Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cicada's anticlimactic kidding

In past years, a goat has given birth twice when I was speaking at the InHome homeschooling conference in the Chicago suburbs. So, I totally expected Cicada to follow suit, because the conference was on day 150 of her pregnancy. But just when I start to think I have all the answers, things go a little differently.

At 6:30 Saturday morning, I was still snuggly in bed and ignoring the bleating of the goats over the baby monitor, because they always talk to Katherine when she goes out there to milk and do chores. Then I heard Katherine scream over the baby monitor, "She's pushing!" I started to get up, then stopped and said to Mike, "She can handle it." I really wanted to sleep another hour before heading out to the conference.

There was more bleating, Cicada screaming, and Katherine screaming. Mike asked, "Did she say it's stuck?" I wasn't sure. The words were fuzzy, but Katherine's tone was definitely frustrated. I was not going to be getting another hour of sleep.

By the time I got outside, Katherine was drying off the kid, and Cicada looked happy. Katherine was wondering what took us so long. Apparently the kid was stuck. The front legs were coming out farther and farther, but the nose was not budging. When Katherine started to pull on the kid's legs to help, she pulled Cicada across the straw, but the kid still didn't budge. Within a minute or so, she did get the kid out. It was pretty big, and in any year prior to this year, I would have said huge, but 4.5 pounds isn't much compared to the 5+pounders that we'd had in the last month.

And that was it. A single buckling -- our only single kid all year -- and it came from a second freshener who had triplets last year. Apparently Sherri and Cicada didn't get any of the water (or whatever) that was causing all of the multiple births with the rest of the goats.

Hopefully this is the end of the 2011 kidding season. There is the possibility that Eleanor is pregnant, because she invited herself into her half-brother's pen a couple months ago. I've marked the calendar for May 25, so we'll see if she starts to develop an udder. But for now, I'm going to assume that we're done. I'll write up a recap within a day or two in case you lost track of everything.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sherri's twins

With the 2011 kidding season progressing so oddly, one could say that I started to get a bit paranoid. Before Katherine left for school on Wednesday, she told me that Sherri's tail ligaments were gone, so I figured she would be going into labor soon. When I hadn't heard anything by 10:30, I decided to head out to the barn and check on her. Well, it was obvious she was in labor, although she was not making a sound.

Although Sherri is eight years old, I have never actually seen her in labor. If it were almost any other goat, I would not have been worried, but from my perspective, Sherri's labors have always been measured in negative numbers. How is that possible? Well, normally I'm in the house and hear a scream over the monitor. I go running to the barn to find Sherri licking her first kid and pushing out the second one. But nothing went normally this year, and maybe if I weren't so worried, I would have been happy to stay in the house until I heard Sherri scream. But, no, I had to go out there to check on her. And I saw her pushing -- quietly -- for an hour.

I tried to remain calm and convince myself that if something were wrong, she would not be quiet. I flipped through a seed catalog while sitting in the straw and watching her. Then I heard that familiar scream. When I looked at her back end, there was a hoof and a nose. "So, this is how you do it, eh, Sherri?" A few more pushes, and the kid was born. It was a huge buck kid -- and I really mean huge.

A few minutes later, and another kid was born. Then Sherri stood up, acting like she was done. But she couldn't be done, could she? She has always had three or four kids every year, ever since she was a yearling. In this crazy year of multiple births, could she really only have two kids?

Yes, apparently she could. After I weighed them, I realized that the two of them weighed as much as three or four normal kids. One was 4.7 pounds, and the other was 5.5 pounds!

This was the second time I've bred her to Draco, and it is the second time she had all bucks. Three people had reserved does out of her, so I had some emails to write.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Annie's big surprise

Sunday night, I had a visitor who was looking at Scandal's kids, but when she saw Annie, she thought she might like a kid out of her. When Annie turned her back to us, there was a thin string of mucous hanging down. The emphasis here is on the word "thin" because when I see a thick gooey string of mucous, it usually means kids within a couple hours.

Annie's doeling was born first.
Nearly 24 hours later, Annie was in hard labor. She quickly gave birth to three kids -- a doe first, followed by two bucks. Katherine came into the barn about ten minutes later, and we were chatting when Annie plopped down and pushed a little. We figured it was the placenta. But then she stood up and seemed perfectly happy again. About twenty minutes later, she pawed at the ground, then laid down without paying attention to where her babies were standing or lying, and Katherine grabbed the little doeling just as Annie was about to lay on her. Then Annie let out a yell, and we briefly considered the possibility of a fourth kid, but then a bubble appeared, and we chuckled about how she was trying to fool us just like Scandal had done a few days earlier. A moment later, Annie screamed again, and as another bubble started to emerge, I saw something black inside it.

"Is that a kid?"

I grabbed a towel as it came sliding out. It was indeed another kid -- another buck!

I've come to the conclusion that nothing should surprise me this kidding season. Nine years of raising goats really means nothing, because in the great realm of possibilities, anything is possible.

In case you've lost count, this is our sixth set of quadruplets this year. On average, we have one set of quads a year. And we had our first set of quints this year. This is more than a little crazy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bridget's calf

Thursday, I was headed out to the barn, and I happened to look down the hill into the pasture. Bridget the Irish dexter heifer had her back arched, her tail extended a bit, and it looked like there was something sticking out from under her tail. I went back into the house and told Mike that it looked like Bridget might be ready to have her calf.

Unlike goats, which give birth very quickly after you see any part of a kid, cows take forever. At least it feels like forever when you're accustomed to goats giving birth. When Mike and I got to the bottom of the hill, we could see a hoof sticking out, but we had no idea if she had just started or if she had already been at this for awhile.

Not wanting to miss anything, Mike and I followed her around for an hour and fifteen minutes. Still seeing nothing but a hoof, Mike decided to go across the pasture and work on the fence. It was getting close to evening chore time, so I went up to the barn to start chores. I came back fifteen minutes later, and I could see a nose. Progress! Now, with each push, I could see a little more of the nose, and finally, eyes, ears, and a whole head!

When Bridget had the calf pushed out to its chest, the calf spewed a couple cups of liquid from its nose and mouth. I know all animals have fluid in their airway when they're born, but it's shocking to see so much of it spew from a baby. The only reason you don't see the same thing with goats is because their lungs are smaller than a thimble, compared to a calf, whose lungs are the size of a small loaf of bread. A moment later, more liquid spewed from the calf's nose and mouth, and Bridget stood up with the calf dangling from her back end. It all looked so violent, I had to keep reminding myself that it was okay. Hanging him upside down like that meant that all that fluid could drain out of his airway.

And then plop! One more push, and he fell to the ground. Bridget immediately turned around and started to clean him up. After learning that we had yet another bull calf, Mike and I went off to do chores while Bridget finished cleaning him up. Then Mike told me it was supposed to rain in an hour or two. Bridget had given birth as far from the shelter as possible, and there was no way that the newborn calf could walk that far, even if Bridget went, which she wouldn't because she doesn't care about rain. I told Mike I would never get any sleep that night unless I knew the calf was safe and dry in the barn.

So, we went for the alfalfa cubes again. Mike picked up the calf, and Bridget followed us, munching on alfalfa cubes and keeping a watchful eye on Mike and her calf.

I think this calf is also polled. At least I don't feel any horn buds yet, so odds are good. He is also very sweet and friendly, always coming up to me in the barn and rubbing against me. Unfortunately, it is not a slam dunk that these little guys will be sold as bulls, even though polled bulls are in demand. A few years ago, a genetic condition called PHA in was discovered in Irish dexters. I made a point of buying a PHA-negative bull, and if these boys are PHA positive, they should become Stew and Chuck. I'm going to get the cows tested, so I'll know in the future if I have anything to worry about, and I'll also get the two boys tested as soon as possible, so the mystery will be over. PHA is a lethal gene, so if a calf gets the gene from both parents, it will abort at some point in pregnancy or be stillborn. Both of the calves are so friendly, they'd make lovely herdsires but the easiest way to overcome this condition is to eliminate the carriers in the breed, and because bulls can have so many calves compared to cows, the standards are pretty tough for them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Winter gardening success

In previous years, I would have only been starting seeds in my basement in March, but this year, I'm already weeding, watering, and harvesting!

Back in December, I first told you about our winter garden. We continued to enjoy fresh salad for a few more weeks after I wrote that post, but towards the end of December, I realized that I had not planted enough to last us all winter. However, because I wanted to know how this worked, I decided that I should leave everything in the garden rather than continuing to harvest. And I am excited to report that it worked great! The low tunnels even survived the Blizzard of 2011.

Earlier this week, I opened up the low tunnels to see how everything had survived. Salads greens were thriving.

But the most exciting thing was that the cole crops, which were only tiny transplants in September, were now quite large, and there was actually broccoli ready to harvest! My favorite thing about winter gardening is that there no pests! I've tried putting cole crops in the garden in spring and in fall, and the bugs just eats the poor things until the outer leaves look like lace. The broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages are absolutely pristine.

We are already making plans for next winter's low tunnels. We will definitely have more, but rather than mixing up lettuces and cole crops in each tunnel, I will plant each tunnel based upon when the crop will be harvested. This year, I mixed up three of the low tunnels, although I did plant the northernmost tunnel with cole crops and lettuce seeds that I didn't plan to harvest until now, so I never opened that one all winter. The cole crops in that one are huge compared to the cole crops in the tunnels from which I harvested through December. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it also makes it easier to harvest from the beds during the winter if I don't have to work around the cole crops. I am also hoping that we can put up a high tunnel so that I won't be on my hands and knees in the snow harvesting in the middle of winter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Maple syrup season winding down

We put syrup in canning jars for ourselves,
but we put it in cute little jugs for gifts to relatives.
For the past four weeks, our house has been in a bit of disarray. On days when the temperatures get above freezing, the stove has been covered with pots of boiling maple sap. There is a sheet hanging in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room that reminds me daily that we should have put a pocket door in there when we built the house. Although the window is usually wide open, and the door is cracked in the kitchen, it is usually the hottest room in the house -- and the most humid -- hence the sheet in the doorway. I didn't even try making maple syrup until a year ago because I had heard that it would steam up your house and could even cause wallpaper to come unglued and fall down. We haven't lost any wallpaper, but if I ever decide I want to get rid of any, I know how to do it now. It is not an exaggeration to say that it creates a lot of humidity. It boils down from about 35 to 45 quarts of sap to a single quart of syrup. Although some books say it takes less sap, this is how much sap we have to boil down to get a quart of syrup. So, for every quart of syrup we make, we put nine or ten gallons of water into the air.

Last year, the sap didn't start to run until early March. This year, it started in mid-February, only about a week after the biggest blizzard in decades. The sap runs when the temperatures start to go above freezing during the day, while still dipping below freezing overnight. Sap season has lasted about twice as long as last year, and we have quite a bit more syrup -- ten and a half quarts last year, and more than four gallons this year. The sap is barely dripping today, and based on the forecast, I think our maple syrup days are gone until 2012.

It's a bittersweet good-bye though. Of course, I would love to get more maple syrup, but at the same time, it will be nice to have full use of the kitchen again. And I won't miss that sheet in the doorway. The seasonality of maple sugaring is what makes it tolerable. I wouldn't want to do this every day, but for a few weeks every spring, a bit of inconvenience seems a small price to pay for the most delicious sweetener on the homestead.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Scandal's quadruple surprise!

Saturday morning dawned cloudy and cold. When I checked on Scandal, I knew she would kid before too long because I couldn't find her tail ligaments, and her udder looked full. I put her into a clean kidding pen and came back into the house. Each time I checked on her, she was quiet and calm. The thing you have to know about Scandal, however, is that she definitely falls into the category of "easy kidders."

The first year she gave birth here, it was quite the experience. It was our third kidding season, and we knew just enough to be dangerous. Katherine and I realized she was in labor, but it was quite early in the morning. I confidently said, "Well, Katherine, there's no reason for both of us to be out here. You go have breakfast. She's obviously not going to do anything very soon." So, Katherine went back into the house, and I sat down with Scandal -- without any towels or anything, because obviously she was not going to kid anytime soon, right?

She was making a few little "maa, maa" sounds, but they certainly did not sound serious. About ten minutes after Katherine had gone inside, Scandal stood in front of me, looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, "maa-aaa" a bit more seriously than previously. "That sounds like you might have actually made some progress," I said knowingly, thinking that perhaps I would see a bit of mucous when I crawled around to look at her back end. Did I see a bit of mucous? Yep -- and a whole head hanging out! Then she proceeded to quickly birth four kids, while I attempted to clean off their noses with my bare hands and no towels. That was a great lesson learned!

So, back to last Saturday -- I was on the computer when I heard several short bleats that sounded like Scandal was giving birth. I ran upstairs to get the towels out of the dryer, because Jonathan had used all seven of our goat towels to clean off Anne's kids the day before. By the time I reached the barn, Scandal had already cleaned off the first kid -- a doeling. Within a couple minutes, she gave birth to the second one -- a tiny breech doe. Then she started screaming in a different voice with her ears back. Katherine and I looked at each other. We agreed it was not good. Katherine looked under Scandal's tail and said, "I see an ear." Definitely not good! Kids are supposed to come out nose first when the head is presenting. If the top of the head is presenting, the kid is much wider and more difficult to push out. Thinking that we might have to push the kid back in and grab the nose, I jumped up to get gloves. Then Katherine said, "Oh! Got it!"

In spite of the larger circumference of the kid, Scandal had pushed it out all by herself -- and it was another doe! As we dried it off, Scandal didn't take much of a break at all as she proceeded to push out a fourth kid -- another doe! Four does! And then Scandal continued pushing. Katherine was sitting near Scandal's back end and said, "It's another bubble."

Is she having five?
"What? She can't be having quints! No one has two sets of quints in a single year!" And then Scandal pushed out three bubbles the size of oranges. No, it wasn't quints. It was just the beginning of the end of her labor -- membranes that were attached to the placenta. It really was not very nice of her to scare me like that. I was practically hyperventilating when I thought she was about to have five. But four does is quite an achievement, so I'm certainly not complaining.

I'll be keeping one of these because Scandal is 8 years old now. In addition to being a finished champion in two different registries, she also has a milk star, and she has the highest butterfat in our herd. Although we have a lot of goats that can produce more milk, Scandal can produce as many pounds of butterfat in two or three less months than goats who can produce fifty percent more fluid milk. And because we make cheese, we love the high butterfat.

None of the other goats are due until this weekend, but we are still waiting on Bridget the cow. Mike and the two-legged kids are on spring break this week, which means we will be getting a lot done, so you will get to hear about more than just goats this week. We have some amazing temperatures forecast in a few days, so hopefully we can get started in the garden.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Molly's calf

At sundown Friday, Mike came into the barn to tell Katherine and I that Molly had given birth in the far pasture. Of course, we had to go running out there to see what was up. Mike was alerted to the whole situation by the fact that Molly was mooing non-stop. When we got out there, a little calf was wobbling around and Molly was running around and around him mooing. The neighbor's dogs, which are housed in a small pen next to our property line, were barking and howling continuously, which is probably what was freaking her out. She also kept pushing the calf -- probably to a place where she thought he would be safer.

I told Katherine to get a towel and a pan of alfalfa cubes, so we could dry the calf, which was shivering, and then encourage Molly to follow us to the barn. While we waited, I walked up to the calf and felt under its belly to discern whether it was a bull or a heifer. "It's a boy," I told Mike.

When Katherine got back, Molly was very happy to follow us with the alfalfa cubes, and Mike wrapped the towel around the calf and picked it up. When we arrived at the barn, Mike put the calf on the ground and went to open the barn door, and that's when everything got a little crazy. Our guard dog came trotting up to say hi, and Molly charged at him, smacking him with her head. He growled at her, and I yelled at him. He backed off with his tail between his legs, but Molly really went into maternal-protection mode and started pushing and tossing the calf, who went flying into the water trough head first! Katherine lunged towards the calf to pull him out of the trough, and Molly charged at Katherine. Thank goodness she is polled -- meaning she has no horns -- or Katherine would still be in the ICU, because Molly hit her right in the chest.

Mike scooped up the dripping-wet calf and hurried into the barn, while I offered Molly alfalfa cubes by hand to encourage her to follow me. After we put them in the barn together, Molly kept pushing the calf. It is only a ten-foot wide stall, so after a couple of pushes, she was pushing him against the wall. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a calf, which is a lot tougher than a tiny goat kid, and Molly is only trying to protect him from the dogs, which were still barking and howling. I gave her several flakes of alfalfa, hoping that would take her mind off the calf. It worked -- somewhat. As we continued doing chores, we kept hearing banging sounds coming from the stall, but every time we looked in there, the calf seemed to be fine.

Saturday morning he was running around, and Molly had calmed down considerably. Today, the little calf was coming up to us when we walked in the stall, and Molly let Katherine handle her udder. We'll start milking her in a few days. We don't have a name for the calf yet. There is a 75 percent chance he is polled, because both of his parents are polled, and a lot of people would probably love to have a red polled bull -- and after hearing about Molly and Katherine's altercation, you can understand why most people don't want a horned bull. If he's not polled, he might become beef, so a name like Chuck or Stew would be most appropriate.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Anne's triplets

Yesterday, I went to the little city to see the chiropractor and massage therapist. When the chiropractor asked me how I was doing, I said it would just be simpler to tell him what doesn't hurt -- my left wrist and elbow were feeling great. Every other muscle and joint in my body was in pain. He chuckled.

Anne's cream buck
Before leaving home, I told Jonathan that Anne would probably kid before I returned. The baby monitor was on in the house, and he had strict instructions to check on her regularly if he was running maple sap. At 1:10, my cell phone rang.

"The goat finally had a kid, and she's pushing out the second one now."

"Awesome! Well, you better keep catching and drying!"

"Where are you?"

"Bloomington," was all I needed to say. He knew that was at least an hour away, so it was all up to him. He's 20 now, and he's been watching and helping with goat births since he was 12, but he is not an animal person, so if someone else is available, he'd be perfectly happy to let someone else take care of everything when an animal is giving birth.

Anne's white doeling and buckling (and my knees)
Half an hour later, he called back to let us know that she'd given birth to three -- two bucks and a doe -- and the placenta parts were hanging out, so he figured she was done.

Like all the goats in the Sherri line (Anne's dam), these kids are super friendly. When I was taking pictures today, they all kept crawling into my lap and sniffing me. It is so hard not to keep them all. I really love white goats, and the little doe is white. Isn't she cute!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Maple syrup and Vera Wang's triplets

 Vera's doeling
It took us a few days to get out of the woods with Coco's two bucklings, and then I tried to catch my breath and got eight hours of sleep for a couple of nights. In the midst of all the kidding, we were continuing to make maple syrup on the days when the sap ran. And that was somewhat disastrous at times. We boiled down the sap to nothing but black charcoal on three separate occasions. My big canning pot is ruined. The enamel cracked. Mike is still scrubbing the ten-gallon evaporator, but it looks like it will eventually be usable again. And thankfully he did manage to scrub off all the charred remains of sap from the five-quart Dutch oven that we were using. We've been a little distracted, I guess. In spite of our failures, we've managed to make more than two gallons of syrup so far, which is already more than we made last year.

Vera's buckling (l) and doeling (r)
Tuesday, March 8 -- Vera was at day 146 and looking huge. She's a yearling, and I was thinking that she would have at least two, maybe three kids. The thought of her having one absolutely terrified me, because it would have to be a monster-sized kid. When I went out to do chores Tuesday morning, I checked ligaments on Vera, Anne, and Scandal, the three goats that are due this week. Vera's were gone. I got a phone call while I was in the barn, and as I was talking, I was watching her. She was pushing, but not too seriously. Considering what I've seen the last couple weeks, I suppose I've been numbed to "normal" goat labor. After all, she wasn't even making any noise with her pushes.

I continued doing chores, and at one point when I was in the other barn, I sat down on the ground and started playing with baby goats. Jonathan walked past, and we chatted a bit about his role in an upcoming play at the college. He left, and I continued to cuddle Lizzie's little doeling. Then I heard five short, rapid bleats. There was no doubt in my mind that was the sound of a goat seriously pushing. I put down Lizzie's doeling and ran next door.

Vera was standing there, looking at me, and there was a head hanging out of her back end. There was also a kid laying on the ground, still completely covered with an amniotic sac. I ran into the pen and dropped to my knees, pulled the sac off the kid, and started squeegeeing the mucous from the kid's nose. I didn't feel any movement, but I kept trying to wipe off the nose, holding the kid with its head down to help the mucous and fluid drain. Then I remembered that there was a head hanging out of Vera -- still! She wasn't even pushing, so I laid down the first kid and moved around to her back end on my knees, took hold of the kid by its head and front feet and pulled. It easily slid out. I broke the amniotic sac and tried to clean the kid as much as I could, although I didn't even have a towel.

I was pretty sure the other kid was dead. I ran into the office, grabbed the only towel in there, as well as the bulb syringe and the cordless phone. I called Jonathan's cell and told him I needed towels. The second kid was very much alive and shaking its head. I started suctioning the nose of the kid on the ground, but it was still not moving. I felt a heartbeat, but the kid was clearly leaving us. I briefly wished that I had the drugs that they have at the U of I vet hospital -- the ones they used to save little Marshall Dillon -- but then I remembered that the vet said we were lucky that he turned out normal. He said sometimes when a kid is oxygen deprived, they save it, but the kid is brain dead and has to be put down anyway. I lifted its leg and saw that it was a doeling. Jonathan arrived with the towels, and I cleaned up the second kid, a buckling. I had stuck him in front of Vera as soon as he was born, and she immediately started to lick him. Unfortunately, as a first time mom, she didn't know that she was supposed to do that with the kid that magically showed up at her back end before I arrived.

A few minutes later, she bleated briefly and pushed out another beautiful little doeling. And then Vera proceeded to spend the next hour or two licking and licking and licking. I had never seen a doe so bent on cleaning up her kids. They couldn't even nurse, because she would follow them with her mouth, licking and licking whenever they moved. If one would start to move towards her udder while she was cleaning the other one, she would immediately stop licking the other one as soon as she felt movement against her udder, then turn around and start licking that one. When I tried to help by moving a kid towards her udder, she would walk backwards so she could continue licking it. I know it sounds crazy, but it occurred to me that maybe she was trying to make up for not cleaning the first one.

I thought for sure that a pan of grain would take her mind off licking the kids, but it didn't. She took a few bites, but as soon as I got the little buckling latched on, she walked backwards and started licking him again. But as with everything else, patience and persistence finally paid off. Close to two hours after they were born, they finally nursed. I continued to worry about them and checked on them frequently all day. I had not tube fed a kid in six years before having to tube feed two of Coco's boys last week, and I'd be perfectly happy if I could go another six years -- or ten or twelve -- before I have to do it again. So, I was not going to take any chances on these kids falling behind with nursing.

They're doing great now, bouncing around, nursing and playing. And I just have to wait for Anne and Scandal to give birth. Anne is at day 148, and Scandal is at day 146, so it will be any day now. And the two heifers are also due any day now -- Molly was actually due Sunday, according to an online cow gestation calculator -- so we should soon have calves joining the other babies on Antiquity Oaks.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Clare's twins

Sunday morning, in the midst of trying to save two of Coco's boys that were trying to starve themselves to death (click here, if you missed that post), I heard a long, low "maaaaaaaa" from Clare's pen. I knew what that meant. "Get the towels," I said to Mike. "I'm so sorry, little dude," I said to the hypothermic, little black kid that I had just placed on a heating pad and covered.

Doeling on the left, buckling on the right
There was a head hanging out when we walked into Clare's pen, and she quickly gave birth to buck-doe twins. Clare is Viola's sister, so these babies are also mini manchas. We dried them off, and in no time, they were struggling to get to their feet and find their first meal. Yes, it really was that easy, and I think I can say that after the last six births, I deserved an easy one! But then I was in the middle of trying to save two of Coco's little bucks, so it's a good thing Clare only required about fifteen minutes of my time.

Are these not the two cutest kids ever?

I am so glad that I was planning to keep them for my mini mancha breeding project, because it would be tough to let them go -- especially that doeling. And she has the sweetest personality to go with her flashy looks!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Coco's big surprise

After listening to Coco scream every twenty or thirty minutes for the past twelve hours, I called U of I for an opinion on what I should do with her. I talked to the same vet that had done Caboose's c-section, and he suggested that I just wait and watch. While a contraction that infrequently won't dilate the cervix, it also should not stress the kids much. I was relieved. I hung up the phone and fell asleep.

Six hours later, near midnight, I woke up when Mike walked into our bedroom. I immediately asked, "How's Coco?"

"It's complicated." He paused. 

So, here is the story from Katherine's perspective:

One of the quints at eight days of age
When doing chores that evening, I was just finishing up and was about to check on Coco when I heard her scream. Although I was told that she had been acting like she was in labor since that morning, I thought she sounded very serious. I saw that there were already towels next to her pen so I spoke into the monitor saying that Coco sounded serious and that I was going to stay out in the barn with her. 

For the next 45-60 minutes (although I didn't have a clock, this is a rough estimation) Coco would plop down on the ground, scream so loudly that it echoed off the walls, get up, walk around, and lay down all over again. Because of a huge misunderstanding, I was under the impression that the vet wanted us to wait before trying to pull the kids out. But after a good hour of her screaming, Coco was looking very tired and I still didn't see anything as slight as a bubble, so I knew something was not right.

After putting on a surgical glove, I applied the lube and iodine before doing some investigating. I was expecting something like her cervix wasn't dilated like what happened with Lizzie. However, her cervix was fully dilated, and when I went a little beyond, that's when I finally felt a kid. Both hooves were in front so I was failing to see what was taking so long. It was then that I realized that the hooves felt upside down and I was not finding the head. 

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," I muttered when I realized that the kid was upside down with its head turned back. 

I couldn't get my hand in any further and the kid was too slippery for repositioning, and because Coco had been pushing for the last hour, I knew I just needed to get the kid out. I grabbed the two front hooves and started pulling with Coco's contractions. When the kid came closer to the entrance is when I pulled the head forward and tried to reposition it better. With a couple more pulls, the kid was out and Coco was eagerly cleaning it.

One of the quints with Coco at eight days
It was not long after I got the kid out that I saw Coco was contracting again and I saw another bubble. So leaving the first kid by her, I grabbed another towel to catch the next one that just came sliding out -- along with a lot of blood. When I cleaned the mucus off of its face, the baby didn't react at all. I saw that its eyes were rather blank and it was not even coughing or shaking its head, so I knew that it was dead. I immediately took the stillborn out of the pen so that Coco wouldn't waste her energy trying to clean it. When I came back, the third one was already starting to come out. It was also the first one that finally came out in a perfect manner and was very much alive. 

It was not long after the third one that the fourth came out. This time the sac was full of meconium. The baby was not near as responsive as the first and the third born, but it was at least very much alive.

That was four babies and Coco was getting to her feet so I then started focusing all of my attention on making sure that all of the babies were dry and fluffy and hopefully getting ready to nurse. 

"Took her long enough," I heard Dad say as he came into the barn. "What are the sexes?"

"All four bucks," I sighed. "One was a stillborn."

"Oh well," he shrugged. 

It was after this that I noticed Coco stopped licking the babies and plopped down on her belly again and started contracting. 

"No, you are not having quints," I laughed. A bubble then appeared that very clearly had a baby in it. "Oh! You ARE having QUINTS! I NEED ANOTHER TOWEL!" I screamed while jumping forward to catch the kid that was sliding out breach. 

One of the bottle babies
I had only had four towels and all were thoroughly soaked, so I was simply pulling off the mucus. This kid was definitely more responsive than the fourth kid had been. The real problem with this one didn't happen until he started walking around and was dragging one of his back feet. 

Because they were all bucks, I figured that like must buck kids, they would be very eager to get up and start nursing. That certainly wasn't the case this time. None of the kids were interested in nursing. So because you can't force a kid to nurse, I decided to go inside for about 10-20 minutes and come back out to try again.

When I came back out, they were not any more interested in nursing than before. As much as I hate to be forceful, it had been close to an hour since they were born and I didn't feel like bottle-feeding kids. So I decided to push each kid against the udder and manually squirt milk into their mouth. This finally got them interested in the whole nursing thing. Within ten minutes, everyone had nursed except for the fifth kid, which was still dragging his foot around. After trying a few more times, I finally got him to nurse for a few seconds. 

Seeing as though it was getting late and I had to get up early in the morning anyway, I figured it was time to call it a night.

Bottle boys in the house -- the red and white one has a splint
on his rear leg.

By the next morning, two of the bucks were not doing well. In case you missed the post where I wrote about their challenges, it's the last three paragraphs of this post. It took a couple days to get them on a bottle, but now they're ravenous and bounce around like normal kids. I splinted the leg on the red and white one, and a few days later, he got his foot caught between the deck and the house when they were playing outside, and he pulled his leg out of the splint, and it was fine. So, it must have been a tendon issue, rather than a fracture, which is good news for everyone.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cleo's triplets

We were awakened before 6 a.m. by Coco screaming over the monitor so loudly that I was certain there would be a kid on the ground when we got out there. As soon as I sat up, it felt like I had been whacked in the side of the head by a two-by-four. I knew this was not going to be a good day. When Mike and I walked into the barn, Coco was just standing there staring at us as if she hadn't said a word. I was freezing, so I headed into the barn office and turned on the little gas heater. Mike came in and sat down on the futon. I laid down and put my feet in his lap. We waited. Coco would scream every twenty or thirty minutes, which reminded me of Caboose's and Lizzie's labors. This did not help my head.

Katherine came into the office an hour later, and I realized that Coco really was not going to have her kids anytime soon in spite of her occasional screaming. I came into the house, had breakfast, heard Coco scream over the baby monitor a couple more times and called a goat friend. She encouraged me to check her and just see if she was dilated, so shortly after ten, I went back outside and checked Coco. Nothing. Absolutely no dilatation at all. Not even getting started! This is really weird for my goats. Normally, from the time I realize they're in labor until the time I see kids is somewhere between five minutes and two hours. This was shaping up to be the weirdest kidding season ever. My head felt worse. I went into the office and laid down on the futon. For four hours, my head throbbed and I listened to Coco's scream every twenty or thirty minutes. Close to 3:00, I heard Cleo a couple times. I went into the barn and sat down with her. She is always a big baby when she's in labor, and she wanted to lay in my lap. She weighs about 75 pounds, so she is not even close to being a baby.

Neither Katherine or Jonathan were home, but Mike had been running maple sap from across the creek and boiling it down. I finally decided I couldn't take it any longer. Every time Coco or Cleo screamed, it felt like a smack across the side of my head, and I felt like I was going to throw up. I went into the house and told Mike, "Okay, I know the maple syrup is important, but you can fill up the pots really full so you don't have to worry about them boiling down to nothing. I can't sit out there anymore. I need to go to bed." I asked him to come with me and hold Coco, so I could check her cervix one more time to see if she had started dilating. He held her. I squirted iodine on my gloved fingers and checked. Still nothing, nada, zilch dilation. As I stood up, Cleo made a sound from the other end of the barn that sounded like she was seriously pushing. Mike and I walked over there and found her laying in the corner of the pen pushing quite convincingly.

Cleo's black doelings at one week
Because she was so close to kidding, I told Mike I'd stay with him and talk him through everything. He only delivered his first baby goats a couple weeks ago. Now that our children are growing up and leaving home, he needs to learn how to do it, because there will be times when he is home alone and has to know what to do. The whole birth was rather uneventful, except for one annoying little kid that was trying not to be born. The nose and two hooves were sticking out a couple inches, and suddenly a hoof jerked back inside Cleo. Then the other hoof disappeared. I told Mike that next time Cleo pushed them out, grab them and just hold them so the little stinker can't yank them back inside again. Who knows what problems he might cause if he twists his leg into some weird position. The second and third kid were born so closely together, I helped dry the second one, but Mike was able to handle everything else. Final tally was two black doelings and a red buckling with blue eyes.

After the third kid was born, I saw membranes hanging out, indicating that the placenta would be next, and I told Mike I was heading to bed. I thought about calling U of I to talk to one of the vets on call, but I was in no condition to drive Coco down there, and I hated the idea of sending Mike off with one of my goats. I guess Cleo knows that it's okay to act like a baby when she's in labor, because my goats are my babies. If Coco had to go to U of I, then I had to go with her, even if I had to take a barf bag along for the ride and ask Mike to drive for me. So, when I walked into the house, I picked up the phone and punched in the number for U of I.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lizzie's twins and Caboose's homecoming

In our last episode: Deborah delivered Viola's twins and jumped in the car to head down to Urbana to pick up Caboose following her c-section. She left Lizzie in labor, in Katherine's capable hands.

Lizzie's twins at one week
More than 90 minutes after leaving home, I took the exit off I-74, annoyed that no one had called me from home to tell me about Lizzie's kids. Surely she had delivered them by now. Knowing that the cell phone signal inside the vet hospital was terrible, I decided to call home for an update before I arrived at the university. Nothing. That is what had happened since I left home. The description of Lizzie's labor reminded me of Caboose's the day before. She was pushing, but the contractions were too far apart to be doing anything.

Why was this happening? I asked the vet when I arrived at the hospital, and he started to tell me that pygmies have lots of problems giving birth. I corrected him and said that I have Nigerian dwarf goats, and he shook his head, saying, "all of those little goats." I tried to tell him that I knew pygmies have lots of birthing problems -- I know several breeders, including a vet, who have quit raising pygmies because they got tired of pulling kids and doing c-sections -- but Nigerians are easy birthers. He insisted that it was the breed, even though this is my first c-section in nine years, which gives us a c-section rate of less than one percent. I was worried that perhaps there was a nutritional issue that was suddenly causing the problems, but it became obvious that I wasn't going to get any information about that possibility.

We loaded Caboose and her kids into the car, and I headed home as the sun was setting. It was a tense drive. Although the kids slept peacefully, every time I slowed down or turned a corner, Caboose would grind her teeth, a sign that she was in pain. I felt terrible and tried to drive as gently as possible, apologizing every time I heard her grinding. The sound is similar to nails on a chalkboard, only worse, because you know when you hear it, a goat is in pain.

About halfway home, I got a phone call from Katherine, saying that she had finally checked Lizzie, and she wasn't fully dilated. I wanted to scream! I explained to Katherine how to manually dilate the cervix, as I had attempted to do with Caboose the previous day. After hanging up the phone, I looked at the clock, realizing I was still 45 minutes from home and thinking that as soon as I arrived, we'd unload Caboose and her kids and load up Lizzie to head back to U of I. The vet had explained that once a goat is in hard labor, the placenta will start to separate after two or three hours, which is why one of Caboose's kids was born dead, and one died shortly after birth. Although it appears that a goat has only one placenta, it has a different point of attachment for each kid. This is why the little doe was in such great shape -- she was attached to the end that was still securely attached to mom. Katherine had called me from the barn, and I could hear Lizzie screaming. She was definitely in hard labor. If the manual dilation had not worked by the time I got home, we might be able to save the kids if we put her in the car and headed straight for U of I.

I was so deep in thought that I almost missed my turn. I slammed on the brakes, swerved into the left lane, and took the turn too fast. "I'm sorry Caboose," I said as I heard her grinding her teeth. The phone rang. I hit the button on my steering wheel to answer. It was Mike.

"I just wanted to tell you that Katherine got the first kid out! It's a huge buck! Katherine thinks he's probably five pounds."

I was able to relax for the rest of the drive home. As soon as I stopped the car in front of the barn, I jumped out and ran in to see Lizzie. She had buck-doe twins. I weighed the little buck, and he was 5.1 pounds! He was by far the biggest Nigerian kid ever born on our farm. It was shaping up to be a record-breaking years in a lot of ways -- and I wasn't really happy about any of the records we were breaking -- four sets of quadruplets, our first c-section, and our first five-pound kid. And at that moment, I had no idea what a record-breaking day was ahead of me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Viola's story

Viola's story actually starts years ago. She is a la mancha, a goat that is most famous for its apparent lack of ears. Yes, they can hear; they just don't have external ear cartilage, so it looks like they don't have ears. People either love it or hate it. Obviously, I'm one who thinks the no-ear thing is adorable -- so adorable that I'm trying to make mini manchas, which are little goats without ears.

Even if you've been reading my blog forever, you probably don't remember me mentioning Viola. That's because she has done little other than frustrate me for four years, and I don't like to complain. Viola's mama is the one that died from copper deficiency -- the one whose liver I insisted be biopsied to check the copper level, because four different vets insisted a copper deficiency was impossible if I were feeding a complete feed and had minerals available for the goats. She died when Clare and Viola were only two months old and after learning that her copper level was only 4.8 (normal is 25-150 ppm), I was amazed she had survived as long as she did. That also meant I was now the owner of two orphans who were severely copper deficient, because mama can't give her babies something that she doesn't have. And I was going it alone because the current vet was still obliviously trusting the feed companies and refused to give me prescription copper for any of my goats.

Being in grad school, I had access to the university database and could read veterinary journals for free, so I started researching copper on my own. I even started doing my own original research on copper in goats and surveyed around 40 goat owners to learn more about their use of copper and the incidence of copper deficiency and toxicity in their herds. The twins' growth was slow, and their resistance to parasites was low, but with repeated copper bolusing, Clare was big enough to breed by fall. I was worried, however, that Viola still might not make it, so I didn't breed her. Clare kidded the following spring with a single buckling. The next year I tried to breed Viola -- and the next year. When she was two, I was so desperate for her to get pregnant, I just let her run with the whole buck herd, not even caring if I knew who the sire was. Still, no babies. I had pretty much completely given up on her ever having kids. But last fall, I gave everyone their pre-breeding copper and selenium supplements, and a couple weeks later, Viola was in heat! I put her with Mardi, a Nigerian buck, and he bred her! I was ecstatic! I wasn't too worried about having a first-freshening four year old because the kids would be much smaller than your average la manchas.

Then I spent most of the next four and a half months thinking that she wasn't pregnant. Her belly wasn't really big, although I reminded myself that she would be carrying mini-manchas, because I bred her to a Nigerian buck, so they wouldn't be as big as if she were carrying full-size kids. Still, I thought she should at least look like there was something in her belly. A couple weeks before she kidded, I saw an udder, but she'd fooled me before with a precocious udder, so I didn't want to get my hopes up. Still, I did get hopeful, so I moved her and Clare to the kidding barn, because their due dates were only one day apart. As each day passed, I spent more and more time with them, staring at their bellies, feeling their udders, checking their tail ligaments. The more time I spent with them, the more I believed they really were pregnant.

About a week before they ultimately kidded, I noticed Viola's udder was really starting to get big. It was filling up in the rear, which never happened when she got a precocious udder. And each day as her udder got bigger, I got more excited that we really would have mini-mancha babies, at last!

Although Viola had no problems at all, I was momentarily freaked out when she was in labor. Mike had just walked in the barn to check on me, and I told him I saw a hoof. Then a minute later, I said, "Oh, this is not good. The hooves are upside down." After a couple more pushes, I realized my error. If you see an inch of a Nigerian hoof, it's the bottom of the hoof, which would mean the baby was coming out upside down or breech. But these babies are bigger, so I was relieved when I realized I was seeing the front of the hoof. How much bigger are they? The little buck was 7.4 at birth, and the doeling was 6.7, so they weigh about twice as much as Nigerian babies!

During Viola's labor, I kept noticing Lizzie laying on her side, looking like she was pushing a little, but she wasn't screaming, so I wasn't worried. I had to leave to go to U of I and pick up Caboose, but I knew Katherine would be home at any minute, and she would be able to handle whatever Lizzie threw her way. If this were fiction, I'd think, "Oh, foreshadowing!" but as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Carmen's twin bucks

 Thursday ended with me heading to bed around 1 a.m. because I was flying from all the coffee I'd consumed in Urbana before heading home for a two hour drive in the dark. My sweet, sweet goats all avoided going into labor during the night. I'm so glad they got that memo! Friday morning around 8:00, I went out to the barn and checked everyone's tail ligaments and udders. My best guess was that Carmen, Lizzie, and Viola would all kid before the day was done, but I also knew I had to get down to Urbana to pick up Caboose and her kids. On one hand I was worried about having two goats in labor at the same time, but on the other hand, I hoped they'd give birth soon, each about an hour apart, so I could leave for Urbana by about 1:00.

Around 10:00, Carmen gave birth to two bucklings. Although Carmen doesn't just plop down and start shooting out kids like Sherri and her daughters, she does make it look pretty easy. She bleated a little to let me know I needed to be on hand to help her clean up the kids, but otherwise, things seemed to be going easily enough for her. She has a habit of giving birth standing, sometimes even walking, so it can be a challenge to catch the kid. I usually spend lots of time walking on my knees behind her when she's in labor. And this year was no different. She had her rear legs spread widely as she sort of waddled from side to side, taking a step, making a little noise, pushing, taking a step, and so on. And swoosh! Welcome to the world, little dude!

For the second one, however, she decided to plop down with her rear in the corner of the kidding pen. The thing you have to know about the kidding pens is that we put a shelf across the back of all of them, so we would have a place to put kidding supplies that are out of the goat's reach. Carmen had her rear in the corner under the shelf. No big deal, I thought. I'll just crawl under there and reach over her body and pick up the kid when it's born. That part of the plan worked just fine. I picked up the second kid, also a buck, and dried him off. But then I forgot there was a shelf above my head when I went to get up. Ouch!

Mike came out to check on me and immediately ran the towels into the house for washing, because we knew at some point over the weekend we would run out if too many goats kidded closely together. And from the looks of Viola, she was getting close. Viola is normally a very in-your-face goat, and she was obviously off in her own little world, so I knew I didn't have much time to eat lunch before she kidded.


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