Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Update on book, goats, and weather

 Timpani, one of the Viola triplets
I'm sorry to dropped off the face of the blog world the last couple weeks, but I turned in my Ecofrugal book manuscript to the publisher yesterday, so I have more time now to devote to everything else in my life -- like my goats and blogging! And it's a good thing because yesterday we moved seven goats into the kidding barn. Life is going to get crazy around here in a couple weeks!

The gross necropsy results on Viola showed that she also had pneumonia, which the vet said is actually not uncommon in a goat that has milk fever, especially because I didn't realize her shivering in labor was a symptom of milk fever and didn't begin treatment until 24 hours after she started showing symptoms. So, if you ever see a goat in labor shivering, and it's only 45 degrees -- suspect milk fever. I've only seen goats shiver twice in the last ten years, and in both cases, the temperature was below zero, but it never occurred to me that something as simple as shivering could be a symptom of a life-threatening illness!

I am happy to report that Viola's triplets are doing great. Who would have ever thought Jo's tragedy could turn out to be such a blessing, but she's a very heavy milker and has only one kid to feed, so she has plenty of milk for the mini mancha kids. We're milking her twice a day without even separating her from her baby, and we're getting about 3 pounds of milk from her, which is about a quart and a half. Then Caboose freshened with a single kid, and she normally has multiples, so we have her milk, as well. Even though we had a dreadful start to kidding this year, things seem to be working out quite well.

Over the next couple days I'll be telling you about Lizzie's and Caboose's births, as well as my only remaining la mancha Clare.

The temperature outside today is in the mid-50s, which is crazy for this time of year, but we have had almost no days at all where the temperatures were freezing. Some nights it doesn't even freeze, which is even weirder. Since early January, I've been saying, "It's perfect maple syrup weather, except that it's not mid-February!" I have no idea what this will mean for the maple syrup season this year, but I don't think it's good. Luckily we had a month-long season last year and were able to put up five gallons, so we should have enough to last us until next year.

I spent an hour out in the barn playing with baby goats this afternoon. In spite of the fact that I know it's bad news for trees and parasites on the pasture, I am enjoying this unseasonably warm weather.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A second night of frustration and sadness

Margaret arrived yesterday morning with the antibiotics, calcium supplement, and thermometer. By that time, I had already figured out that Viola was definitely suffering from hypocalcemia, which is often called "milk fever." About eleven o'clock, I started injecting 50 cc of calcium into Viola. One of the things I had read said that she should receive more injections an hour later, but by then, the goat would be feeling so much better, she would be a challenge to inject. Another thing I read simply said to do three separate series of injections the first day, so I decided to sort of split the difference and do the second series of injections after a few hours.

A few hours later, Viola was not fighting me. In fact, I really did not see any improvement in her at all. Everything I'd read made it sound like treating milk fever was quite simple. Although some sources mentioned that death was possible, it was usually mentioned in the same sentence as, "if left untreated," which was not the case. I also didn't read anything that said to call the vet immediately if the doe doesn't respond within an hour to the calcium injections. It was close to three o'clock, and I started to think that I should call the U of I vet clinic, but it was very clear that Lizzie was going to kid soon, and I couldn't leave her. The vet clinic would probably tell me to bring her in, but I couldn't leave Lizzie alone.

It also occurred to me that I had no idea how I could take her in. I didn't know how I would get her into a crate to put her on the back of the pick-up, which wouldn't be appropriate anyway because it would be freezing back there -- the temperature was in the 20s. The trailer had issues, which left me with the option of using my car, and I'd have to somehow lift her into the car because she certainly couldn't jump. As my brain tried to work this out, I was reminded that Lizzie was going to kid soon, making the whole conversation in my head pointless. I decided to do another series of calcium injections. When doing calcium injections sub-q, you are supposed to split them up into 10 cc injections in various parts of the body. I had just done the second injection when laboring Lizzie screamed and pushed so hard, she almost flipped herself onto her back. I decided that the rest of the injections could wait, so I moved to Lizzie's pen.

An hour later, Lizzie finally kidded -- which I'll tell you about tomorrow -- and of course, it took time to get the kids cleaned up. The colder it is, the longer it takes to get kids dry, even with a blow dryer. It amazes me how you can think a kid is dry, but when you pet them ten minutes later, they feel wet again.

It was almost six o'clock by the time I could think about Viola again. I injected the rest of the calcium and went into the house for dinner. I also pulled out my goat books and read everything I could find in them and online about hypocalcemia. The advice was almost identical from one source to another -- calcium injections. A friend posted my dilemma on a natural care goat group, and suggestions from a variety of people started to come in. I decided to give Viola an oral calcium drench in addition to the injectable, and I made an infusion of a variety of herbs that someone recommended. Although we'd had a heat lamp on her, I decided to cut the arms off of an old sweatshirt and put it on her to help keep her warm. Her body temperature was dropping, which usually means an animal's body is shutting down and they are about to die. However, I continued to hold out hope because everything written on hypocalcemia says that lowered body temperature is a typical symptom.

In the midst of all my reading, I realized that Viola had a symptom of hypocalcemia when she was in labor -- she was shivering, and it was only 45 degrees that day. I knew she shouldn't be shivering on such a warm day, but I didn't realize it was the first symptom of milk fever. The only goats I had ever seen shiver in the past were goats that were giving birth when the temperature was below zero. I began to worry that we had started treatment too late.

After heading back out to the barn, I gave Viola the oral calcium drench and the warm infusion of herbs that I had made. She seemed to enjoy the herbs. Maybe it was just the warmth of the infusion that she liked, but she didn't try to move her head away as I used a drench syringe to squirt it into her mouth. I sat with her and hugged her as her babies jumped all over both of us. I wish she could have told me if she wanted the kids around or not. I thought about moving them to another pen, but I was afraid that would upset her. It wasn't very long before she started to moan. It sounded so terribly human, like a person in pain. I thought about calling the vet clinic's emergency number. Mike would be home any minute and could help me put her into my car, but another part of my brain said it was too late.

A half hour later, she was dead. Her babies were curled up next to her. I didn't have the heart to disturb them. A dozen questions went through my head -- questions about Viola and milk fever and my own thought process -- and I felt horribly guilty. We took Viola's body to the university vet clinic today for a necropsy. It felt so backwards. She should have been there yesterday when she was still alive, when they could have still helped her. It felt so ridiculous giving her history to a vet when she was already dead. But I have to know what went wrong. If we learn nothing from this, then Viola's death would be completely in vain. And that would be even more tragic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A night of frustration and sadness

This post is not for the faint of heart. Last night Jo finally gave birth, shortly after I told Katherine that I was going to check her to make sure the first kid was presenting properly -- which I never did because Katherine talked me out of it. All day long, Jo had been bleating, although it was more of an annoyed bleat rather than one that signaled something was terribly wrong. I didn't realize until talking to Mike last night that I should have become worried long before I actually was. He said that I told him around 2:00 that Jo was quietly pushing between bleats. That's the way Jo and her sisters and their mother gives birth -- quietly -- so all of the bleating was really odd. Seeing her quietly pushing, however, made me think that everything was fine.

Last night around nine o'clock, I saw something white starting to emerge from Jo. It was not a nose, a hoof, or a butt, and it seemed too round to be a rib cage. Those are the only body parts I've ever seen presenting, but my brain said that the white thing looked like the top of a kid's head. As I was trying to figure out what I was seeing so I could respond intelligently, Jo gave a big push, and a whole head emerged -- a whole, huge head with a tiny little muzzle. The rest of the tiny kid came shooting out, and I immediately noticed a lot of red tissue. Temperatures were in the teens, so I had a towel waiting to dry the kid, and I immediately wrapped it up and placed it next to Jo's head, so she and I could clean it off. When I uncovered the kid, I saw what looked like a pile of intestines. As Jo tried to grab the pile of tissue, I stopped her and covered the kid back up so that she could only see the head, which was about twice as big as it should have been.

Jo gave another push, and when I looked towards her back end, I saw another kid about to be born. I grabbed a clean towel to catch it, and I placed it next to her face, moving the first kid away. I looked at the first kid under the towel and saw lots of things that were not quite right. I ran into the barn office and grabbed the cordless phone, dialing as I was running back to the kidding pen. Jo has always had three or four kids, so I was expecting another one to come shooting out at any moment. I called Katherine on her cell phone and just blurted, "Kat, get out here now! This is really freaky! I need you! Now!" As soon as I heard her say, "Okay," I hit the call end button and tossed the phone on the shelf above me. I took another look at the first kid and saw that the legs were all crooked and malformed, connected incorrectly, and the body was twisted in an unnatural position. There was definitely a pile of intestines, but the kid was very much alive. I continued drying the second kid as Katherine walked in.

I handed her the bundle in the green towel and said, "It's deformed. Take it into the office." After Katherine left, I realized I had no idea what sex either kid was, so I looked at the one I was drying and saw that it was a doeling. About fifteen minutes later, Jo stood up like she was done, and I saw long cords hanging out of her back end, which usually means the only thing left is the placenta. She still looked quite large though. I stood over her, straddling her body, bent over, and laced my fingers together under her belly, just in front of her udder. I lifted her off the ground and felt nothing but mushiness in her belly. No sign of another kid. I went into the barn office to see how Katherine was doing, as I continued watching Jo from the window that overlooks the kidding pens.

Katherine, who wants to be a doctor, said that those were definitely intestines, and you could see the peristalsis -- movement -- in them. I watched closely, and it looked like a little bundle of glistening red worms moving almost imperceptibly. In spite of what we saw, the intestines were ice cold, even though we were in the heated office. She complained that the little doe kept trying to stand and was crying in frustration because her completely deformed legs wouldn't support her.

It was past ten o'clock by now, and I called Mike and told him what had happened and that he'd need to put her down when he got home. It was especially sad because she clearly had such a will to live. I went back out to see Jo and her other doeling. Jo passed what I initially assumed was her placenta, although most does don't do that for a couple of hours after the last kid is born, sometimes later. It wasn't as much red tissue as I'm accustomed to seeing in a placenta. It looked more like an amniotic sac filled with water and blue and white tissue. I tried to grab the tissue that was inside, but it was like trying to snag a goldfish in a plastic bag of water. I tried to rip open the bag, but I had no luck, and Jo was eating it in record time. Part of my brain was yelling at me to take it away from her until I'd figured out exactly what I was seeing, but it was late, and the other half of my brain wasn't listening.

An hour later, as I looked at Jo's big belly, I started to wonder if that was an amniotic sac for another kid. If it was, the kid would be dead now because the placenta was passed already. I stood over her again and lifted her belly off the ground. I moved my hands into several different positions and still felt nothing but a mushy abdomen. I thought about checking her internally for another kid, but I knew I didn't have any antibiotics, which would be necessary at this point if I went fishing trying to see if another kid was inside.

I knew I didn't have any antibiotics because in the midst of all the chaos with Jo, I noticed that Viola was not herself. She had spent the whole evening standing and staring or laying down with her head down. She refused grain. I felt her udder, which was soft and normal, so no mastitis. I bounced her belly to see if I could find another kid, and it was just soft and mushy. I couldn't see how she could have an infection because she didn't have an assisted birth, but I figured I should take her temperature to be sure. I couldn't find either of my thermometers. I thought about giving her a shot of antibiotics but realized the only bottle in the medicine cabinet expired a year ago. So, I gave her an ounce of Power Punch (which is mostly molasses and vitamins) and every vitamin and mineral supplement I had on hand, just in case it was something nutritional, although I didn't have any calcium, which may be exactly what she needs.

With everything else going on, I never actually saw Jo's doeling nurse, although her belly felt round and full. I tried multiple times to get her to nurse when I was in the pen with them, but she was quite resistant. If babies don't get colostrum within the first six hours, their ability to completely absorb it decreases with each passing hour, so it's not the kind of thing you want to wait on. I finally decided to trust the feeling of the round belly and assume that she had nursed.

It was past one this morning when I finally got to bed, continuing to worry about Jo and Viola. Just after five, there was a loud metallic crash in the laundry room that woke me up. I still can't believe what I saw. The dog's food and water bowl are normally in a metal stand, but the metal stand was on its side in the middle of the room, and both the food and water bowl were sitting perfectly on the floor where the stand had been sitting. So, there is no way I could go back to sleep.

Knowing that the local farm store doesn't have the antibiotic I want, I called Margaret (my oldest who graduated from college in December and is looking for a job) and asked her to pick it up, as well as a thermometer, at one of the farm stores that's located in a city between where she lives and our place. I've also asked her to pick up a calcium supplement because Viola is also shivering, which is a sign of milk fever, along with lack of appetite and lethargy. We've never had milk fever here before, but apparently it does not include a fever, so I really need that thermometer!

To add to the excitement, Lizzie might kid today. I had originally thought about driving an hour to the little city to get what I needed, but when I thought about that, I realized that it would be really nice to have another brain here today. I'm not sure mine will be functioning very well. In fact, if Lizzie doesn't have a textbook perfect birth, I am really not going to be happy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Viola's big surprise

When Katherine was doing chores this morning, she said into the baby monitor, "Uh, I think Viola is going to give birth today. She's not herself exactly." She laughed. "I'll tell you more when I get inside." It's a one-way baby monitor, so I couldn't respond, but she certainly had my attention. When she came inside, she said that Viola completely ignored the hay instead of running up to the hay feeder as soon as it was filled. That's not funny unless you know Viola. She is incredibly pushy and is often the only goat at a hay feeder because she butts everyone else away. When Katherine put grain in there, she sniffed it and walked over to the corner of the pen and laid down. She also had all the signs that we look for in a goat that's going to give birth within a few hours -- her tail ligaments were soft, her udder was huge, and her belly was looking hollow towards the top. I told Katherine to put her into a kidding pen.

Every couple hours throughout the day I kept checking on her, even though we had the baby monitor on. She was definitely in her own little world. She was barely interested in food, only taking a bite here and there. She was laying down almost all the time, and she was having quite a bit of drainage -- not just mucous but dripping water, which you almost never see in a goat. Water sacs don't usually break until the goat is actively pushing. So, all day long I had this feeling that she might actually be ready to kick it into high gear and push out a kid at any minute.

Around 3:30, I decided to go outside and stay with her because the baby monitor was picking up some extremely annoying static. In addition to driving me crazy, I wasn't entirely sure I'd hear Viola if she started making a lot of noise. I took a magazine and the handouts from last week's conference. About an hour later, Viola got serious, and I saw a white hoof and a black nose with a little red tongue sticking out. In no time at all, we had a whole black baby goat!

He was an only child for about half an hour. Mike came through the barn and asked if I thought she had more. I gestured towards her big belly and said, "Oh, yeah, she's got another one in there. Look how big she still is!" It really didn't look like she'd given birth at all.

Viola and her buckling
Everyone came through the barn around the time that the second kid was born -- a black doeling! I was a little worried about her because her amniotic sac was full of poop. Although I've never seen a problem caused by this in goats, I spent too many years as a childbirth educator and doula with women to not be freaked out by it and worried about it getting into the baby's lungs. The head came out with the amniotic sac still intact, and I could see the brown water in there. I popped the sac and cleaned the kid's face and nose as good as possible -- and wished that I had my bulb syringe to suck out the nose just to be extra sure. But I didn't have it, and really it should have been fine because I had the face good and clean by the time the kid took its first breath.

The first doeling
As we were cooing and admiring the doeling, I happened to see Viola's back end when I looked at Mike, and I saw another pair of hooves! I gasped. "It's a hoof! I need more towels! She's having three! Get me more towels!" Because la manchas usually only have twins, I had only brought out three towels, and all three were now soaking wet. There were plenty more towels in the barn office, and Jonathan brought two more. When I looked more closely at the hooves, I realized they were upside down and started to panic, especially since there was no nose. In my mind, I was picturing a terrible malpresentation with a posterior kid that had its head twisted around over its back. Katherine happened to be walking through the barn at that moment, and she took one look at the situation and said very calmly, "Those are hind legs. It's breech." The legs were already sticking out a couple inches, so I ran my fingers up the legs and realized she was right when I felt the hocks. Breech goat kids are really not a big deal. We've had plenty of breech babies born with no problems, and breech is definitely better than what I had been picturing! Still, I was thinking about the poop-filled amniotic sac of the second kid, which means she was stressed, and I worried that this one might also be having a problem, so rather than letting go of the hind legs, I gently pulled, and in what seemed like a split second, she was born.

The second doeling
I heard Mike chuckle behind me. "I don't think Viola even noticed that one was born." Yeah, that's usually the case with a third or fourth kid. While I was drying her off, I made sure her head was lower than the rest of her body so the fluids would all run out of her nose and mouth. Unlike the last kid, which turned my towel brown as I was toweling her off, this one was completely clean -- or at least as clean as normal birth goo can be.

They are all a few hours old now and doing quite well. They've had their first meal of colostrum and have the whole nursing thing figured out. I am actually pretty excited that Viola had triplets for a couple of reasons. Last year she was making so much milk that we had to milk her even though she was nursing her kids 24 hours a day. We'd milk her every night and get a quart of milk, so these babies will be very well fed. Although Viola is a la mancha (which is why the ears are so tiny), daddy was a Nigerian dwarf, so these are mini manchas! I'll have to wait and see what Clare gives us before deciding which of these babies I'll be keeping for my mini mancha herd.

I'm pretty sure that Lizzie the Nigerian dwarf will be giving birth within the next day or two. She's only at day 146, but her udder is looking uncomfortably large, and her ligaments are so soft, they could be gone at any minute.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rainbow Inca corn

We recently ground up the rainbow inca corn that we grew in the garden. We used some of it for cornbread, which was really delicious, and we used some of it for hominy grits, which was not so great. I think we probably should have soaked it before cooking because it didn't taste quite done, and we cooked it for half an hour. We also ate some as corn on the cob during the summer, and it was delicious fresh.


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