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.

Epic Kidding Weekend – A Debrief

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Those who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will have a disjointed idea of what happened when four of my does kidded in one weekend.

I know many people will kid more does on a more intensive timetable, but I’ve never had more than two due at once before. I was very glad that they waited until the weekend and I didn’t have to mix all-nighters with work days. I also managed to avoid any freezing nights, with the overnight lows hovering around fridge temperature rather than freezer temperature.

All four does were bred to Toggalong FitzWilliam over the one weekend and did not come back in season. I also bred Maia to Zeus that weekend, but she missed and was bred to Tazzy three weeks later. Probably just as well.

Sienna had been the size of a house for weeks, and I expected her to kid first. Her udder got bigger… and bigger… and then, on Friday night, Victoria started showing signs of labour.

I watched from the house on the kidding camera, which sends video to an app on my phone. At 10pm I went out to keep a closer eye on proceedings. Much like last year, Victoria didn’t push. I watched and waited some more. Then Sienna showed us all how it is done, producing big, strong triplets without any assistance.

After helping Sienna clean and sort her tribe, I decided that it was time for Victoria to come up with the goods. I put her in the head bail, scrubbed up and went in. Her kid was just about out, presented correctly, and stuck fast. After much pulling and howling (the doe, not me), I got him out. I fished around expecting another kid, but found nothing. One big buck kid. By now it was 4am, so I left both does with their new kids and went to get a couple of hours sleep.

I came out early the next morning to find all four kids up and about, two of Sienna’s feeding themselves, and something grey and weird poking out of Victoria. I pulled it out and looked at it for a couple of moments before dropping it in shock. It was a half-formed mummified kid. Ew! That explained why there was only one to deliver. Both does cleaned up without any trouble.

Victoria’s buck kid was a bit slow and floppy, and had a lot of trouble figuring out what the teat was for. He took nearly a week to be able to feed on his own, and a good few days before he could feed without being held up.

I had decided to name this year’s kids after songs, and I had a list of names for doe kids but hadn’t thought about names for buck kids. Victoria’s kid has been named Greg (ie, The Stop Sign), but I got into the habit of calling him Buckethead due to his slow and dopey personality. So now everyone else calls him Greg and I call him Buckethead.

Greg (aka Buckethead) with his mum Vicky keeping a close watch.

Greg (aka Buckethead) with his mum Vicky keeping a close watch.

Sienna’s triplets are a buck and two does. The does are neat little bookends, red with white ears, and bits of white detail on their heads and feet. The buck is black and tan and very stylish. The does have been named Rosanna and Ruby, the buck is Jimmy Recard.

Rosanna and Ruby

Rosanna and Ruby

Saturday night it was first-timer Hera’s turn. And, like Victoria, she made a lot of noise for not much result. I pulled one kid out, a tiny doe, and hoped the others would follow. After an hour I went back in and pulled out the second kid, another tiny doe. I was concerned at this stage, because at that size there could have been several more kids. But on further inspection, I found the cause of all the trouble – a huge kid with its head folded right back. I did everything I could, with poor Hera howling, tied to the gate, but I could not rearrange that kid.

At 11.45pm I called my vet, Jim Hancock. Jim had been out twice in the previous couple of months to put down a buck and wether with urinary calculi, and after his second visit he said ‘hopefully next time I come here I can save one for you’. Well, he got Hera’s third kid rearranged and out without having to resort to drastic measures. The kid, a very big buck, was not born alive, but my poor little doe was no more than tired and a bit sore. Her doe kids, Cecilia and Layla, weighed in at 1800g and 2200g, and I knew that being born alive did not mean that they were out of the woods. At that size they would need not just extra care, but a strong will to live.

This gives an idea of how tiny Cecilia is.

This gives an idea of how tiny Cecilia is.

Tiny Cecilia never took a backwards step. Within a few hours she was up, feeding herself, escaping from the pen and getting in everyone’s way. Layla was not so intrepid. She refused to feed, and on a Sunday without anywhere open to buy a feeding tube, there was nothing I could do. She died that night.

With the pens all full, Meredith kindly kidded under a tree in the farmyard. In her usual fashion, she did so without warning and I missed the entire thing. I found her Sunday afternoon having cleaned up her first kid and in the process of cleaning up her second. Two big mottled kids, a buck and a doe, just what I was hoping for.

Her doe kid was lively, loud and hungry. The buck got gradually slower and slower and eventually gave up altogether. I don’t know why. Possibly he came out backwards and got a big dose of amniotic fluid on the way out. Perhaps there was something not right with his insides. Either way, it was a shame to lose him.

In her previous three kiddings, Meredith has had her kids up and feeding very quickly and generally been an exemplary mother. This time she was distracted and disinterested. She did not want to feed her surviving kid at all. I took the spotted doe, named Gloria, and put her in a small enclosure with Sienna’s Jimmy. The two are being bottle raised together, since two kids will be plenty for Sienna to deal with.

Jimmy and Gloria

Jimmy and Gloria

Meredith also turned out to have a nasty case of mastitis, which I am now treating with a range of good drugs.

So at the end of the weekend I have four doe kids and two bucks from two sets of triplets, one set of twins and a single kid. Losing three kids was tough, but we have had some good years lately with minimal losses, and it is always swings and roundabouts with goats. I have been fortunate not to lose any does so far, and kidding time is always a learning experience. Knowing when to go in assist and when to wait is always tricky, but I think I will be more inclined from now on to go in and check that everyone is pointed in the right direction than to wait for too long.

The does have recovered incredibly well this year, despite some rough births. They haven’t gone off their feed or had trouble with acidosis like in previous years. Sienna in particular is eating like a racehorse and looks great. She is producing loads of milk and maintaining her condition well. Her kids weighed a total of over 10kg and there is not a runt amongst them. Her year off seems to have done her wonders.

Sienna with Rosanna

Sienna with Rosanna

A week down the track, and the kids are adjusting to life out in the farmyard with their mothers. They are finding safe spots to sleep and dancing with the chickens. Hera has come in with a fantastic udder, and her surviving kid Cecilia is just like the other kids, albeit half their size. I have almost developed a routine that gets me to work on time. The toughest part is over.

Hera's udder

Hera’s udder

Maia is due to kid in two weeks, then Elaine in October and possibly Ambika in December.