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.