Monday, April 7, 2014

Livi's triplet does

The goats have been very considerate of my handicap lately and have all broken the Doe Code of Honor, which states that goats will always give birth at the worst possible time. The last four goats to give birth have all done so when Katherine was here on the weekend.

This morning Mike came into the house and said that Livi's udder was quite impressive and that her tail ligaments were nowhere to be found, so Abby moved her to a kidding pen. By the afternoon when Livi started to sound serious about giving birth, Katherine and I were the only two people home. Katherine kept saying that she needed to get back to Urbana, but the longer Livi was in labor, the more I worried and told Katherine that she really needed to stay here until Livi had given birth.

"Do I look like I could help a goat give birth in my condition?" I asked.

Katherine chuckled and agreed to stay until Livi's kids were born. At 2:15 when Katherine went to the barn to check on Livi, she decided to do an internal check because Livi had been pushing for more than an hour with no visible progress. She felt a hock, which is part of a goat's hind leg. It is not an ideal birthing position. She came back into the house, and we chatted about the situation. We agreed there was no way she could do anything to assist in getting the kids out by herself, and I would not be able to help. Mike was supposed to be home shortly after 3:00, so we decided to go out to the barn to wait, in case Livi got things sorted out on her own and actually gave birth.

About 2:45 Katherine went out to the barn, and I followed, although it took me about five times as long to get there. It was the first time I've been outside by myself in two weeks. I am quite sure that I have never walked so slowly across our yard ever before. When I finally reached the kidding barn, I sat on the milk stand right outside of Livi's pen. Livi seemed to be getting quite serious about pushing, but she also worried us because her back legs did not seem to be working quite right. She would get up, take a couple of steps, and her back end seemed to collapse.

It looked like one of the kids was pressing on a nerve, which was causing her back legs to not work quite right. Katherine had said the kid's hock felt quite small, which did not make much sense to me. It is usually extra large kids that cause problems by pressing on the nerves like that. As we discussed the situation, a bubble began to emerge. A few more pushes, and there was a hoof, then a nose. And then, the first kid was born!

Katherine couldn't believe the kid was born hoof and nose first because she was absolutely certain she had felt a hock. "I could wrap my finger around it," she said. My theory is that there had been two kids trying to come out at once, and she simply didn't feel the nose of the second kid. Luckily the head-first kid beat out the hock-first kid and was born first. That would also explain why Livi seemed to be having trouble with her back end collapsing. The kid was actually quite small. Even though Livi is a mini mancha, the kid was the size of a Nigerian, which is a smaller breed. But two of those kids squashed together trying to squeeze out together could have caused enough pressure on the nerves in her hips to cause her walking problems.

A few minutes later, a second kid was born, nose and hoof first. And about half an hour later -- after Mike arrived home -- a third kid was born. After the first two kids had blazed the trail, Livi didn't seem to be concerned at all about another being born. She was standing up, and as Katherine reached over to catch the kid, Livi started walking! So, in this next picture, Katherine had been holding the kid, but when Livi started walking, her hand slipped off the head and body, and at the moment I snapped this picture, everything had slipped out of her hand except the leg.

And in the next picture, you can see that Katherine had lunged forward and managed to get her hands on the baby before it fell to the ground.

Although I'm sure many goat babies throughout history have fallen to the ground safely as their mothers gave birth standing up, it just isn't something that we humans can watch without trying to help soften the kid's entrance in this world. When you see a baby falling, you just have to catch it.

Yes, all three kids had been born head first. Someone had done a flip in the last hour, probably the third kid since it took so long to be born after the second one.

Even though Livi is a mini mancha, all three of these doelings were born with Nigerian dwarf ears. The thing I love about la manchas is the tiny little ears, but of the six 1/4 la mancha, 3/4 ND kids we have had born so far this spring, five of them have had ND ears, even though the odds are 50/50 when an erect-eared goat is crossed with an elf-eared goat. What is truly amazing, though, is that six of the six crossbred goats have been does!

Katherine also made sure all of the doelings nursed before she left. Unfortunately, she won't be home again until Easter, and we have two more goats due to kid before then -- including Windy, the mini mancha that had meningeal worm last November. Between the disease and all of the drugs she was given, I am amazed that she is actually pregnant. Life could get interesting in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Falling apart -- and lessons from a goat from years past

The first three months of 2014 have flown past, and I don't mean that they have flown past in the usual way. It seems that all of us constantly talk about how time flies, but the last three months have been a blur of one doctor's office after another, one test after another, and an emotional roller coaster. I've been diagnosed with five different conditions and told that I might have cancer (twice now), and I flip flop back and forth between wanting to throw in the towel and move to the burbs and then gathering up the strength to keep pushing myself forward -- because seriously, what would I do in a condo in the burbs?

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post. We have a lot of catching up to do! Two Sundays ago I was in San Francisco at a publishing conference and I had a few hours before my plane would be leaving, so I decided to take a walk around Fisherman's Wharf. After a delicious breakfast at an organic cafe, I was two blocks into my walk, and for some crazy reason I decided to run across the street, didn't look down, and tripped over the curb. I hit my head and shoulder on a brick wall, skinned the palm of my right hand and my right forearm, sprained the thumb on my left hand, and really smashed my knee. Having far too many problems with my knees in my life, I knew I needed to head back to the hotel and spend the next two hours with ice, which I did. I also bandaged up the skinned areas. Twelve days later (ER, primary care doc, ortho doc + x-ray, ultrasound, and MRI), my knee is still swollen and painful, but I only have a massive hematoma in the bursa. The bad news is that I also have grade four arthritis in the knee. Who knew they grade arthritis? And four is the worst grade. (I've never received the worst grade on anything in my life!) A quick online search tells you that grade four is when they start talking about knee replacement.

The latest cancer scare came when they x-rayed my knee. The morning after I was in the ER, I got a phone call from the hospital, and the woman said that a radiologist had looked at my x-rays, and although he did not see any breaks, he did see a "lesion" on my tibia. He said that I needed to have an MRI to rule out bone cancer. I had a good cry after I hung up the phone. Seriously, how many people are told they might have cancer twice in two months. The thyroid biopsy came back benign in February, and thankfully the knee MRI did not reveal a cancerous lesion. They concluded that it was either a benign fibroma or an old injury. And after the ortho doctor saw me, he said that it was caused by the knee surgery I had as a teen.

But wait, that's not all! The day before I left for San Francisco, I visited my primary care doc, because the gastroenterologist said he didn't think my swollen throat, cough, and hoarseness were caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although he was willing to do an endoscopy to rule it out. Rather than wanting to wait for those results, I took my little self right back to my primary care doc's office the next day.

While I was there, I had a coughing fit, which she said sounded like a bronchospasm. She had me blow into a peak flow meter, and 300 was the best I could do, which is low for someone of my age and height. So, I did a breathing treatment with a nebulizer and my peak flow went up to 350, which is still low but improved, so she said I probably have asthma. She gave me a prescription for an inhaler, as well as another prescription for an oral asthma med. I quickly discovered that the pain in my chest was from my bronchial tubes getting inflamed and that using the inhaler helped tremendously. Initially I was using it about four times a day, but now that I've been taking the oral meds, I've only had that tightening in my chest about every other day. I've also purchased an air purifier for our bedroom. It stinks to know that I have asthma, but it is far less severe than some of the stories I've heard, so I'm grateful for that and for knowing what causes the pain in my chest.

So, between January and today, I've been diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, GERD, asthma, a mold allergy, and grade four arthritis in my knee. In addition to my primary care doc, I've also seen an endocrinologist, a general surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, a gastroenterologist, and I've been referred to an ENT and an allergist but have not seen them yet. I've had a thyroid biopsy, a leg ultrasound, x-rays, an MRI, and more blood tests than I can remember. I have an endoscopy scheduled for the end of April but may skip it if this swollen feeling in my throat goes away.

So! What next?

As you might imagine, I have had a lot going through my head in the last three months and especially in the past twelve days as I've been laid up in bed! I've had way too much time to think, and I've had tons of time to research these various ailments, as well as hang out on Facebook. I saw someone complaining on a goat group about buying goats from an older man who was selling off his herd because he could no longer care for them, and the person who posted was not very charitable in her assessment of the living condition of the goats. All I could think was that I never want to be the crazy old goat lady who held on to her goats longer than they could be properly cared for, but I seriously expected that time would come when I was 70-something, not 51!

In January, we incorporated the farm as Antiquity Oaks LLC because I wanted to focus on our goal of creating a learning farm for future homesteaders and farmers. I was going to formalize and expand our classes and internship program. We had so many plans -- more than I want to share at this point -- because it has all come to a screeching halt for the past three months. My goals and enthusiasm waver from day to day and sometimes moment to moment, depending upon what is happening. Sometimes I feel like this is the end! I'm washed up and done and should just move to a condo in south Texas. Other days I'm positive I can still make my dreams come true -- helping to educate people about growing, preparing, and eating good food. I am still as passionate as ever when it comes to my desire to help people live better lives. Besides that, I was just about ready to lose my mind after a few days in bed!

It was much easier, however, to talk about healthy living when I had not had a cold in five years. It has been hard for me to accept myself now that I'm not the perfect picture of health. I can't help but feel like I have failed in some way, even though none of my ailments are specifically related to food or diet. Having been adopted, I don't know my complete family medical history, so the cards could really be stacked against me genetically. One reason I have tried to maintain such a healthy lifestyle is because I could not look at my ancestors and see that they lived long, happy lives.

Even though I have had some days when I thought about calling it quits, I do still find myself thinking about this year's doelings growing up and becoming productive milkers. I consider including meat and eggs in our new CSA instead of only providing vegetables to members. I ponder the effectiveness of adding ducks to our garden for insect and weed control and then selling their eggs. I search online for pond plants that might help to naturally control algae. I think about building a cabin where interns can live. Whenever I think about the future, I am here. Antiquity Oaks seems to have become a part of my identity and my very being. Although I might be able to leave for a short vacation, I don't think I could really give up this lifestyle.

Years ago we had a doe named Rosewood that was suddenly paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. For the first half hour or so, she was furious. She was screaming and struggling wildly to stand. And then she calmed down and accepted her new reality. I knew she had taught me a priceless lesson. I could not imagine any human being so quickly accepting such a fate. Rosewood eventually learned to walk on her front legs alone, balancing her body and her limp hind legs in the air. I have been thinking of her lately and am thankful that I do not have anything nearly as devastating to deal with. If she could learn to walk on her front legs, then surely I can deal with the challenges that have come my way.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Anna's first kidding

After having a goat give birth to a kid ears first and then having a c-section, I was getting downright paranoid about any goat ever giving birth normally again. Unfortunately I missed Vera's magnificent quintuple play. When I realized Anna was in labor a few hours after bringing home Giselle from the vet clinic, I was not my usual happy self. To make me even more paranoid, Anna Pavlova is Giselle's daughter, and she is a first freshener. Even though she was well over 40 pounds (my minimum weight to breed a doe), I was even thinking that I should not have bred her.

At first I saw a front hoof, perfectly positioned. And when I saw a nose, I was happy, although not ecstatic. Even though the kid didn't look particularly large, I was worried that it was too big. It seemed to be taking too long, but Jonathan said I was just paranoid. He is probably right. Anna came through with flying colors and delivered the kid with zero difficulty, and then the second kid pretty much flew out.

However, that's when the difficulty started. Neither kid would nurse, so after a couple of hours I milked Anna and gave each kid an ounce of colostrum using a syringe, basically dripping it into their mouths. Then I came into the house to eat dinner. The video monitor was still on inside, and I could hear the kids screaming non-stop. After dinner I went outside, milked Anna again and gave each kid another ounce and then told myself that they'd survive until morning, which was true because they only need ten percent of their body weight in milk the first 24 hours. I turned off the video monitor so I could get a good night's sleep, which turned out to be really important because I was quite ill before morning.

When Mike got home from work near midnight, he checked on the kids. Usually if kids have learned to nurse and you wake them up, they run under mom for a quick snack. These kids did not do that. When Mike stuck them under Anna, they seemed clueless, but he didn't worry about it because he knew that I had already made sure they had enough colostrum. The next morning, he went out to the barn to see if they were nursing. Although their bellies seemed full, they showed no inclination to nurse when he was there, and they continued to act completely clueless about the concept when put in front of a teat. Because they were bouncing around and their bellies felt full, however, we finally stopped worrying about them. And you can tell by these pictures of the doeling at nine days of age that she is getting plenty of milk!

If I had to get the flu at some point during this winter, my body really did choose the best time. After Anna's kidding, no one else was due for at least a week and a half, so I had plenty of time to get really sick and recuperate before another goat would be giving birth.

Unfortunately I took no pictures of the kids until they were nine days old, and then I had not been out in the barn in so long that I wasn't sure which kids belong to which does. As I was sorting it out later with my computer, I realized I didn't get any pictures of the little buckling. Maybe I got a little carried away taking pictures of his sister, but she sure is cute, isn't she!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beginner's luck: Quintuplets without a hitch

I was coming home from the University of Illinois vet clinic where I'd left Giselle for overnight observation after she had a c-section when I received a text message from Mike asking, "Where are you?" I immediately called home, and he answered the phone, sounding exasperated.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Vera had five!"

"What?" He did not just say that Vera had five. Five kids? What sounds like five? "Did you say five? Five kids?"

"Yes! Five!"

I wasn't entirely surprised. Three months ago I had mentioned on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page that I was worried about Vera because she already looked pregnant. Only twice before have I ever had a goat that looked pregnant at two months, and both times it was Vera's mother Coco when she was pregnant with five.

When I pulled into the driveway and parked the car, I went straight to the kidding barn. All five kids were mostly dry and bouncing around in the straw already. I asked Mike what happened, and he said that he was in the house when he heard Vera sounding serious over the video monitor. He was downstairs, so he couldn't actually see her, but he knew he should head outside soon. He's never actually been the sole attendant at a birth, however, so he didn't understand exactly how soon he needed to get outside.

He walked into the barn to see two soaking wet kids in the straw. He started drying them off as Vera stood there and continued pushing. "I had to catch them," he said incredulously, "because she was standing up the whole time, and they were falling out."

Really, though, if you have to attend a birth by yourself, and it's the first time you've done it by yourself, it seems like a pretty good deal to have things as uncomplicated as possible. And considering the complications we've had so far this year, it's a very good thing to have five kids born so easily.

Getting them all to nurse, however, was not so easy. It was obvious that some of these kids were very small -- as small as the two pound, two ounce kid that had been born a week earlier who was unable to maintain his body temperature in the sub-zero barn. I told Mike I had bought a sheet of vinyl flooring and suggested that we put it in the barn office and put Vera and the kids in there.

The office has an old-fashioned wall heater, so even though it feels warm to a person sitting or standing in there, the temperature on the floor was only 40 degrees, which would not create a huge problem if we waited until the barn was in the 20s or 30s to move the kids out.

Ultimately we left the kids in there for a week. We were checking all of their bellies several times a day to be sure they were getting enough to eat, and we offered everyone a bottle the first few days. Most of the kids seemed content to fight it out amongst themselves to get their fair share (or more) from Vera's two teats. However, one little doe gave up almost immediately, and we'd see her in there with her head hanging down like Eeyore, the donkey in Winnie the Pooh. She is now completely bottlefed.

One of the larger doelings at 9 days of age
We weighed all of the kids at birth and checked their weights again at one week of age. Most had gained about a pound and four ounces, although one buck had gained almost two pounds, and one doe had only gained four ounces.  Clearly, he has been getting her fair share of milk! Unfortunately she does not like taking a bottle at all, so our efforts to supplement her have failed. If she doesn't start gaining an appropriate amount of weight, we might need to take her away from Vera to convince her to take the bottle. As her siblings grow bigger and stronger, it is will only become increasingly difficult for her to get enough milk.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lesson learned via c-section

A week ago Monday it was obvious that Giselle was in labor. She woke us up over the video monitor shortly after 6 a.m. but wasn't really making much of a fuss until closer to 8, which was when I finally went outside to the barn because I thought I saw mucous glistening under her tail. When I got to the barn, I didn't see any mucous, so either it had already fallen into the straw or there was some sort of optical illusion over the video monitor.

I spent most of my time sitting in the barn office watching Giselle through the window because I'm having trouble regulating my body temperature due to my thyroid issue, and I didn't want to go outside into the zero-degree temperatures until I really needed to be out there. Around 9:00 Giselle seemed to be seriously, but quietly, pushing, and from the office I could see a kid's hoof presenting. Considering the experience I'd had the day before with a kid presenting ear first, I was really happy to see a front hoof properly positioned.

I left the office and went into the barn, assuming that the kid would be born fairly quickly. However, once I got within a few feet of Giselle, I knew I had trouble on my hands. The hoof was much too big. I went back into the barn office and called Jonathan's cell phone, asking him to bring my insulated overalls. This would not be a quick birth, and I was already freezing. He brought out the overalls, and I asked him to stay with me because I would probably need his help. At this point, the hoof had been sitting right there, sticking out of Giselle a couple of inches for at least twenty minutes and hadn't progressed at all. I grabbed several vinyl gloves and a bottle of iodine, put on my insulated overalls, and headed back into the barn.

Jonathan held Giselle while I put my hand inside of her trying to figure out how to get the kid out. My hand could not slide between the kid's head and her pelvis. As I slid my hand in, the head moved back into her uterus. I looked for the second front leg, but there was no room for me to maneuver inside of her, and I was having no luck. Normally I don't worry about pulling a kid when there is only one leg presenting, but it was obvious that this was a very large kid, and Giselle is a smaller than average doe. I didn't want to deliver the head and one leg, only to have the kid get stuck on the shoulders. With a kid that big, I wanted the assurance of having both legs front and center. I tried a second time. I did grab what I thought was another foot at one point, but I didn't think it was a front leg. Third times the charm, I thought as I tried again. The kid is too big. Her pelvis is too small. I told Jonathan that I was taking her to the U of I vet clinic. I ran into the house to phone and tell them I was coming while he got my car ready. It's a hatchback, and we put several empty paper feed bags in the back with a blanket over them. Jonathan carried Giselle to the car, kid's leg still hanging out of her back end. In her condition, I knew she would not jump over the back seat to join me.

For the entire two-hour drive to Urbana, every time Giselle let out a scream, I kicked myself for one thing after another. I should have just pulled harder. I don't need to be taking her to the vet clinic. I should have had more confidence in myself. And then there was the "should" that I repeated the most. I never should have bred her again. I normally have a two-strikes rule; a goat has a kidding problem twice, and she's retired. Unfortunately, I had rationalized and talked myself out of retiring Giselle the previous year when she had a hard time delivering a fairly large kid.

They were extremely busy at the University Vet Clinic, and there was not the usual large group of students meeting us. In fact, it was one senior vet student who was in the midst of her first day of clinic rotations. Luckily I'd been to the clinic enough to tell her how we needed to move Giselle inside (using a cart) and how to open the sliding door, and so on. The resident joined us fairly soon, and I explained to her what had already happened. She examined Giselle and asked how I felt about a c-section. I told her that I was expecting it. "This is what I get for breaking my two-strikes rule," I told her.

The mid-size operating room was being used for surgery on a small pig. Giselle was clearly too wide for the smaller operating room, so they wheeled her into the large operating room, which has a cow-sized table. Definitely overkill, but it worked. The senior vet student assigned to Giselle had never met a goat before and was full of questions. Giselle was an excellent ambassador for the breed, being very cuddly and agreeable, in spite of her condition.

Between finding people, gathering supplies, getting drugs, shaving Giselle, administering an epidural, it took more than two hours before the first kid was finally delivered, and it was dead. I was watching from an open doorway and thought I'd heard a squeak, but when no one said anything about the baby, I finally asked how it was doing. One of the students looked up at me and shook her head.

"It's dead?" I asked. "Yes, but we're working on the other one now." That was the kid that was engaged in the pelvis, and I heard the vet professor tell someone to push the head and foot out of the pelvis and back into the uterus. A minute or two later, and it was also delivered dead. The professor said it was tough to get the kid out of the pelvis because the head was really jammed in there. As we had all suspected, there was no way it could have been born naturally. It was simply too big.

While everyone had been in awe over the large hoof sticking out earlier, now everyone was talking about what a huge kid had been delivered. The kid blocking the exit was a five-pound buckling. Most Nigerians are in the two or three pound range. Although we have had a five-pound kid born once before, it was to a doe that was 22.5 inches tall, and Giselle was three inches shorter than her! A five-pound kid was simply too big for her to deliver. And the poor little 3.5-pound doeling never had a chance.

Once the kids were delivered, and they assured me there were no more, I decided to go get lunch. It was close to 4:00 in the afternoon by then, and I hadn't eaten since 7:00 that morning. After eating at the local health food co-op, I went back to the University to see how Giselle was doing and was amazed that she had won so many fans already. "She acts just like a princess," said the senior vet student, as she described how Giselle seemed content to sit and let everyone take care of her.

Seeing Giselle's side completely hairless after being shaved for surgery, I couldn't imagine putting her back into a sub-zero barn, so I stopped at Lowe's in Bloomington to buy a vinyl flooring remnant and take it home to put in the barn office. Giselle could stay in there for a few days until the weather hopefully reached more sane temperatures.

And on the drive home alone I kept repeating to myself that my two strikes rule needed to be followed in the future. There would be no excuses for any goat, regardless how much I adore her and want more babies from her. It simply is not worth it.

When I was only ten minutes from home, I received a text message from Mike asking, "Where are you?"

And that is when the excitement really started. I'll share Vera's birth story with you on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Death and birth and beating death

As I mentioned previously, our daughter Kat came home for the weekend of February 8 because we had six goats due to kid. However, between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, only one of them actually gave birth.

Kat had to leave Sunday afternoon to get back to the university because she's a copy editor at the newspaper there, and she works Sunday nights. Before she left around 3:00, she went out to the kidding barn for a final check of the does. She said that Nina would probably be giving birth soon. And I thought, of course she will! She'll probably give birth as soon as Kat's car disappears down the road. Nina was only slightly slower than that.

As I was sitting in the barn with Nina pushing, I saw something peeking out, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. I grabbed it with my thumb and forefinger and quickly concluded that it was a tail. Okay, that's why she isn't making faster progress. But Nina is a pretty big doe, and I wasn't really worried about her being able to give birth to a butt-first breech. Her mother had done it plenty of times, and Nina is bigger than her mom was. After another half dozen pushes, however, and almost zero progress, I started to look more carefully at what was happening, and I touched what I thought was a tail. This time, however, I realized it was much thinner than a tail. In fact, it was paper thin.

"It's an ear! Are you kidding me? An ear?" I was speaking quite loudly and incredulously. "Of course, you just had to wait until Kat was gone to do this, didn't you?"

In our 12 years, we've only had one ear-first presentation before, and it was a kid that had been dead for awhile already and had a very swollen head. Luckily it was a rather small kid, so even with an out-of-proportion head, it still came out without much difficulty on the mom's part. The books say that a kid can't be born like that, so you're supposed to push the head back into the doe enough so that you can pull the nose forward. If you've ever tried to push against a doe that's pushing, you know that is much easier said than done!

Before you do any pushing or pulling with a kid in the middle of a birth, however, you need to know exactly what you are dealing with, so I started sweeping my finger around the kid's head to try and figure out where the nose was. As I was trying to find the nose, Nina kept pushing, and I said, "Can you really do that?" I looked at the newborn kids with Sadie in the next pen, trying to compare the circumference of their butts and the tops of their heads, knowing that Nina would have no problem with a breech. And as I was thinking, Nina kept pushing. "Oh, my goodness! You are going to do this, aren't you?"

The head came out and then the rest of the body ... and then the rest of the body ... and it just kept coming! The kid was huge. And it was also very dead. There was no hint of a heart beat. At first, I put the kid behind me, but then realized that Nina was rather upset, knowing that there should be a kid somewhere. She was talking the way that does speak to their babies in soft, short little bleats and sniffing the straw everywhere. I reached behind me and moved the kid to in front of her so she could lick it and say hello and good-bye.

A couple short minutes later, she gave birth to a second kid. He was obviously very alive, as he was immediately shaking his head and kicking. I moved away the dead kid and put the live one in front of her as I continued toweling him off. Our temperature was in the single digits, and it was rapidly falling to another predicted low of below zero overnight.

When the third kid was born, it looked dead, and I immediately started to feel a horrible panic. What is going on here? Does Nina have toxoplasmosis? No, the second kid is perfectly healthy. As a multitude of thoughts were rushing through my mind, I was also searching for a heartbeat while wiping off the kid's nose. When I realized it was alive, I immediately jumped up and did something that I didn't think I'd ever do. I started slinging and swinging the kid.

I'd read about it, and I'd even seen it demonstrated at the American Dairy Goat Association conference a few years ago, but I never thought I'd actually do it because I have a bulb syringe that does a great job of getting mucous out of a kid's airway. However, I didn't have a bulb syringe with me at that very moment, so I held the kid's head in my right hand, and held its body against my right arm with my left hand, and as carefully and forcefully as I could, I repeatedly slung the kid's head down to expel the mucous in its airway. Still, I heard no sneezing or squeaking to indicate that the kid was breathing.

Then my husband came walking through the kidding barn in the midst of doing evening chores. "Get the snot sucker for me," I yelled across the barn. "It's in the office in the green and white plastic box on the desk." Half a minute later he was back, and I was able to suction the kid's nose and throat. As the slurpy sound of the bulb syringe indicated it was sucking up mucous, it was obvious why I had been hearing so much gurgling as the little guy tried to breathe. And then I heard the most beautiful sound that anyone can ever hear at a birth -- that sound that we take too much for granted -- the first squeak that a kid makes when he's filled his lungs with air and discovers that he has vocal chords!

"Hallelujah!" I screamed. "Yes! That's it! You can do it!" I was smiling and crying and laughing while continuing to towel him off. Less than a minute later, he lifted his head. Although it imperfectly wobbled from side to side, he was obviously alive and progressing very rapidly for one who had such a precarious entrance into the world.

I turned on the blow dryer and rubbed his body under the warm air, trying to speed up the drying process so that he wouldn't get chilled. Eventually both little bucks were dry, and they started nursing.

As I write this, the bucklings have passed their one week birthday and are growing like little weeds. Even though the first few minutes after birth are the most uncertain, I still worried about the little guy for the first few days because it felt like I had cheated death, and as the saying goes, cheaters never win.  Had I simply prolonged the inevitable? There is nothing in homesteading that is more humbling than death. It often means we must admit we are powerless. But every now and then we face the possibility of death and realize it is not a certainty. On those rare occasions when we are able to beat death, it gives us the strength and the courage to try again next time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scarlet's quadruplets

Thursday, February 6 proved to be quite an exciting day as I learned that my biopsy for thyroid cancer was negative. Feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, I ran errands that I had put off for weeks, and getting home took me far longer than it should have. I had left for the doctor's office before 7:00 that morning and didn't get home until almost 3:00. Having awakened at 4:30 a.m., then driving three hours round trip to the doctor and having run quite a few errands, I was really tired by the time I got home and was ready for a nap. As I was about to lay down, I remembered that Scarlet was due soon, so I turned on the video monitor.

I don't think my eyes were closed for more than about thirty seconds when I heard that familiar sound of a goat that's in labor. No, that's impossible, I thought. What are the odds that she would go into labor at just this very moment? And then I heard it again ... maaaaaa-aa-aa-a-a! "Really? Really, Scarlet?" I said as I threw off the covers and got out of bed.

No one else was home, so there was no one who could go check to see if Scarlet was really in labor. I grabbed an armful of clean towels, put on my insulated overalls, coat, scarf, hat, and gloves, and headed outside. I glanced at the thermometer, and it was -1, which meant I really needed to be there when the kids were born or we could have frozen goatcicles in short order.

It's all a bit of blur what happened after I got to the barn. Scarlet gave birth to two kids fairly quickly. I was toweling them off and sticking them under the blow dryer as fast as one person could possibly be expected to dry kids. I couldn't help but notice that Scarlet still looked very pregnant. Although she only had twins last year, she was one of quads herself, so three or four kids could certainly be a possibility. At the moment, however, I was simply thankful that she had not given birth to another kid.

Then she let out a scream and ... plop! ... kid number three was born. A couple minutes later, another scream, and another kid. I grabbed my last dry towel and said, "Okay, Scarlet, you better be done!" I looked at her back end and saw about a foot of membranes hanging out, which usually means the placenta will be next.

It took me about an hour to get all four of them dry, and by then it was evening chore time, which was entirely my job that night because no one else would be coming home anytime soon. Because I was racing against the sun to get all of the outside animals fed, I couldn't spend any time helping the kids get started with nursing and just hoped that most of them would figure it out by the time I came back.

About an hour later, the three larger kids had started nursing, but the smallest kid had not. He also was not at all happy about my attempts to help him nurse. I milked Scarlet and gave him a little colostrum in a bottle then left them for a couple more hours while I went inside for dinner. I went back outside close to 9:00, which was almost six hours after the kids had been born, and the smallest kid still had not started nursing yet. I put my finger in his mouth to discover that he was quite chilled and had no sucking reflex, so I brought him into the house.

I put him on a heating pad in my lap and held him until he was warm and his sucking reflex returned. He took a bottle with his mom's colostrum, and although he seemed to be in good shape, I decided to keep him inside for the night because it was so cold (already several degrees below zero and falling), and he was only 2 pounds, 2 ounces. Friday morning, I took him back to the barn, where he and his mother were happily reunited, and he immediately started nursing like a pro.

Because we had six kids due over the weekend, our daughter Katherine came home from the University of Illinois on Friday afternoon when she was done with classes. When she went out to the barn on Saturday morning to check on the goats, she discovered that the little buckling was again chilled and lethargic, so she brought him into the house. We were back to square one, as the little guy had no sucking reflex and wouldn't swallow the milk if I put a bottle in his mouth. So, he went back on my lap with the heating pad to get warmed up, and I realized he was just too small to be able to survive sub-zero temperatures, so he would have to stay inside until he got bigger or the weather improved.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sadie's birth

by Alison Jones 
PR intern

When I heard that Deborah’s goats were giving birth I was very excited. When she told me that she wanted me to take video or photos of a goat giving birth I was quite nervous. Deborah told me she would call me when one of the goats was in labor last weekend and so I waited. When she finally called to say Sadie was in labor, I packed up my camera and headed to her farm.

I am from a small town in Illinois about 30 minutes away from Saint Louis, Missouri. I spent a lot of my time there doing various activities with my church. So I spent a lot of time in the city. I have been on farms before and have seen farm animals. I live in an area where corn fields are abundant, but I have never seen a goat give birth before. Actually, the last time I had seen a birth was when I was in kindergarten and saw a guinea pig give birth.

When I got to Antiquity Oaks there was a lot of snow on the ground. I was dressed warmly because I knew these things could take time. I met Deborah’s daughter Kat and her adorable dog and we talked.  Kat was home for the weekend from the University of Illinois. Everyone was able to hear the goats in the house because they had a camera with a microphone in the “kidding” barn. This provided a live feed to a TV that is in Deborah’s bedroom.

After a few minutes Kat and I went out to the kidding barn where I saw Sadie, Vera, and Giselle. They were so pretty but looked very pregnant. As Kat and I talked, she felt each one of the goats to make sure that their tail ligaments were still hard. Sadie's were soft which meant she was ready to go anytime now. Kat and I stood there talking and Sadie gave me the stink eye. Kat and I then moved to a different area to talk and Sadie sat down and relaxed.

We went back into the house and relaxed for a bit. We were sitting in the living room when all of a sudden, Kat’s dog goes over to a laundry basket and I look in and I see a baby goat! I wanted to cuddle with him. He looked so soft and so cute. He was very tiny, and Deborah said when she first saw him he looked smaller than a tub of butter. So I decided I was going to call this little guy Butter. I stuck my hand in the basket and noticed that Butter wanted to suck on my thumb and so I mentioned it to Kat and she said that he was probably hungry. So she went to get him a bottle. He was in the house because he was so small, he was having trouble maintaining his body temperature outside in the sub-zero weather.

As Kat went to get Butter a bottle I heard a loud scream. It sounded like someone was in extreme pain. Kat turned around, grabbed her coat, and ran out the door towards the kidding barn. Deborah came downstairs and told me to grab my camera and follow Kat. So off to the barn I ran while Deborah stayed behind to give the baby his bottle.

Once I got there I found Kat with a bunch of towels next to Sadie. I was nervous and excited. Kat told me I could come into the stall so I did. I bent down next to her and watched, and Sadie pushed and suddenly a giant squishy ball came out. Kat grabbed it and it popped, and a baby goat came out. It was so cute. I was amazed. As a Christian I had a moment of how wonderful life truly is and how neat creation is.

I then grabbed my camera and began taking photos as Kat began drying off the first baby goat. Not too long after the first goat came out, a second one was born. A third goat and a fourth goat came quickly too. The first two goats were girls and the second two goats were boys. I noticed that the first three goats got up and were walking around but the fourth goat was just lying there. It looked like it was sick. Kat noticed it too and she picked it up and rubbed its body to see if that would help. It didn’t. I felt so sorry for the poor goat. Kat then told me to put down my camera and asked if I would be okay to dry off the other three goats while she took the fourth goat to Deborah. I said I could try.

Kat then ran with the little goat in her hands and I was left there alone with three baby goats and a mama goat. I looked over at them and I was like, okay here I go! I went to pick one of them up when all of the sudden all three baby goats headed towards me. I stared at them for a moment and decided to just grab one. When I did, all three of them jumped on me and I fell over and laughed and screamed, “Attack of the goats!"

Kat came back and we got out a blow dryer to make sure all of the baby goats were warm. After the kids were dry Kat and I made sure that they nursed. They did really well!

Needless to say getting to see Sadie give birth was an amazing moment. I feel as though I have seen a glimpse of Deborah's day to day life. Not only that but to see something give birth is almost like getting to see hope. It is a beautiful thing to see a mother bond with her child and to see Sadie bond with her kids right after they were born was precious. Not only that but I went up to Deborah’s room and found Deborah cuddled up with Butter the baby goat and a book. It was adorable!

I got to see the passion that Deborah has for animals and the hard word that her husband puts in at Antiquity Oaks and how it pays off. It was such a blessing to be able to be at Antiquity Oaks at this time. Thank you Deborah Niemann for this experience! This has been one of the coolest internships ever!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Health challenges

The last time I mentioned my health, I had an appointment on February 11 for a biopsy of my thyroid nodule, but things have changed a lot in the last few weeks. Within the week after that January 13 doctor appointment, it felt like the nodule was growing bigger. It was certainly becoming more uncomfortable and problematic. My voice was getting more hoarse. My cough became more frequent. Swallowing was becoming more challenging. Talking was becoming difficult.

I called the doctor's office on Monday, a week after that appointment, desperately seeking some type of comfort -- a biopsy sooner than February 11 or even surgery to remove the nodule. As it turned out, the doctor was out of town for the week, and the nurse made the mistake of telling me that I wasn't going through anything that any other thyroid patient doesn't go through. I knew for a fact that she was dead wrong about that. I've recently had lots of people share their thyroid stories with me, and the vast majority never have nodules that make them miserable. I also knew that I had all of the symptoms for thyroid cancer.

I complained on Facebook, and amazingly enough, a friend saw my rant while sitting in her endocrinologist's office. She showed it to him during her appointment, and he said that there was no reason I needed to wait so long for a biopsy appointment. He does them every week. So, I made an appointment to see him on January 21, but we had a snow storm overnight, and I got stuck in the snow right outside my driveway because the plows hadn't been by our house yet. I rescheduled for Thursday the 23rd and learned that the nodule had grown from 1.9 to 2.15 cm in the past month, which did not surprise me at all. He also noted that the stabbing pain was actually coming from a 0.5 cm nodule on the other side of my thyroid, but it looked like a normal cyst and did not need to be biopsied. I had the biopsy one week later on the 30th. I just got results this past Thursday and learned that the larger nodule was benign. It's a pretty exciting day when you hear that word -- benign -- as it relates to your body, especially when you have every single symptom of cancer.

And as it turns out, I am grateful that my original doctor's office botched the human relations part of their job so badly because it meant that I got to see an endocrinologist, which is the type of doctor I should have been referred to as soon as the nodules were discovered in 2008. I had been referred to a surgeon. The logic of the first doctor was that if I had a nodule, I needed surgery if it's cancer. The really frustrating thing is that I was in his office repeatedly over the last few months with back pain that was not helped by muscle relaxers or physical therapy. I do remember him asking me if I had any problems with hair loss or dry skin, and apparently when I said no, he assumed my thyroid was perfectly healthy. Wrong!

The endocrinologist ran a full thyroid panel, and I learned that I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. Basically my immune system is attacking my thyroid. Now, in spite of the constant pain and feeling of being choked, I remind myself that my nodule is a blessing. It's what got me to the endocrinologist in a timely manner so that I could learn about my Hashimoto's. So many people do not get diagnosed until they are clinically hypothyroid and very sick. Although I am not clinically hypothyroid yet -- meaning my thyroid hormone levels are actually decent -- I am having symptoms of thyroid problems, such as unexplained body pain.

Intolerance to cold is another symptom of Hashimoto's, and if someone had asked me a month ago if I had that problem, I would have said no because we keep our house at 65 to 68 degrees, and that feels fine to me. However, whenever I have to do chores outside in this freezing weather, I wind up with muscle spasms in my back that wake me up at night and sometimes keep me awake for hours. After vacationing in Spain and the Canary Islands for two weeks a month ago, and never being awakened by a muscle spasm at night, I knew that the weather was playing a role in my pain at home, but I didn't know why. Now I do.

Unfortunately, the endocrinologist that diagnosed the Hashimoto's said that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help myself. I asked about food sensitivities, and he said quickly, "This is nothing you did. It's all in your genes. You inherited this from your parents." Although I know there is a strong genetic link with thyroid issues, there are definitely things that I can do to help myself, and I've been giving myself a crash course is thyroid health and Hashimoto's over the past two weeks. Many people are under the impression that Hashimoto's is synonymous with hypothyroidism, and although a person will eventually wind up hypothyroid after many years with Hashimoto's because it will eventually destroy the thyroid, it is possible to slow down, stop, or even reverse its progression. It's an autoimmune disease, but it hasn't destroyed my thyroid yet.

I've already changed my diet because many people with Hashimoto's find they do better on a gluten-free diet, and I figure I have nothing to lose by trying it. I've also started taking some supplements that are supposed to help, and I've found a doctor who believes that there are lifestyle changes that can improve the health of those with Hashimoto's. Unfortunately it will be a couple of weeks before I can see him.

What about the nodule? The options for getting rid of a non-cancerous nodule seem to be non-existent. There is hormonal treatment, which various sources describe as experimental, controversial, and successful less than half the time. The endocrinologist asked if I'd like to try it without telling me about any of the controversy about it. He also didn't even tell me how long it took (4-6 months) until I asked. I'm really not willing to try something that has never been proven to work and has been shown to have a nasty list of side effects. I'm already sick enough.

Although a couple of people have told me they've had nodules removed, I've not been able to find much written about that option, and it's never been mentioned to me by a medical professional. I haven't yet canceled my appointment with the surgeon on February 17, so might still go see him and get his opinion on the whole situation.

Because the size of the nodule seems to vary from hour to hour, and the doctor said, "it's just inflammation," I'm convinced there is something that is making it get larger and shrink throughout the day. Unfortunately I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what it is!

Other than the fact that I have constant pressure on my throat from the nodule, I am actually feeling a little better. The coughing has decreased, and the hoarseness is coming and going, rather than being constant. A couple of weeks ago I sounded like I had bronchitis all the time, and I canceled a sold-out cheese class at a college because I was afraid that the students would not want a class taught by a coughing, raspy instructor even if I was not contagious. I also figured I'd be completely hoarse before the three-hour class was over because I was having a hard time talking all the way through a one-hour Skype meeting.

About three weeks ago, I also started to have problems with severe reflux, which I didn't even recognize initially. I haven't had heartburn in more than 20 years -- not since I was pregnant! I mentioned my symptoms on a thyroid group online, and a woman said that it sounded like GERD. After searching for GERD online, I realized I had every single symptom mentioned by the Mayo Clinic website, some of which overlapped with the symptoms for thyroid cancer, such as a cough and hoarseness. As much as I love wheat -- and remember, I teach bread making classes -- eliminating gluten from my diet may be helping with that, as those symptoms are improving.

To deal with my intolerance to the cold, Mike has been doing all of the outside chores whenever he is home, and I've learned that if I get my body into a tub of hot water after being outside, it decreases the possibility of being awakened by muscle spasms during the night. I told him that if we didn't have goats due to kid, I'd be heading south to stay with our daughter in Dallas for awhile. Depending upon how well I get my condition under control, I might be scheduling much later kiddings next year so that I can leave Illinois if I can't handle the cold weather.

In the meantime, I am stuck here! We had six goats due this weekend, and as I write this, Scarlet and Sadie have already kidded, so I'll be telling you their birth stories in the next few days. And between the time that I started this post and the time that I finished it, Nina gave birth to triplets.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kidding at 17 below zero

For days the weather prediction for Sunday night was a low of -13 Fahrenheit, but then on Saturday, they were suddenly saying -3, which was certainly music to my ears because Agnes had not kidded yet. In jest, I posted the following status on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page on Sunday morning:

Dear Sweet Wonderful Agnes (you know, you've always been my favorite) -- PLEASE give birth this afternoon at 2 p.m. when the high temp will hit 17 degrees. If you can't manage to give birth by sundown, then PLEASE hold on to those kids until tomorrow afternoon when the high will again be 17. Do NOT under any circumstances give birth in the middle of the night when the temperature is supposed to be 3 below zero! Your cooperation in this matter will be SO much appreciated! Hugs!!!

A couple of people responded that I had just guaranteed a middle-of-the-night kidding. And they were right. We have a video monitor over the kidding pens, so we can watch and hear what's happening in the kidding barn from the warmth and comfort of our bed in the house. At 2:59 a.m. I was awakened by that familiar scream of a goat giving birth. And this is Agnes, a Sherri granddaughter. If you've been around this blog for very long, you know that Sherri and her daughters and granddaughters don't make a sound until the kid is actually coming out, and they give birth very fast.

Mike and I jumped out of bed and pulled on multiple layers of clothes as quickly as we could. I actually keep all of my layers together -- turtleneck inside the sweatshirt and long underwear inside the sweatpants -- laid out in just the right position, right in front of the toilet, so that I jump out of bed and go sit on the toilet as I'm changing clothes. Multi-tasking! Every minute counts when you have a three-pound, soaking wet kid in sub-zero temperatures.

Mike made it to the barn first and began toweling off the little doeling that had already been born. Only a moment after I arrived, the second kid came flying into this world. I turned on the blow dryer and spent the next hour and a half blow drying the two little doelings. After coming inside, Mike checked, and they said the temperature was -17, which would explain why it took so long to dry the kids! We've had births in the single digits below zero before, and it only took about an hour to blow dry the kids, but the colder it is, the harder it is to dry them. I had to hold the blow dryer within a couple inches of the kids, and the only part that was being dried was the exact spot that I had targeted at any moment. Every time I switched kids, it was quite obvious where all the little cold, crunchy, frozen bits were.

Although one of the kids was pretty quick to start nursing, the other one seemed clueless. As we were finishing up the drying, and she still had not tried to nurse, I put my finger in her mouth to discover that it was surprisingly cool, and the kid had almost no sucking reflex. I asked Mike to go inside and get a bucket to milk Agnes and then a bottle for the kid. I wrapped the little doeling in the heating pad in my lap until Mike returned with the bucket and bottle. Of course, as soon as the colostrum hit the bucket in that temperature, it was cold, so he had to get a second bucket with hot water in it to warm up the colostrum. Finally I was able to get some warm colostrum in the little doe, and within five minutes, she jumped out of my lap, ran up to mom and started looking for the teat!

Mission accomplished! It was past 5 a.m. when we finally got back into the house. I was frozen and sore, so I got my own heating pad and laid on it for the next two hours, moving it from my feet to my back and neck and everywhere in between. Mike got half an hour of sleep, and then at 7:00, he had to get up to do chores before going to work at the college where he teaches. I felt bad for not helping, but my health issues are limiting what I can do outside. I'll explain more of that in my next post. In fact, I have a doctor's appointment today where I'll learn more.
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