Saturday, March 31, 2012

Miss Kitty's big surprise

If you're thinking that the title of this blog post looks familiar, you're right! We've had a lot of surprises this year. At last week's goat class, everyone was saying, "She's pregnant?" when they saw Miss Kitty. It's true, she didn't really look pregnant. But she had an udder, so I figured she was indeed pregnant. I was thinking she would have a single kid, which is not that uncommon for yearlings.

The first annoying thing about Kitty is that day 150 of her pregnancy came and went with no kids or sign of impending birth. I only recall two other births on this farm that happened after day 150, and both of them were Kitty's mom, so I told myself they just take a little longer to cook 'em before they're done. On the morning of day 151, which was Thursday, the baby monitor was acting up, so I figured I should personally check on her. Margaret was heading out to milk, so I walked out with her. When we walked into the kidding barn, Kitty was laying there as quiet as a mouse -- pushing! Margaret and I chatted for a minute or so, and then she headed to the next barn to milk the goats. I turned around, and Kitty gave a good push -- still completely quiet -- and a big blob of mucous came out. Obviously we were going to have kids sooner rather than later, so I went into the office and grabbed a stack of clean towels. When I got back, Kitty gave another big push, and there was a hoof. A couple more pushes, and there was a nose. And she was still as quiet as could be!

As soon as the head was out, I started cleaning off the nose, and -- whoosh! -- there was the whole kid. Kitty popped up, turned around and starting cleaning it up. I have never been so impressed with a first freshener. Most of them scream as if they're being tortured, and I don't think I've ever seen one pop up like she did and start cleaning up the kid. After I stick the kid in front of their face, they start licking it, but they don't usually realize they need to do anything about that huge thing that just exited their body. Talk about a natural mom!

It was a doeling, and she was quite the noisy one. She was big and strong and loud! After about fifteen minutes, Kitty plopped down and gave a push, but the doeling started crawling across the straw screaming, and Kitty jumped up again to follow her. I pulled the little doeling back towards her mama, so Kitty could concentrate on pushing out the second kid, which she did just as easily as the first. It was a buck, and as soon as I got him dried off, I put him under the heat lamp and decided to do the morning chores with the other goats in the kidding pen. Kitty didn't look like she even had twins in there, so I was pretty sure she was done. Plus there were a bunch of membranes and a bag of water hanging out of her back end, which you don't usually see unless you only have the placenta left.

I was adding clean straw to the other kidding pens and giving the does grain when I saw Kitty plop down and push out a bag of water about the size of a grapefruit. "No way!" I said as I rushed over to her. I picked up the bag of water, which looked like a pearly black water balloon and definitely contained a kid. I dug my fingernails into the membranes and broke them to find the tiniest little kid inside. I wiped off its nose and put it under the heat lamp. It sneezed and shook its head like most newborns. It seemed perfectly normal in spite of its small size.  Once I got over the shock of a third kid -- a tiny kid -- I checked the gender. It was another doe.

In the meantime, big sister is screaming non-stop unless she has a teat in her mouth. I try to hold her back so her brother can get a chance to nurse, which he figured out quickly. Margaret comes in when she's done milking, and when she sees the tiny doe, she knows what it means, even though we both try to avoid stating the obvious. Kids that size are usually house babies. I am not a fan of house babies because they get so attached to people. They make for very challenging adolescents because they don't usually like goats much and spend their life trying to figure out how to get back into the house.

I weigh the kids. Miss Piggy, as I've started calling the biggest one, weighs 2 pounds, 9 ounces. The buckling is 2 pounds. And the tiny one is 1 pound, 4 ounces.

A half hour after the tiny doe is born, she is still laying under the heat lamp where I placed her, and I notice that she's shivering. I put my finger in her mouth, and it's cold. Great! I know she's heading into hypothermia and will be dead soon if I do nothing. I wrap a towel around her and bring her into the house. I put her into a laundry basket with a heating pad and pull some colostrum out of the freezer to thaw. I put my finger into her mouth again to see if she has a sucking reflex because there is one thing I hate worse than house kids and that is having to tube feed. Thankfully, she starts sucking on my finger, which means she will be able to take a bottle!

After a few hours in the house, she is warm and fed -- although she can't consume more than about half an ounce at a time -- so Margaret decides to see how she will be with her siblings in the barn. Although she can stand now, she can't walk, so she never moves from the spot under the heat lamp. We bring her back into the house because it is simply easier. We have to feed her about every three hours until she is able to consume more than half an ounce at a time. And I am worried about her maintaining her body temperature in the barn overnight when the temperatures were predicted to get down into the 40s again.

She is two days old now and finally took an ounce this morning! And an hour later, she was sucking on Katherine's chin, which was the first time she had done that -- a classic sign that she wanted more milk. To our surprise, she drank another ounce! I was never terribly worried about her surviving after the first few minutes, but it will be interesting to see if she grows up to be a big, strong doe. Most tiny goats do. My first experience with a kid like this was seven years ago with Carmen, who was half the size of her two brothers when she was born, but she thrived in the house and grew up to become a master champion and earn milk stars in two registries. As much as house babies annoy me when they get older, you can't help but love 'em when they're so tiny!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Poor Julia finally farrowed. If you think she looks big now, look at where her feet are in relation to her belly -- much better than it was a couple days ago when her belly was dragging on the ground and the poor girl could barely walk! She gave birth sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. When Mike and I went into the barn for Tuesday morning chores, there were nine piglets all wiggling around, dry, and nursing.

 It is very hard to keep track of nine black piglets -- "did I already count that one?" -- but I think there are five gilts (females) and four boars (males). Sadly, one of the little girls was about half the size of everyone else, and I didn't have a lot of hope that she'd make it. And by this evening, she'd passed away. She seemed happy and healthy, but sometimes runts just don't have what it takes to survive.

I'm really surprised that Julia had nine piglets again. She sure looked bigger than last year! But I suppose she lost her girlish figure and just looked bigger this time.

The boars will mostly likely become pork, and the gilts will be offered for sale as breeding animals. They are American Guinea Hogs, which is an endangered farm animal, unique to the United States. There are only a few hundred in existence because they're small, which makes them undesirable for factory hog farming. However, that makes them perfect for homesteaders!

We are still waiting on Miss Kitty to have her kids (or kid). She is at day 150 now, so really she should give birth today! I've only had one goat go past 150 days, and she did it twice, AND it was Miss Kitty's mama. I suppose I shouldn't be holding my breath today.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Skippy's twins

As I said in Sunday night's post, the most logical time for anyone to give birth would be Monday because I had an out-of-town meeting. So, of course, that's when Skippy decided to kid. When Katherine did morning chores, she told us that Skippy's tail ligaments were quite soft, so Mike went out and put her in a clean kidding pen. I left for my meeting, assuming everything was under control. I mentioned that he and Jonathan should check on Skippy every couple of hours even though they had a baby monitor in the barn. Fast forward to my arrival home at 5:00.

"Skippy kidded!" someone said when I walked in.

"When?" I asked.

"We don't know. She has two kids, but she never made any noise over the monitor. It's a buck and a doe."

Turns out the monitor was on the wrong channel, but luckily, Skippy, who is only a yearling, is a great mom. Both kids were cleaned up and nursing when they were discovered. And it was still unseasonably warm, even though temperatures were in the 50s, so there was no problem with hypothermia because they were in the barn, out of the wind.

Doeling with elf ears
The buck has erect ears like a Nigerian. Skippy is a first generation mini mancha. Her dam is a la mancha, and her sire is a Nigerian. I'm one of those people who thinks the no-ear thing is cute, but I like smaller goats, which is why I'm experimenting with mini manchas. Anyway, first generation minis have one gene for erect ears and one gene for gopher ears, so they wind up with elf ears, which are extremely short ears. When two first generations are bred, you wind up with 25% gopher ears (almost nothing), 50% elf ears (really short ones), and 25% erect ears like a Nigerian or Swiss goat. The doeling has elf ears.

It's really funny that the kids are the same color as mom because that rarely happens with Nigerians or la manchas. Mom and her two kids would look like a perfect set of matched goats except for the erect ears on the buckling! Unfortunately for him, those ears mean he'll be castrated and sold as a pet.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ladies in waiting

Who will kid or farrow first?

Julia the pig, whose due date was Saturday, according to an online pig gestation calculator that I used almost four months ago --

Or Skippy the mini mancha who is at day 147?

She's got such a tiny baby bump, I'm glad she has an udder, or I wouldn't necessarily know she's pregnant. I'll be surprised if she has more than one, but then she is a yearling.

Or Miss Kitty the Nigerian dwarf yearling who is also at day 147?

Miss Kitty is really not looking like she is pregnant, but she also has an udder, so I have my hopes up. I've never had a ND with a precocious udder, and I hope she isn't the first.

And then there is Girlfriend the mini mancha, who isn't due until Thursday at the earliest, but she's bigger than either of the other goats, so I'm hoping she has twins doelings with gopher ears! Yes, I know, I want everything!

The only day that I have anything planned is Monday, so of course, that would be the logical time for everyone to go into labor, but everyone's tail ligaments still are as solid as steel, so I can't imagine they'll kid that soon.

As for Julia, the poor pig is so huge and miserable. The only time she stands up is if you bring food, and then she flails like a turtle that's stuck on its back. It's kind of scary, but so far she has always managed to get herself up. Her belly is dragging in the straw when she does attempt walking. Last year, she had nine, so I'm thinking she'll have more this year.

It's going to be an exciting week!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What's wrong with these beautiful pictures?

 Daffodils blooming

 Rose bush leafing out

 Pear tree ready to bloom
Cherry blossoms
It's March 18! In case you're wondering why that's a problem, it's because we have NEVER had daffodils blooming in mid-March in Illinois! Last year, the daffodils were blooming at the end of April. In 2010, the fruit trees had blossoms, and the daffodils were blooming in mid-April. Looking through my blog over the years, it appears that my memory has not failed me. Daffodils do appear in mid-April -- normally -- not mid-March. Rose bushes do not have green leaves on them, nor do pear trees or cherry bushes bloom in March.

Everything is coming out of hibernation. The bees are buzzing around pollinating the blossoms. The dayliles are coming up, as well as the irises and the tulips. We have made a temporary pen in the front yard for the goats so that they can get out of the barn, which is too hot for them.

I don't see any positive end to this. If we go back to normal temperatures, all of the buds will freeze, so we won't have any fruit this year. If these record-breaking temperatures continue, I can hardly imagine what that will mean for us this summer. We've been having temperatures well above normal since October. And the temperatures have been in the 80s for several days now, and they're predicting they will continue for several more days before falling into the 70s. Normal high for March is 50s with freezing temperatures overnight. The low tonight is supposed to be 62.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Out of the frying pan and into the fire?

I totally understand the people living in the cities around me who are celebrating this beautiful weather that we're having. We don't normally see 80 degrees in Illinois until May. Our normal highs this time of year are somewhere in the 50s with freezing temperatures overnight. But then our weather has not been normal for a long time. It has been way above normal ever since October. All winter long we didn't go more than about three days without the temperature going above freezing during the day, which is not good. I was watching it, hoping and praying to have a good, long freeze of at least a couple of weeks to kill the bugs and parasites that plague the garden and the livestock. But it never happened.

It was lovely to wake up this morning with a cool breeze blowing across my face from the open window. It's my favorite way to wake up, so there is a part of me that's loving this weather too. But there's the other part of me that is torn between letting my baby goats out onto pasture and keeping them in the barn. It usually isn't a tough decision this time of year. If the pasture is still frozen, let the goats out; if it's wet, leave them in the barn which is a comfortable temperature.

But the past few days, I've been choosing between a barn so hot the goats are panting and a pasture that is probably covered with larvae from haemonchus contortus just waiting to be eaten by a goat host. The wetter the pasture, the more likely the larvae is still alive, and I keep walking through the pastures trying to find one that's dry enough to convince me that the larvae has died and the eggs have dried out with no hope of hatching. It feels like a lose-lose situation. And it's supposed to rain again tomorrow.

I am contemplating some non-conventional ideas, like putting the mamas and babies in the front yard, where goats have not grazed in the past year, so there are no parasite eggs or larvae on the ground. The down side is that we need some type of enclosure so that they don't eat my evergreens. And it would take a few people to get them to and from the barn daily, but I'll have a lot of help for the next week because it's the beginning of spring break. The other issue is that there is no shade where the ground is dry, which is why the ground is dry! Hopefully we can figure out something that will work. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, everything changes!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cold, harsh reality

There is nothing like giving future homesteaders a real glimpse of reality, and that's exactly what happened yesterday -- and it wasn't the fun reality like the goat giving birth during our goat classes two weeks ago. We were doing one of our classes yesterday, and we went into the chicken house to talk about nest boxes and roosts and things like that when we discovered five dead hens: two in the nest boxes, two next to a door, and one halfway under the nest boxes. Each one had a puncture wound in its head, so they had been killed by something that just bit them in the head and then left them. From what I've heard about predators, it sounds like a mink because they are one of the few animals that kills for sport. We also found feathers behind the chicken house, so apparently one was also eaten.

We're pretty sure a turkey flew through
the window because a chicken wouldn't
have enough force to break it.
It just makes me sick to think of those poor chickens being chased and killed by some predator. As Temple Grandin says in the movie about her life, "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be." She says that in reference to the way that predators kill animals compared to how we slaughter animals, and it is so true that nature is inescapably cruel. The stress of being a prey animal has to be so much more horrible than we can imagine. Based upon where we found each of the hens, it appears they were trying to hide or escape at the moment they died. And the scariest thing of all was that one of the windows was completely shattered. All of the broken glass was outside the chicken house, meaning that it was broken by a bird -- probably a turkey -- trying to fly through it to escape to the outside.

We left the door open last night, so that if something did get inside, the birds would be able to run out. We also put the baby monitor in there so that we would be awakened immediately if there was another attack. Other than being awakened by roosters crowing shortly after 4 a.m., it was a quiet night. We realized our livestock guardian had somehow escaped from the goat pasture and was in the pasture with the chicken house, so we are wondering if he chased off the predator or killed it. We will probably sleep with the baby monitor in there for a few more nights before we're convinced that the birds are safe.


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