Posts Tagged ‘goatkeeping’

Little Orphan Phoebe

It was a first birth for Claire and I was frankly surprised it went so rough. Her mom had always had an easy time getting her kids on the ground, and some of the time did it without any help. I was sure she would follow in her mother’s footsteps. This time I was wrong. It was Monday morning and I noticed that her udder was quickly bagging up (of course she was not going to do it over the weekend, when I had time off work- doe’s code of honor). She started to get “that look” in her eyes and I knew her time was drawing near. I called in to the office to let them know I would be late, and started my watch. By noon she was picking at her food and talking to her side- it should not be long now. By 2 pm she was down on her side pushing, but by 2:30 she was not making any progress. I got out the gloves and the lube. There was a tiny pair of feet in the birth canal but not a head to be felt. Not good. I let another ten minuets go by and still no progress. I have done this enough to know when it is time to call the vet. Dr. Bailey was not in the office but I did have his cell number. He was only a few minutes away and came right over. He could feel the feet as well, but not the head with them. He tried to turn the kid, and then only had the head, but no front feet.
There just did not seem to be a way to get this baby into the proper position. “Well” I said at last “Just bring the kid out head first.” Dr. Bailey always likes to have the feet as well, but decided to deliver the kid without then this time. After some pushing, and a few screams from the doe, a tiny doe kid was pulled into the world. Dr. Bailey was surprised to see she was still alive. He handed her off to me and reached back in for the next one. Again after much pushing and pulling, a tiny buck kid was retrieved, weak and sputtering, but alive. He weighed in at only 1 lb 6 oz, and she just under 2 pounds. I am not sure if it was the traumatic birth or just Claire’s take on being a new mom, but the doe did not seem to want to have anything to do with these newborns.  As Dr Bailey looked down at the two tiny, struggling babes on the blanket, he looked at me and said that I now had my work cut out for me. I think it was his kind way of saying these kids really did not have much of a chance at this point. If I could get them past the first 48 hours they might have a chance.

Newborn Phoebe

For the rest of the afternoon, I milked out the colostrum from the VERY uncooperative mother, and fed the kids with an eyedropper. I followed the doe around with the babes, hoping she would bond with them. Not only did she not want them anywhere near her- she actually turned around and butted them away, hard!
By that evening the night air began to chill, and I had no choice but to go to “plan B”, and bring the poor little things into the house. I found a large cardboard box, lined it with a plastic trash bag, and covered the floor with newspapers. Next I put down a heating pad, and then some large towels. this would keep them snuggley and warm. Both were too weak to suck on a bottle, so I fed them every 4 hours with the eyedropper throughout the night.
By the next morning, the little doe was strong enough to stand a bit, and I once again took her out and tried to introduce her to her mom. This time Clair knocked her for six, so I took her right back into the house. I came to the sad reallity that I would now be raising my very first pair of orphan kids.
The first 3 days were very tedious, keeping up with the feedings every 4 hours around the clock. By day 4, the little doe was finally able to latch onto the nipple of the bottle, but the little buck kid continued to grow weak, and he left us that same afternoon. It was touch and go every day with the doe. She did not gain much weight, and chilled easily. She was not able to stand up very well, and seemed weak in her front legs. Sometimes she did not want to eat at all, and I had to revert back to the eyedropper. I bought some Pedilite to keep her hydrated, and put a few drops of Red Cell in her milk at each feeding. Still she struggled.
I remembered when one of our goats had been anemic the year before, and we had given her injections of B-12, so I began to give the little doe 1cc of the B-12 every 12 hours.
At 1 week of age, she seemed unable to walk altogether, and was still not gaining any weight. I would hold her in my lap and move her little legs for her, so her muscles would not atrophy. This went on all through the second week of her life, until I noticed she was sometimes able to stand for a few minuets. I began to get behind her and just scoot her along so she would have to take small steps. I slept on the couch with her curled up in my arms to keep warm.
By week 3 she was taking more steps on her own, but was all but lame in the right front leg. I began to feed her a few teaspoons of greek yogurt every day, and continued the B-12 shots. She began to walk a bit more. Then one day I found her in her box laying stiff on her side. It looked she had seizured. She was still alive, so I got her upright and got her moving again. At one month old, I gave her 1cc of CDT and prayed. She still weighed a good pound less then the set of twins that were born a week after her. Her right front leg still buckled out in front of her, causing a limp.
More shots, more bottles, more prayer – day after day. I never even did name her, for fear every day that she would not live. Then the day came at last when she took a turn for the better. Her legs became stronger, she started to walk with ease, and then she delighted me one day when she jumped up the porch steps. At 5 weeks I tapered the B-12 down to 1 cc every other day, and then tapered off of it. We named her Phoebe, and she is now doing quite well. She downs 4 cups of milk replacer everyday, has gained weight, grown, and has started to nibble at some hay.

Our healthy, happy girl.

Now, at 6 weeks old, we go in back and have “play dates” in the nursery pen with the other moms and babies. We then race each other back down the driveway and into the kitchen. I marvel at her sweet but spunky personaility and try not to think back on those hard days we had together. Each day now she is less and less dependent on me, and goes off to explore her world more and more without me, but that’s ok. That is as it should be. As much as I enjoy the special bond we share I will be glad for the day when she will be able to go out and join the tribe.
For now I will just enjoy the last few weeks of the bottles, and the cuddling, and the sweet goat murmurs she whispers in my ears.
All the worry has been worth it, and it reminds me that I am indeed a goatherd, and to always be humble before God’s creatures.

 

 

 

Quinn’s Twins!

Buckling #1

Buckling #2

Winter’s “Tween” Week

December 21st  brought us once again to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The good news is, from here on out the days will slowly start to get longer once again. This is that in-between week when we start to put away Christmas and look ahead to the new year. Christmas cards have stopped coming but the good news is now the spring seed catalogs are starting to fill the mailbox! All the beautiful winter scenes – snowmen, stockings hung by crackling fireplaces  – are now being replaced by glossy pages of colorful spring flowers and plump, ripe fruits and vegetables. Stirring our hearts and minds into that euphoric state of happiness that helps us cope with the now freezing tempetures outside. The nights have been well under 30 degrees for at least the last 2 ½  weeks now (and yes, I do get to complain because this is Southern California).

During the morning feeding I get to go crunching across the frozen grass and push my way through stiff cold gate hinges to be met by frozen hoses as I fill mangers and de-ice water buckets.  The tribe of goats stay tucked down in the thick straw inside the barn and they don’t even budge when I fill the feeders with fresh hay. Nikki (the LDG) is usually somewhere in the middle of the pile of goats, all keeping each other warm, and only just barely lifts her head and opens one eye when I peek in on the group. They all know their breakfast will be waiting for them when they decide to leave their warm nest and venture out into the morning. For now, they will sleep in until the sun crests the mountain and the day warms up a bit more. To be honest, I can get these jobs done a bit faster when the animals are not all underfoot, but I miss the sounds of them pushing and calling for their morning meals.

As I look across the gardens and raised beds most everything is brown and crunchy and weary from the cold. Most of the dead plant matieral has been pulled up and tossed into the compost piles. The pomegranate trees were pruned back hard in the last few weeks and the piles of leaves and clippings have been burned as kindling in the fireplace. This week we worked on pruning back the roses and berry canes. I cleaned out the barn and treated all of the animals for lice since they are all sleeping together in closer quarters now. We took advantage of some of our time off to trim the spurs on all of the roosters and everyone in the barnyard received a pedicure this month (I have the blisters to prove it!) This coming week I plan to clean out the nursery pen and get it fixed up for the first babies of 2012 (due the end of January). There are currently three does in the breeding pens, and four more will go in late Febuary or early March for summer babies. This morning I dragged the plastic boxes from the garage back into the house and started to pack up the Christmas ornaments. Tonight I will try to finish this job, and then start to toss out the leftovers that have been pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. I will eat the last of the christmas baked goods as I reflect on this season. Christmas is over, and the year is almost done. I am right in-between tired and happy this week. Not a bad place to be if you stop and think about it.

Helping Hands

I have come to discover that all work on this farm falls into one of two categories- a “job” or a  “project”.  A job usually needs to be completed in a shorter time frame, and a project can sometimes be left open-ended for a time. Both can mean a lot of hard work, and sometimes we put these things off for as long as we can before starting, knowing the work ahead of us. But just like in the song from Mary Poppins, if we try to have some fun while doing it, or at least make it interesting, it can go by a lot quicker and not seem as taxing on our minds and bodies. Also, more hands always make the work load lighter, so if you can get others to help out, it does make a big difference.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a “work day” on the farm that started very early for us. After the morning’s first cups of coffee, it was time to finish the project of getting the large Joseph’s Coat rose, that has been overgrown and pulling his arbor down for the last 2 years, under control. I had already spent the better part of three or four hours (on and off) cutting back the overgrowth and bagging up the canes with their abundant sharp spines. Not an easy or fun task to say the least. Anyone who has ever tackled this particular species of rose knows exactly what I am talking about. He is a wicked spiny beast that is hard to tame – even the leaves have spines!

Now it was time to get down to shaping the main part of the bush, and getting the arbor back in an upright position. Since this was way too big a job for just myself, I enlisted the help of my friend Matt Boeck from Rancho Organica in Santa Barbara. He has much more knowledge then I do when it comes to pruning back canes. So, armed with long handled loppers and pruners in hand, we marched together into the battle against this massive errant rose. It took us a solid 45 minutes of clipping, lopping, and pulling, all the while being pricked, poked, scratched, and snagging our clothes before we were able to finally get this beastly climber under our control. Then we had to reposition the huge rebar arbor and tie the remaining canes to it. At last we were able to step back, tired and bloodied from the struggle, to admire our handiwork. A long hard project finished at last! In no time Joseph will make his comeback in a controlled way, and he will be much easier to deal with and tame in the coming years. Thank you Matt!

Next, it was time for processing the Christmas turkey and a few meat birds to go into the freezer. If you are vegan or a PETA person, please skip this part of the story and read below about the goats. This bird was scheduled to be done the week before Thanksgiving, but was given a stay of execution because we got rained out that day.  Our friend Katie from Zack Family Farm came over for this job, and Christy also joined in, and we spent the next couple of hours having what we affectionately call one of our “chicken pickin’ parties.” Again, the more hands, the easier and faster the job goes, and before we knew it, this job too was completed.

Then Dr. Rose (who happens to be our dentist) stopped by for a long overdue visit, and we gave her a full tour of the farm and all the animals. After that pleasant break, it was time for the last job of the day that we had been putting off for a week – time to worm. delouse, and trim the hoofs of all the goats who are out in the field (13). Christy graciously volunteered to help me with this. We moved the milk stand in front of the empty nursery pen and then brought out all of the tools and treatments necessary for this procedure. The goats were all bribed into the small pen with a bucket full of sweet grain and locked in. It is an old trick but they fall for it every time. Each goat is then brought out in turn, and either held on a lap, depending on how cooperative they are, or placed on the milk stand with their heads in the sanction while we treat them.  Most of the younger goats don’t mind these ministrations, but some of the older does do not like having their feet worked on, and in fact will fight against it. But in the end everyone gets treated and nothing is really hurt but the pride.  We also take this time to check eyes and noses, feel to see if everyone is in good weight under their heavy winter coats, adjust collars, and try to see if we can feel movement of the babies with any of the pregnant does. We were blessed to discover that all are in good health this winter.  After all the catching, dragging, hoisting, holding, inspecting, clipping and treating, it was the day’s end and we were beat. 13 goats times 4 feet each makes for 52 little hoofs to trim, so there is inevitably a blister or two by the end! As we walked wearily from the field and close the gate behind us, we are very tired, yet at the same time there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that we completed this job. It needed to be done and we did it. As I dragged myself to my final reward – a nice hot shower to wash away the day’s dirt and grime – I felt good about the jobs and projects completed this day. I am thankful for all who joined in, their helping hands made these things easier and their company made the time go faster.  Thank you, one and all!

Farmwear

Each year in October St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai hosts their “Blessing of the Animals” service. It is a service conducted in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. He was said to have a great love for all animals and even preached sermons to the birds. Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. He knew that the bond between person and animals is like no other relationship.

No wonder people enjoy this opportunity to take their animal companions to St. Andrews for this special blessing. It is always held outdoors and I just love the sight of pairs of creatures – one human, one animal sitting close together, or held in arms. There is such a variety of dogs, large and small, that attend but each and every living thing is welcomed. Every year a large tortoise spends most of his time meandering through the rows of chairs set up on the grassy lawn. I remember one year a small clear plastic box being passed around with a very cool little horned toad, who looked prickly but felt more like rubber when touched. There have been birds, bunnies, snakes, and a large white goose in attendance over the years.

Katie with Junior

When the priest passes each animal for the blessing, he asks for the animal’s name, and then he welcomes them with a special prayer. As the prayer is offered they are gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or not, most of the animals take this sacramental spritz with dignity. During the singing of the hymns a few non-human voices can be heard lifted in song, and usually a very well-timed grunt or squeal is heard during the sermon, which makes everyone giggle. I think this is enjoyed by all who attend, regardless if they are pet owners or not…

Every year we go and take one or two of the baby goats with us. This year, I took Mercy and Val. Christy held little Val and I had the larger kid on a lead. She went from standing next to me to wanting to be held.

Christy with Val

Just as the service ended, I was sitting down with Mercy draped across my lap when a little boy approched us. He spoke softly so I leaned closer to hear him. He was around 4 years old with light brown hair and big blue eyes. “What is your goat’s name?” he asked me softly. “Her name is Mercy,” I responded. “What is your name?” I asked him. “Landon” he answered. “Landon, would you like to pet Mercy?” I asked. He immediately dropped onto his knees in the grass and made eye contact with her. He cupped his little hands and then gently put them under the goat’s chin, and brought their noses together until they touched. Then he gave the goat a gentle scratch on the head. He stood up again, and looked at me, “Ya know what?” he said. “What?” I asked. “I can tell that you are a farmer.” he said. “Really?” I asked, thinking that he was obviously discerning this from the fact that I was sitting there with a barnyard animal in my lap, “How can you tell?” He pointed to the overalls I was wearing. “Because you are wearing those, and that’s what farmers wear.” he stated confidently. “Yes, you are right,” I said, taken back a bit by this observation, “farmers wear overalls.” I was not even thinking that I had put on a pair of capri-length bib overalls and blue work shirt that morning. I didn’t do it to look like a farmer, just as something I wear to deal with the animals in. I guess somewhere along the way this little boy must have identifed overalls as something that only farmers wear- our “costume” for the job of farmer. I smiled at his statement as this was something that had never crossed my mind before. In another moment he ran off.I don’t think I will ever be able to buckle up into my overalls ever again without thinking about that exchange. Pointed out to me by a four year old boy, I will think of them always as my costume, my uniform that identifies me as a farmer. From now on I will wear my overalls as a symbol of my occupation, not as just a cover-up from barnyard debris. Thank you, Landon for bringing dignity to my farm clothes, I will wear them proudly from now on.

Chi-Chi Watch 2010

We are now on what we call “chi chi watch” with the does. This starts about a month before our does are due to kid. We start watching for changes in the udders. The does will “bag up” anywhere from 48 hours to a month before kidding. After a while you get to know the way each animal acts, but sometimes they can fool you! I think Bella will go off first…we will see….

Now I will fast forward from my happy young days in the garden, to about the fourth grade and my first goat experience. I somehow ended up at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona one September day. I don’t even remember who I was with or just how I got there- but I DO remember standing in the goat barn during the dairy goat show. There was a lady who had a larger black and white alpine doe up on a milk stand in the aisle. I stood frozen, only feet away from this big beautiful deer-like creature, the likes of which I had only seen in books (or its squatty, horned counterparts that had chewed my hair at the petting area in the L A zoo.) I was in total awe! And then it happened- right then and there, so clear to me as if it was yesterday- the goatkeeper must have seen the look on my face, recognized it, and then she said those magical words…”do you want to touch her?” I immediately stepped forward and put my hand on the doe’s withers, and slowly ran it down her smooth top line and then over her full capacious belly. Her skin was fine, and the coat had been clipped short and glistened in the sun. The doe looked back at me just then, and blinked her big golden brown eyes and that was it. I was hooked. I have been hooked ever since. People are born to do certain things with their lives. I am, as it turns out, a goatkeeper. It does not matter that I wasn’t raised with livestock or on a farm. I have spent from that moment on knowing that I was a goatkeeper, and that I would not be truly happy unless this was somehow part of my life. It became my destiny, or as I sometimes joke, my density, depending on the day you ask me!