Two years ago this week, mammals were born under our supervision for the first time ever. We’d hatched a bunch of chickens, but mammal birth is completely different. (Can you tell I have a BS in Biology?) It’s hard to believe it has only been two years since we stumbled through our first kidding, as we’ve learned so much – and cleaned so much goo off newborn lambs and kids – since then.
The spring before the goat kids were born, we had attended one day of “lambing school” at a nearby ag school. I had my hand (and arm) all up in intimate parts of a ewe who was having trouble delivering a lamb, but that included three old, experienced vets standing over my shoulder, and I didn’t know that ewe at all.
Two years ago, in the middle of the night, I woke up for the 5th time and called up our barn camera on my cell phone (oh! technology!!). My sweet, skinny, not very thrifty goat Kaylee was squatting and clearly in labor.
Or, she was peeing? How would I know? I’d never done this before.
Bill and I climbed out of bed and into warm farmy overalls and barn jackets and set out into the cold. The corner of the barn where Kaylee was (at this point) clearly giving birth was actually snuggly and warm with a thick layer of clean straw that I would have curled up on and taken a nap – it being the middle of the night – if I weren’t so terrified.
Terrified because it was the middle of the night and the vet was snuggled in his bed and not in his office just half a mile down the road, and terrified because mammal birth is really quite dramatic.
Fortunately, Kaylee is one of the toughest goats I know, and she knew what she was doing. Her first baby – a boy with a white tipped tail – was born without issue within 5 minutes of our arrival. Kaylee then delivered two more kids, licked them clean and stood patiently while they tried to nurse.
The general rule in lambing and kidding is that you’d like the newborn to be up on their feet and nursing within one hour. Since this rule is about the only concrete thing I know about delivering lambs and kids, I’m always on top of it. What time did that baby pop out? Set the timer!
Bunny, the first born, and Katya (who was born last and came out like a rocket), were up and standing and poking around for some milk. Watching baby animals stand and try to nurse right after they are born should be amazing. Like, they were inside another animal 25 minutes ago. They just came out into the cold December night. And now they are standing? What?!? How amazing.
It’s not like that for me. I’m watching the clock and watching them nose around under their mother’s front legs looking for an udder on the wrong side of the goat. Gah! Dumb baby thing that’s only been breathing on your own for half an hour – why is this so hard?? That’s a knee! Not a nipple! Stop chewing on the straw! Stop falling over!!
It takes a ton of restraint for me to not micromanage the situation. I know, in my brains, that the babies need time to bond and learn, and it’s best for them, as well as the does and ewes for me to stay out of the way. I know I shouldn’t intervene. It still drives me nutty. Fortunately, Bill is the calmest dude on earth, and I enjoy holding his hand, and the straw really can be quite snuggly.
After about 45 minutes of the waiting and watching, it became obvious that the middle kid wasn’t going to stand on her own and nurse. She was shivering and could barely lift her head, let alone her body. That fantastic technology that let me look at the barn from my bed, and helped me keep time from birth to nursing, also helped me figure out what to do with a “chilled” kid. It involved a trip to the house tucked inside Bill’s coat, and a long soak in hot water in our bathroom sink.
Lambs and kids are basically skin and bones when they are born and need to nurse quickly in order to maintain their body temperature. That rule about an hour helps make sure they don’t get so cold that they can’t physically stand and nurse. The middle kid was born so weak that she would never had stood on her own. If we hadn’t been there for her birth, she would have died quickly of hypothermia.
When we first got her into the house (it was our first time for a goat in the house), and into the hot sinkbath, we had to hold her head above the water, and she wasn’t showing many signs of life. After about an hour, she started kicking and being ornery. We dried her off with a towel, stuck her back inside Bill’s coat, and took her back to the barn. We helped her nurse, watched everyone settle in for a bit, and stumbled up to our own beds. I would have slept in the straw, but Bill still had to go to work later that morning, and I wanted him to get some real sleep before he did.
Later, I sneaked quietly out of bed and back to the barn. I was expecting the chilled kid to be weak and lethargic (or worse), but she was standing and alert. We’ve had to repeat this process twice with lambs over the past two years, and I’m always amazed at how little milk they need to get going.
After we were feeling confident that the baby goat was doing alright, Bill suggested that we name her Pandora because she helped us find hope where it didn’t seem like there would be any.
The three kids are all grown now – Pandora even had a kid of her own this spring. They sleep together in a big pile, just as they did when they were small enough to fit under the feeders. They are a potent reminder of how far we’ve come as farmers and how resilient life can be.