning I woke up and it had all changed. I can reach my feet again, sit in a classroom for a couple of hours, and comfortably travel far enough to visit friends in other parts of the state.

I’ve made hundreds of bars of soap and invented the perfect moisturiser. Family and friends are enjoying my new hair washing soap. My home made herbal balms have healed burns, bruises, muscle soreness and tendon strains, and apparently also the mystery pain in my left ankle. I’ve started attending markets, I can casually process an EFTPOS sale, and I’ve almost got the hang of presenting my products on my table. The wooden chicken that my Nana gave me for Christmas sits on my table at every market. Lately it displays a necklace of home-grown loofahs. At the rate I am going I may break even by the end of the year.

The next phase of the business is to start selling herb plants and develop some more herbal remedies. I’ve got a decent collection of seedlings of plants like mugwort, clary sage, nigella and white sage. I’m working on developing infusions that combine tasty herbs with remedies for anxiety, PMS and respiratory illness. It’s a delicate balance of not claiming that my herbs are capable of curing ailments, while informing consumers of the actions of different plants.

But enough about soap and herbs and sore backs, you’re all here for the goats, aren’t you.

I began with nine newborn kids, snatched at birth, and nine and a half months on I have seven healthy young goats. One little wether went to live with a friend and her menagerie, and I lost my big buck kid, Titan, to a badly broken hind leg. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, with a nasty stomach bug going through them before they were weaned and Peanut costing us a small fortune at the vets with her broken leg, but we’ve got most of them this far in one piece.

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Doe kids: Georgia, Portia (aka Peanut) and Merida.

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Antonio (aka Fat Tony) on the left, Angus the buck in the back, and Duncan in the front.

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Banquo, the runt of the litter, not moving too far from the feeder, just in case I put something in it.

The two goatlings in quarantine, Trinity and Odessa, are both daughters of my foundation buck, Capricorn Cottage Tazzy. These two young does have been bred to Goodness Dutch and should kid around the middle of September. The plan at this stage is to test their colostrum for mycoplasma once they have kidded, as well as attempting to make cheese from their milk. One of the symptoms of the as-yet unconfirmed pathogen was that soft cheese made from milk from infected goats would not achieve the proper texture and would go off very quickly. So testing the ability of their milk to form a proper curd is another way to find out if these girls are clear of disease.

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Goatlings Trinity and Odessa.

The third test will be leaving them with kids to raise. My intention is to snatch raise any doe kids, and hopefully a buck kid from Odessa, and leave them with at least one wether kid each to raise. If these kids do not get sick at 10-14 weeks of age, there is a good chance that the does are not infected. Passing all three tests would satisfy me that they are uninfected and safe to join the others. But even then, I may not get all the results until next Summer. So for now, we wait.

What else? Oh yeah, I bought a pony. It was one of those decisions that had been a long time coming but also happened suddenly. Once my back made it possible to go on long car trips, I was able to once again visit my dear friend and her mother three hours away in the north of the state. And with some help from my friend, I was finally able to process the loss of my two special ponies and face the prospect of moving on from this loss. Next thing I knew, I was signing the transfer papers for a young black New Forest Pony mare, handing over a deposit, and researching possible suitable stallions for her. Meet Bankswood Countess, aka Sticky.

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Sticky.

I’ll go up and work on her handling through the winter and spring, and she will join us here at Elcarim Farm in the summer.

So that’s the edited highlights of my last six months. A few obstacles, a few endings, but also a few new beginnings. Hopefully this is also the beginning of me writing again.

Saving Georgia

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The next morning I expected to find Rosanna either dead in her pen or with a prolapsed uterus or both, but she was at the gate ready to go out and spend the day in the paddock with her sisters. She asserted her position with headbutts to a few key players, and marched down the paddock with the other does who had kidded, who were all still calling out for their kids.

Rosanna’s doe kid, Georgia, would not take a bottle. She made a strange ‘mah’ sound that was not like the normal bleat of a newborn kid, and she walked slowly, falling down often. In stark contrast, her brother was hungry, talkative, and would not stay in one spot for a second. I kept them together in the house for the first couple of days, hoping that Johnny’s activity and contact would help Georgia’s little body figure out what to do.

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Georgia and Johnny

It took ages to get Georgia dry, due to all of the lubricant and detergent that had been used to facilitate her birth. We had been tube feeding her each time her brother had a bottle, offering the teat first to no avail. By the afternoon she was bloated, seemed to be in pain, and I decided to take her to the vet to see if anything could be done.

The vet asked about my tubing techniques and gave some suggestions as to how to avoid getting air in Georgia’s stomach during tube feeding. She also diagnosed her as a ‘dummy kid’ based on her odd walk, odd voice and inability to suck. She sent us home with advice to keep tube feeding until Georgia could take a bottle and hope for the best.

The next morning I found Rosanna dead in the goat shed, curled up as though asleep. Presumably the drugs she had been given after her difficult birth kept her comfortable for long enough for her to lie down with her sisters and previous year’s kids, and quietly succumb to internal bleeding. I had never lost a doe at kidding before, despite assisting several. In a normal year it would have been a disaster, but under the circumstances it was just another drop in the bucket.

I put Georgia and Johnny out with the other kids, hoping that the throng of little bodies would help Georgia’s systems come online. In dummy kids, as with dummy foals, it is believed that a failure of the newborn’s body to respond to the prompts of birth to switch to ‘outside mode’ is the cause of the syndrome. Newborns are inactive with poor muscle tone and absent suck reflex. In foals there has been dramatic success with simulating the pressures of the journey through the birth canal using ropes. I read all I could find about dummy foals and dummy kids. One goat breeder told a story of a dummy kid she had who was ‘cured’ by an unrelated doe licking her like a newborn. But the likely outcome was that I would have to get milk into Georgia by any means possible until she was able to move onto solid food, if I was to keep her alive.

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Kiddie pile – find all nine

After four days of tube feeding, Georgia was behind in her milk consumption and starting to look skinny compared to the others. She was doing okay, but slow, weak and unsteady on her feet. Continued tube feeding irritates the throat, and there was the concern that if she did try to suck and swallow she would find it painful, which would deter her from trying. At the end of day five, she finally took milk from a bottle. Only 150ml at first and her throat did seem sore, but over the next few days I kept her on four feeds a day and she started to catch up to the others. She had another visit to the vet that week to rule out joint ill, but her lameness was deemed to be related to her brain injury, and it resolved on its own.

It probably took a month before Georgia was 100%. She is still bottle fed, as there are only eight spots on the lamb feeders and nine kids, but she can drop 900ml at a feed, and leaps, climbs and bounces like all the others.

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Lamb bar madness

The kids are now nine weeks old, and living full time in a small paddock in the back corner of the house yard. My other goats are all gone, except for two special goatlings, Dutch the buck, and Cosmo, a wether who keeps Dutch company. Those four are kept in the small paddocks at the front of the property, where nobody goes except me to check them. The hope is that I can get some kids from the two goatlings, who are daughters of my foundation buck Tazzy, and add them to the current nine to keep my herd viable for the future.

In the next few weeks we will find out if the kidsnatch has been successful. Previous kids started showing symptoms from 10-12 weeks. If we can get through to December without any signs of respiratory illness, we can start to look towards the future. Otherwise there will be more questions, more tests, and likely the end of my goat breeding enterprise.

 

#kidsnatch2018

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Any doubts I had about whether I wanted to continue with goats at all quickly evaporated the moment Merida was born. A single doe kid, heavily mottled, from my big, spotty doe known as Katie. Katie’s mother, Elcarim Meredith Q*, was the first Elcarim Doe to be awarded a Q* and also my first doe to win a Best Udder Overall sash. Katie was the best of her five daughters. She was also potentially my highest volume milker ever, having twice produced over 5lt in 24hrs in herd recording on her first lactation. Believing I had more time, though, I planned to wait until her second lactation to try for a Q* award for her.

We snatched Merida from her mother at birth, as planned, and Matt cleaned her up while I milked off some colostrum, of which Katie had plenty. It then took me over an hour to heat the colostrum to a temperature that would kill any pathogens without destroying too many antibodies and hold it there for the required 60 minutes. My many hours of standing over a pot of milk with a thermometer while making cheese was good preparation for this. We had more than enough colostrum for one kid, so I was able to keep some in the fridge in case we needed it later.

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Merida

Merida was a quiet house guest, and she was bopping around the lounge room within a few hours. She would make a little bit of noise early in the morning but then go back to sleep until it was time to feed her again. She made the transition to milk replacer without any problems, and we were on our way. That was Thursday.

Titania was acting strangely a couple of days later, but had zero udder development. Juliet was enormous, and I had been penning her by herself at night for a few weeks to give her a chance to rest in her own space without all her relatives crowding around her. Saturday night I put Titania in the pen with Juliet.

Titania was my favourite doe, a daughter of my foundation doe Traybonne Rianna DM. She was Rianna’s 15th and very last kid. Even as a two year old she was a powerful, capacious doe who I had high hopes for in the show ring as a milker. As a goatling she was shown under four different judges, three of whom sashed her Champion goatling, including Murray Grills who described her as ‘a freak of nature’.

I almost didn’t check the shed camera at 11.30pm, having checked it half an hour earlier, but I was anxious and worried about missing a kidding. The 11.30pm check revealed kids had been born, and I rushed out to the shed, mobilising the rest of the household to prepare the towels and cleaning gear and meet in the shed.

When I arrived on the scene it was obvious that the kids were Titania’s. Three of them, two standing, one just born, with Juliet working on cleaning one of them. I grabbed them one by one and plopped them over into the next pen to get them away from the does. The words of the breeder in Queensland who had undertaken a similar operation were ringing in my ears – ‘I didn’t let the does clean them up, if they hit the ground I left them’. I thought about leaving Titania’s kids there, worried that being licked clean by the other doe could be enough to infect them. But Titania still had no udder development and no milk at all. If I left her kids with her they would starve.

Rohan arrived with a big plastic tub and I put all three kids in it and sent him off to the garage to help Matt clean them up. I then went into the laundry, put all the clothes I was wearing into the washing machine, scrubbed my hands, put on clean clothes and went out to inspect the new arrivals.

Two enormous bucks and a little doe. And boy were they noisy. They yelled the house down all night. The leftover colostrum from the previous kidding came in handy, they all had a feed. By now it was well after midnight.

Those three kids bleated their little heads off all night. Nobody got much sleep. The next morning I set about creating a pen in the garage where the kids could live for a few weeks until they were big enough to move outside.

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Titan, Antonio and Portia

Titania was named after the Shakespeare’s Queen of the Fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So two of her kids got their names from Shakespeare characters, Portia for the doe and Antonio for the buck with the big white body patch. The other buck I named Titan, after his mother.

That night Matt volunteered to keep an eye on the camera while I got some sleep. Juliet was very close to kidding, and a little after midnight she was in full labour, so I went out to supervise. Things didn’t seem to be moving along, so I scrubbed my hands and went in to assist. I found a kid presenting spine first.

Juliet was enormous from about halfway through her pregnancy, and I had helped her birth quads the previous year. I was expecting to have to help her out again. She was Titania’s older full sister, and had achieved her Q* the previous year. She was also a Best Udder and Best of Breed winner, who achieved a classification score of 85 on her first lactation. She was not a very big doe, but a very hard worker. I was very keen for a doe kid from her.

I managed to figure out which end of the first kid was the front and got one front leg and a head pointing in the right direction, but I could not for the life of me find the other front leg. I warned Rohan, who was once again waiting with the plastic tub, that the kid was in a funny position and might not be alive when I got it out. I took the head and one leg and decided to see if the kid would come out with the other leg still back. Thankfully he did, and he was very much alive. I pulled out another two kids and sent Rohan over to the cleanup crew while I milked Juliet, who had loads of colostrum.

Three bucks. Not exactly what I was hoping for to carry on the legacy of my best doe. But all alive and vigorous. And thankfully not as noisy as Titania’s kids. I processed the colostrum, fed the kids and got to bed somewhere around 3am. Sticking with the Shakespeare theme, they all got names from Macbeth. Angus for the tall, rangy red buck who came out first, Banquo for the leggy but skinny red kid with a white stripe down his face, and Duncan for the big black and tan kid with the curly tail.

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Juliet’s triplet bucks

By now I was sleep deprived an pretty emotionally drained as well. While Katie had kidded several days late, Titania and Juliet were four and five days early. I had only Rosanna left to kid, and by the following afternoon it was clear I would not have to wait long for her.

Rosanna was the only daughter I had of Elcarim Sienna F115. Sienna was the doe who pioneered long lactations in my herd, milking for 643 days on her second lactation. I did not milk test Rosanna on her first lactation, but she raised an enormous set of twins which would have taken a good 4lt per day. She was given a classification score of 83, and was a best udder winner and Best of Breed winner. But as well as all that she was a sturdy, healthy doe who ate well and never seemed to get sick.

She laboured for a few hours with little progress. Around 7pm I decided it was time to intervene. I managed to locate a couple of little feet, but there was not much room to move. I had hold of two feet but could not find a head, and I wasn’t sure if those two feet both belonged to the same kid. After some time I was able to establish that there was a kid presenting with two feet forward and the head was right there, but I could not get the head through. After about an hour of trying to deliver the kid, I was exhausted, and had to admit that I was out of my depth. We called the vet to assist.

It was 9pm by the time the vet arrived. And very soon it became evident that it wasn’t any lack of skill or effort on my part that prevented me from delivering Rosanna’s kid. The vet worked for what seemed like ages, and eventually pulled out a bloodied and mostly inactive kid. He confirmed that it was alive, then put her into the tub for Rohan to take over to the garage. The second kid came out much more easily, a little buck. The vet gave Rosanna painkillers, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics before heading off.

I was shaken and upset by the events of the evening, but relieved that kidding was over. Rosanna’s first kid was a doe, the image of her mother, who we named Georgia after the song by Vance Joy. I tasked the boys with naming the buck, the only proviso that it had to be the name of a song, and they came up with Johnny B Goode.

So now we had nine kids to go on with, three does and six bucks. No more does to kid, no more sleepless nights. But that didn’t mean that the hard part was over.

 

Staring Down the Barrel

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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.

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.