Thursday, February 18, 2016

Quick and simple triplets

Blanche with her doelings at one day old
Usually I have yoga on Tuesdays, but I had received a call Monday saying that our instructor was ill, so class was canceled. I was somewhat relieved to hear that because at that point, intern Stef had not seen a birth yet. Little did I know at that moment, but before the day had ended, she would see the most complicated birth we'd ever had on the farm. (See yesterday's post for details.)

Tuesday morning, when I would have normally been at my yoga class, I heard the unmistakable sound of a goat pushing. The sound was coming from the television in our bedroom upstairs, and I was at my desk. I ran upstairs and saw that Blanche was lying on her side with her legs stretched out in front of her. Yep, she's pushing. Having no idea how long I'd be outside, I figured I should go to the bathroom before putting on my insulated overalls, coat, and boots.

When I was in the bathroom, I could tell that the sound of her bleats were becoming more and more serious. I ran down the stairs, pulled on my outerwear as quickly as I could while also calling Mike's cell to tell him that Blanche was pushing. He and Stef were across the creek tapping maple trees. I hustled across the yard to the barn, reminding myself to pay attention so that I wouldn't slip on the ice and hurt myself.

When I walked into the barn, Blanche was licking a little black kid. Because the temperature was in the 30s, I grabbed a towel to help get most of the birth goo off the kid so it wouldn't get hypothermia. Stef walked in, and I realized I didn't know if the kid was a buck or a doe, so I checked. It was a doe!

A few minutes later Blanche pushed again, and we saw a nose and two hooves -- perfect presentation! And a few seconds later, the kid was born. A beautiful red doe! (pictured at right)

Only a couple minutes later, Blanche pushed again, and it was another perfect nose and two hooves presentation. The kid was born quickly and easily. It was another doe!

The first kid weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces, while the second one was the largest at 4 pounds, 3 ounces, and the third one was in the middle at 3 pounds, 6 ounces. We seem to be having larger than average kids this year.

I told Stef that in only two births, she had seen the two most extreme situations -- one that required serious intervention and one that only required us to dry off the kids and make sure they started nursing, which they also did quite well.

We will have four more births within the next week and then we'll have a break from kidding for a month.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our most challenging birth ... with a happy ending

Sadie and her triplet doelings at one day of age

After a week of being on kid watch and thinking that Cicada or Sophie would give birth, Monday afternoon Sadie went into labor. I was supposed to be teaching a class at the local community college on how to get your writing published. My husband Mike and intern Stefanie were here, and although part of me thought that it would be fine to leave them in charge, there was another part of me that thought something wasn't quite right.

Sadie started pushing shortly after 4:00. She wasn't pushing particularly hard and didn't seem distressed, but she kept changing positions -- sitting like a dog, standing and arching her back up like a camel, or squatting to push. Everything in my head said that the kid was not in a great position, and she was changing positions to try to move it along. Most goats give birth lying on their side, and those that do give birth standing are not making their back look like the classic Halloween cat.

At 4:30 I was thinking that I should be going into the house to shower and have dinner, but surely the first kid will be born any minute now, and I can show Stef how to dry it off so that she can handle the rest as they're born. This is her first birth.

By 5:00 I'm thinking that I didn't really need that much time to shower and eat, and that first kid is going to be here really soon, especially after I see a bubble of water appear and break. I slip one finger into Sadie and feel something hard, pointy, and boney. It's probably a butt. It's definitely not a nose. Breech kids take a little longer to push out because the butt is more blunt than the nose, which is torpedo-shaped. But the kid should be born soon.

As the minutes tick past, I start to think that I can get away without showering. As more time passes, I tell Stef that I don't need dinner. I can just eat a banana in the car as I'm driving to class. I'll eat dinner when I get home at 9:30. When I check Sadie again, I immediately realize the kid has not budged at all in the last half hour. Something is definitely not right. I realize I have to stay with Sadie. Mike has never dealt with any labor complications, and his hands are much bigger than mine.

I call the college and apologize profusely for canceling at the last minute. "I have a goat in labor who is having complications, and I can't leave."

Sadie is pushing so hard that her rectum is prolapsing. Basically she's pushing it inside out. It's not something I've seen before, and I hope to never see it again. Thankfully, when she stops pushing, everything goes back inside where it belongs. It happens a few more times over the next hour or two, but it all goes back inside whenever she stops pushing.

I ultimately figured out that the kid was indeed breech, but unlike every other breech kid ever born on this farm whose legs were straight up against its stomach and chest, this little darling had its legs folded as if it were lying in the pasture enjoying a sunny day. So, in your typical breech, there is only the circumference of the kid's butt and a single set of bones from it's hind legs that are pressed straight against its body. But in this case, there was the circumference of the kid's butt PLUS three sets of bones from the hind legs that were folded up like a Z against its body.

Summarizing the whole thing in a paragraph like that makes it sound far more simple that it was. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I was feeling when I examined Sadie, and I was talking out loud to Mike and Stef about it, trying to help myself visualize it all. I knew I needed to find the hind feet and pull them out, but I couldn't find them. Finally, I decided to phone a friend who has a lot more goats than me, so has seen a lot more unusual presentations. As I was walking towards the house, my brain seemed to connect the dots of what I had been feeling inside Sadie, so I was able to explain it to her far better than I could have a few minutes earlier.

She said I needed to push the kid back inside so that I could straighten out the back legs and pull them out of the doe to deliver the kid. "Do you have a cattle sleeve," she asked, referring to the plastic gloves that go up to your shoulder. "Yes," I replied.

"If you're wearing a shirt, take it off because it's just going to get in your way -- unless you can push your shirt sleeve up to your shoulder." I didn't bother telling her that it was 30 degrees here or that I was actually wearing a shirt, a sweater, and a coat. None of that changed what needed to be done.

Sadie and her first doeling
After I got back to the barn, I was explaining to Mike and Stef what I needed to do. I took off my coat, trying to ignore the cold, and managed to push my shirt and sweater up above my elbow. Stef asked me a question about the kid's presentation and how I would be rearranging it, and as I responded to her question, it actually helped me clarify to myself what I was doing. Although the concept was simple, the task itself was not easy, and it was punctuated with me saying, "I hate this," and "I'm so sorry, Sadie," over and over again.

Once I had both legs out, it really was not hard at all to pull the kid out. It was a doe! And she didn't seem to be the least bit troubled by the ordeal that her mother and I had endured to get her into this world.

As we were cleaning her up, Sadie pushed out the second kid, which was another doe, also in excellent condition.

Then a big bubble of fluid appeared under Sadie's tail. I saw something small and black in the bubble, and I said, "That looks like an ear." Then in a moment of wishful thinking, I said, "It's probably a tail," even though my brain was saying that a tail would be shorter and thicker. It was indeed an ear, which unfortunately for Sadie meant that I would have to push the kid back inside of her, where there would be more room, so that I could flip up the chin so that it could come out nose first. After having just rearranged the first kid, I was not feeling nearly as nervous about helping this one.

We ultimately learned that the third kid was the largest of the three -- also a doeling -- at 4 pounds, 2 ounces. The first one weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces, and the second one was 3 pounds, 6 ounces. After getting all of the kids to nurse, it was 9:00, which is when my class at the community college would have ended. I was glad that I had canceled because I probably would have been called home early, if I had gone in. Or, if no one had called me, we probably would not have had three live, healthy doelings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Piglet birth and death

During chores Friday night, Stefanie discovered a newborn piglet wandering around in the pasture. It was freezing outside, and we were not expecting any piglets until April. We had only put the sows with the boars two months ago, and pigs are pregnant for almost four months. Unfortunately we had forgotten that the boars broke into the sows' pasture four months ago. Even though we didn't see any breeding, we should have known that sows in heat would be the reason that boars would decide to bust into the sows' pasture one day.

And here we were dealing with the consequences of that unauthorized breeding. Mike and Stefanie found five piglets, but two had already died. They moved Rachel and the remaining three piglets into a stall in the barn with a heat lamp. One was nearly dead from hypothermia, so they put it in a bucket of warm water to bring it back to life. It seemed to have worked.

Saturday morning there was a dead piglet in the water pan. Mike couldn't find the other two. He dug through the straw in the stall and finally found one that was barely alive. He and Stefanie continued digging through the straw but never found the third piglet. 

They brought the remaining piglet -- a gilt weighing 1.3 pounds -- into the house and warmed it up in a bucket of water, then dried it off and put it on a heating pad in a laundry basket. Stefanie offered it a bottle of warm goat milk every couple of hours, although it only took about an ounce each time. As the hours passed, it actually took less and less milk.

Stefanie put the laundry basket with the piglet in her bedroom when she was ready to go to sleep. She woke up in the middle of the night to give the piglet more milk, but it was dead.

The best laid plan of farmers often mean nothing. I specifically did not want winter piglets for this very reason, which is why we had the boars and sows separated last fall until December. If only we had looked at the pig gestation calculator and marked the calendar for possible farrowing after the boars busted into the sows' pasture, things might have turned out differently. But that didn't happen. So, what can we do now?

We took a really close look at Alice, the other sow that was in the pasture with Rachel, and she looks pregnant. Her teats are starting to fill with milk, so she will probably be farrowing soon. We put her in the barn and are checking on her regularly. She's the one who loves belly rubs, so I just came inside after giving her big pregnant belly a rub down this evening and checking out her teats. They are not super full, so I'm hoping we won't get any piglets overnight. Since they weigh around a pound at birth, it would be good if we're there to dry them off when they're born because mama pigs don't clean their babies at birth.

She is in the big barn, which doesn't have any monitoring system. I would put her in the kidding barn, but it is all set for the six goats that will be giving birth in the next ten days, so there's no room for her. Unfortunately high temperatures are below freezing with lows in the single digits for the next week. Life is about to get really crazy around here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Celebrating 10 years! and looking forward ...

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of this little blog! If you're wondering how it all started, here is that rather pathetic little post. I wrote about Katherine and me taking a vacation and lamented the fact that when you live on a farm, it's tough for the whole family to take a vacation together. Unfortunately, we were never able to take a vacation together as a family ever again as the children were growing up. I'm still holding out hope that at some point, we'll have a trusted farm sitter, and even though our children are all grown up now, we will be able to take a family vacation at some point. But I digress ...

My blog is ten years old! Wow! Like any long-term commitment, it's had its ups and down. Some years have been better than others. I'm really proud of my 244 posts in 2009. I blogged two out of three days that year! On the other hand, I really am disappointed in myself for only posting 24 times last year. The thing is -- I love blogging on here! But once I started writing books, the blog fell on the back burner, even though it should not have.

I started blogging almost four years into our homesteading journey because a lot of friends kept telling me that I should write a book about my experiences. Problem was ... I knew that a book had to be more than just a bunch of charming little stories. A book has to have conflict and drama and a narrative arc, and it all has to be told in a unique voice. So, I started this blog to "find my voice." How was my writing uniquely me?

I guess that's the thing I loved about writing on here. I could be me. I didn't have a professor or editor telling me that I couldn't start a sentence with "and" or that I shouldn't use a cliche or that I wasn't being formal enough. This is where I really learned how to write in a conversational tone.

But is there a story here? That was the other reason I started blogging. I thought that by writing about some of the things that happen to us, I might find a story that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. We are not talking about the end of someone's life here. But the story has to have a satisfying end point. The funny thing about that is that I've found several possible end points. Will I ever write a memoir? Possibly.

In the meantime, we're busier than ever on the farm. Once our children left, we realized that either we had to cut back drastically -- or turn this into a real business. Because I'd feel selfish if I had my own private 32-acre park -- land that could be used to feed people organic food -- we opted for turning this into a real business.

So, I hope to continue blogging on here for many years to come!


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