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.
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.
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.
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.