Friday, January 5, 2007

Farmgirls in waiting

We have two goats due to kid on Sunday, but the tail ligaments are gone on both of them, which means they are likely to kid within 24 hours. When Katherine went out to the barn 45 minutes ago to check on them, it looked like Sherri had a contraction. She pushed her legs out in front of her, and she curled her lip. Katherine came running back to the house, and we both went running out there with towels. Sherri has a history of surprising people with her babies.

She was born on a farm in Michigan, and she had her first babies there. They were born in the pasture because by the time her owner noticed she was in labor and went to clean a pen for her, it was too late. Sherri's first kids here were born in the pasture. Her daughter, Shirley, nearly died from exposure. Sherri always has triplets, and typically when goats have three, the last one or two come out really fast, which means the mama may not have time to clean off all of them. Such was the case with Shirley. We found her in the pasture, looking dead and soaking wet. Both her siblings were nursing. My son reached her first and picked her up. He screamed, "It's alive." I grabbed the kid from him, not knowing if it was a boy or a girl, and not completely believing his proclamation that it was indeed alive. As I ran for the house, I screamed back, "Are you sure?" I felt no movement, saw no movement. When I reached the house, I filled the sink with water that felt like it was around 100 degrees. I plunged the little baby in the water, keeping its head up, and I began briskly rubbing its body. When I was still, I felt the chest expand with a breath. I looked under the tail and saw that it was a girl. "Don't get your hopes up on this one," I said to my daughter when she came into the kitchen. I put my finger in the kid's mouth. It felt like ice water. "Her body temperature is really low. We may have found her too late." Ten minutes later, she started to move a little. I dried her off and moved her to a heating pad on the couch. An hour later, she was taking milk from a bottle, and a year later, she was eating the bark off my apple trees!

Last year, Sherri almost surprised us again. I woke up at 1 a.m. to go to the bathroom. While I was sitting on the toilet, I thought I heard a noise over the baby monitor, but I wasn't sure. I picked it up and held it to my ear. I played with the volume, higher, lower, higher -- finally, I was sure that I did hear something. Not wanting to wake anyone because I wasn't certain that it was "the real thing," I put on my clothes and went out to the barn. Just as I walked up to the stall and looked inside, a head started to come out of Sherri. "Oh my!" I was glad that I had grabbed some towels. I sat down next to her and welcomed her three beautiful babies.

With the loss of Venus's babies still painfully fresh in everyone's mind, we can't miss any births. Margaret is in town buying a baby monitor as I type. Katherine is headed back to the barn with a walkie-talkie, so she can call me if anything happens. I'm not convinced that it's going to happen tonight. I spent about half an hour in the barn, and I didn't see Sherri do anything that looked like birth was close, but we don't want to take any chances.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Holiday meals and living with nature

I need to get back into the habit of posting regularly. So much has been happening here lately. Today, we had roast pheasant for our New Year Day dinner. It was, of course, homegrown. Sadly, it's the last of the pheasant. I really enjoyed the meat, but raising the birds is difficult as they fight too much.

Speaking of fighting ... once again, I am reminded of the laws of nature. This past summer, a mama hen hatched a clutch of eggs, and these two roosters appeared to be best friends. You never saw one without the other. I've written before about the importance of not having too many roosters. We learned the hard way that if there are too many roosters, they'll fight to the death, so we always butcher the roosters to keep the number down. These two boys seemed different though. Just the other day, I said, "We can't butcher one of them. The other one would miss him too much." We'd see them out in the east pasture every morning, and we'd see them following each other everywhere on the farm. Then yesterday afternoon, I saw them fighting. I knew from experience that it does no good to break it up. They'll just start fighting again the minute I'm gone. I shook my head and hoped they'd work it out as I walked away from the window. This morning, I looked out to the east pasture and saw only one rooster. Later, I looked out the dining room window and saw the same lone rooster. Last night, my younger daughter said that one of the roosters had a pretty bloody head. I sent my eldest daughter to the chicken house to see if she could find him. A few minutes later, she was headed back to the house carrying what looked like a dead rooster. He wasn't dead, but he was close. He couldn't even hold up his head. I told my husband he needed to put him out of his misery. I guess there is no such thing as friendship for roosters.

On December 27, Lizzie gave birth to twin doelings. They are beautiful and sweet. They'll come up to you and sniff you, and they love to be held. They'll curl up on your lap and fall asleep.

The next day, Venus gave birth to triplets, but they all died. She was a first-time mom, and she didn't clean the babies off. They either suffocated in the amniotic sac or froze to death from being wet too long. Only a couple days earlier, someone asked me why we have to be there for the births. I said we really don't have to do much other than dry off the babies. That doesn't sound like it's very important, but it is. We've almost lost babies to hypothermia before, but luckily, we always found them while they were still alive. We were able to get them warmed up, but we weren't so lucky this time. I was really depressed for two days. I felt so guilty. We normally have a baby monitor in the barn, so we'll know if someone is giving birth. But we haven't been able to find the monitor. I thought about buying another one, but then I figured I'd find the old one as soon as I bought the new one. I felt dreadful when we found the dead babies. They were perfect. I have no doubt they'd all be alive today if only we had that baby monitor. We have two more goats due on January 7. If we don't find the baby monitor in the next couple days, we'll definitely be buying a new one.

When this kind of thing happens, people always ask what animals in the wild do. If you've been reading my blog for long, you might remember what I said about the mama turkeys ... they only have to raise one to adulthood to replace themselves. Nature is inherently wasteful but wise. In the wild, if Venus never learned to clean off her babies when they're born, none of her babies would survive, and her lack of mothering instincts would not be passed on to another generation.


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