Monday, May 16, 2016
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Thursday, May 5, 2016
What's in these jars? Honey? Apple cider?
I finally took the big package of pork fat out of the freezer and rendered it all. It was a slow day. I don't know how many pounds of fat these six quarts represents - probably about fifteen or sixteen. The sliced fat filled my largest cauldron.
It's not all from our last pig - when I went to the butcher's to pick him up, there was no fat, which I had specifically asked for. The lady behind the counter said - "oh, let me go look."
A suspiciously long time passed. When she reappeared she apologized and said that the order to save the fat hadn't gotten written down. She gave us a big bag of pork fat that was clearly from a much fatter pig than our had been. I hope nobody else is missing their fat! Not likely - most people don't even want it.
Which is kind of hard to understand. Lard is a wonderful thing, assuming you like pork. Home rendered lard will not be odorless and tasteless like the lard at the store; it will have an unctuous, rich, porky taste. And contrary to popular belief, lard is not a terrible fat, health wise. In fact, it is probably better for you than butter or coconut fat, which is so trendy these days.
To render lard from pork fat, keep the heat on medium to medium-low. Even if all the pieces look like pure fat, there will always be skin and connective tissue, and you don't want to scorch it. As the fat starts to melt, add a cup or two of water. This will help you regulate the temperature (water is simmering = good) and also help avoid scorching. The water will boil off as the fat melts completely.
Occasionally stir and turn the fat to make sure all parts come in contact with the hot bottom of the kettle. The connective tissue and skin and little bits of meat here and there will start to fry, eventually becoming dark, crispy cracklings. These are not the same as chicharrones, which are made from pieces of actual skin. These cracklings will probably be too fatty or greasy to be good, except for the occasional piece of deep fried meat. They do make good dog treats, though in small quantities!
When everything is melted, the water has boiled off, and the cracklings are dark brown, you are ready to store the lard. I am storing mine in quart jars in the chest freezer, plus one jar open in the fridge, for everyday use. There's no need to actually can the fat - it will keep virtually forever in the fridge or freezer.
Simply wait an hour our so with the kettle on the lowest possible heat, for all the solid bits to settle at the bottom. Then you can ladle the clear lard off the top. The last little bit can be poured through a coffee filter. The lard in the photos above is still hot - when it cools it will turn almost pure white.
Lard has a myriad of uses in the kitchen. I probably wouldn't use this lard for pie crust, unless I were making a savory pie like a quiche. Might taste a little funny in a sweet pie. But you can use it as a regular sautéing fat; it's especially good for frying eggs or making fried rice. A spoonful of lard is the best medium for making refried beans. However my favorite use for lard is in tamales. There is nothing like the lard from a real pastured pig to make tamales taste fantastic. One of these days when we are all home and have nothing to do, we will get together and make a whole bunch of tamales together as a family. Here's how my mother-in-law taught me do it.
I don't think we will get a pig this year. We are going to be gone most of the summer and lately I've been feeling that we have quite enough animals already, thank you. Plus the pasture is still recuperating from the last pig. We have eaten most of that pig already - there's just some unflavored sausage and a ham left. But with all this lard I can have some pig flavor whenever I want, for the foreseeable future.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Another unsettling thing - despite the hot weather, I had seen nary a bee this year. A few bumblebees here and there, and as usual a ton of wasps, but no honeybees. A beekeeper friend of mine told me that her bees were so busy she was already putting honey supers on top of the hives, something she usually does in late June or early July. She thought it was probably from a lack of competition. I told her that other beekeeper friends of mine had lost most of their hives last winter - apparently the mites were just terrible last year.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Cheese season will be short this year. We are leaving for Oaxaca June 24th, and at that point we will let the does dry off, since Rowan cannot milk and take care of the farm and go to school full time. Right now, Iris is at peak milk production, providing me with just about a gallon of milk a day. The other two does still have kids on them, and I am not usually bothering to separate the kids because Iris is providing me all the milk I can reasonably use.
Unless, that is, I find a solution for the difficult problem of aging hard cheese. I have tried for several years, with little success (okay, no success) to age my hard cheeses. I purchased a wine fridge. I bought cheese wax and waxed the cheeses and stored them in the wine fridge. I read about optimal humidity levels. I turned them over daily. No matter what I did, the wax cracked and the cheese molded within about a month to six weeks.
With larger wheels of cheese (large for me is about a four to five pound wheel) I was able to whittle off the mold and eat the interior of the cheese, but more than half of it was lost, and I could always detect a little moldiness even after trimming. Just seemed like a giant waste and a big disappointment.
So this year I have been making more chèvre, which I can use up in lots of ways (although I feel like an Iron Chef with chèvre as a secret ingredient - "you must use chèvre in EVERY dish") There's about three pounds of it in the fridge at the moment. I still make the hard cheese, my farmhouse cheddar, but we just have to eat it young. It's extremely frustrating, because the cheese continues to improve every day, right up until the day it starts to mold, which is at about one month. Very green hard cheese is not delicious - it's naturally quite sour and one-dimensional. Complex flavors don't begin to develop and the sourness doesn't subside until the cheese is about two weeks old, and then it becomes a challenge to try and eat it before it goes bad two weeks later. I have found that I can speed up the maturation process some by cutting the fresh cheese into 2" cubes and giving them a final salting. But what I really want is to be able to make hard cheese that I can eat six months later.
Recently, an exciting new cheese shop opened up in my town, Twin Sisters Creamery (http://www.twinsisterscreamery.com/#!cheese-shop/cjdh). Not only do they sell a wonderful assortment of cheeses both local and international, but they are cheesemakers as well, producing a terrific blue cheese called "Whatcom Blue," among others. When they first opened, I went in and had a long chat with one of the owners and she was delightful. We talked about cheese for a half hour or so, and she was interested in the fact that there are many home cheesemakers around. I told her I'd be back as soon as cheese season started, and if she wanted to sample some of my goat cheese, she'd be more than welcome. She said she'd love to.
It occurred to me today to go and ask her about solutions for my storage issues. I brought along a wheel of two-day old cheese, and two baggies of cheese cubes, one about two weeks old and one about four weeks old. I was hoping that she would want to taste my cheese and would be impressed with it (I'm a sucker for praise), but mostly I was just hoping she would have some suggestions for aging it successfully.
Turns out, she wasn't there. I spoke to her husband, instead, who was a very kind and friendly guy, but not the head honcho cheesemaker. He didn't want to taste the cheese ("I'm not really a goat cheese kind of guy") and I don't blame him - if I were a professional cheesemaker I certainly wouldn't want to taste random cheese from a local person I'd never met before. He did, however, have a very useful suggestion for me.
A Foodsaver. A vacuum-sealer.
It was kind of a "du-uh" moment.
Vacuum sealers are the kind of medium-large, medium-expensive appliance that I always categorized in my head as "unnecessary gadget." Along with microwave ovens and dehydrators. Less frivolous than ice cream makers or popcorn poppers, but to a culinary purist like myself kind of a cheat.
I always imagined myself - in my daydreams - as learning the real, old world, traditional crafts of aging and curing; hanging salami in natural casings, brining kosher dills in stoneware crocks, brewing and bottling hard cider, and carefully turning and aging my own cheese. It matters not that each of these processes is actually an entire professional category on its own, I cheerfully imagined that I would become an expert in them all. And look good doing it, too.
Time passes and illusions fade. Cheese molds, cider turns to vinegar, and salamis never even get made. Time to get real. Do I want to eat my homemade cheese in November, or not? Am I simply a dilettante, feeding goats year round for the sake eating fresh cheese three months of the year, or am I serious about this thing?
So I bought a Foodsaver. It won't be just for cheese - I can also use it in the fall, for storing home-smoked salmon. I still have some questions, and I still plan on going and asking the head honcho cheesemaking lady about them. First among them, won't the cheese stop maturing once it is sealed? Doesn't it need air to keep developing? Maybe not - after all traditional cheeses are either waxed or develop a rind that severely limits gas exchange. At what stage ought I to seal the cheese? As soon as it's pressed? After air drying for a few days? Just before it would begin to mold?
Assuming I can get some answers to those questions, and assuming I can figure out how to work the darn thing. I will start separating the babies from all three does and try to make cheese two or three times a week until we leave. Hopefully, with a little experimentation, I can start to make maximum use of the oceans of milk that flow in the springtime, and save it for the droughts of winter.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Along the western fence line there are a couple of spots where the field fencing needs to be tacked down, maybe even some fill brought in. These scrapes under the fence were most likely dug by the coyotes who prey on our poultry. Of course I would like to stop that predation, but there is a more immediate reason. If a coyote can get under there, Haku can get under there, as soon as it occurs to him to try. And if Haku runs amok over in that particular neighbor's fields, frightening his mules or chasing his chickens, Haku will get shot pretty damn quick. Not that I would blame that neighbor - controlling one's dog is country etiquette 101.
On the eastern side of the pasture, there has always been a low spot that tended to get boggy in the winter. Creeping buttercup dominates that area. This is a natural feature of the hillside - it is easy to see the wide, shallow path of drainage running down from the ridge away to the southwest. In the past, before our neighbor bought the lot and built his HSH (hotel-sized-house), the swale was only wet in the depths of winter. The rest of the year it was simply a slightly softer area where plants that enjoy more moistness predominated.
In latter years I have noticed that the area stays much wetter for more of the year. I am starting to think that the rearrangement of the neighboring property has permanently altered the drainage in such a way as to send more water through this swale. Walking the area today, I saw a fair amount of standing water.
To be fair, this has been the wettest wet season on record in western Washington. We have had something like 80 inches of rain since last November. Additionally, the pig enjoyed rooting in this soft dirt, and his activity may also have caused there to be a more generally swampy appearance. Hopefully it will dry up with a few more weeks of little-to-no precipitation.
That will be too late, however, to save my nice shoes. I underestimated the swampiness and as I was crossing the swale I stepped into a deceptively deep puddle and sank in almost up to my knees. Silly me, I was wearing my only pair of nice shoes. Yes, I know it is exceedingly idiotic to traipse about a muddy pasture in early April wearing one's one and only pair of shoes suitable for work. What can I say - it was a spur of the moment thing.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
I suppose, to be honest, what it really cuts into is my free time. Reading, cruising the internet, blogging, leisurely baths.... all those things are luxuries, of course, to a mom with a job and a farm. Before I worked outside the home, I used to do my housework at a nice slow pace. I might sit down with a cookbook, read for awhile until something piqued my interest, then go shopping for ingredients and spend the afternoon cooking. Now I boil up some noodles or fry a bunch of eggs at short-order speed, trying to fit dinner in between after-school activities, homework help, evening chores, and bedtime.
Homero has been picking top an awful lot of slack, lately. He does the morning chores almost every day, including milking. We are giving an awful lot of milk to Haku simply because I don't have time to make cheese. He's getting fat, though it doesn't seem to slow him down any, more's the pity. We finally had to strip the playroom of carpet entirely, because he had pulled it all up and ripped it to shreds. It's down to the bare plywood now, and I am just waiting to see how he manages to destroy that.
I don't think I'm going to get a garden in at all this year. We did plant a couple of hazelnut trees and I'm going to plant a couple more apple trees, but as far as a vegetable garden, I just don't think it's going to happen. Partly this is because of another giant time-suck - the Gleaner's Pantry. I adore the Gleaner's, it brings in hundreds of dollars worth of organic produce a month, but in exchange it demands about 20 hours of work a month, broken up into three or four several-hour-long chunks. That isn't counting all the work I do at home to prepare for such an influx - cleaning out the fridge before I go - nor what I do to preserve it afterwards, whether it be canning, freezing, juicing, our whatnot. And I know I just said how much work Gleaner's is, but truth be told its a hell of a lot less work than actually gardening. When I have unlimited, varied, organic produce spilling out of my refrigerator, it's difficult to work up the motivation to pick up a shovel.
Another reason not to put in a garden this year is that we will be spending a big part of the summer in Oaxaca. This will be our first trip to Mexico since we came back from our year with Abuelita, in 2013. (New to Mexican Life) The children are super excited to see their cousins again. There's not much point planting vegetables in April and May when you'll be out of town for all of July.
It's still far too wet to start planting, in any case. This has been the wettest year to date in Washington state history (As rain falls, so does Seattle's record for wettest wet season ...) and that's really saying something. We have used some twenty-five yards of mulch and chips this year, just to keep the poor animal's heads above the mud. The grass is growing pretty well, due to warm temperatures, but the ground is still too saturated to let the horses out on pasture. The pasture got pretty torn up last fall when our pig learned to get out of his pen, and I want to give it a good long rest. I've reseeded the areas the pig plowed up, and I need to give the seed time to germinate and get a good head start before I loose the ravenous beasts. That means we are still feeding hay, though less of it, as the goats have some browse and the ponies can be staked out in the orchard on days when it isn't raining.
Poor Rosie pony's horrible eye problem is back, and it's worse than ever. Her eye is so swollen and ugly that I'm ashamed to post a picture of it. I've been washing it with warm salt water and putting antibiotic ointment in it for the past several days, but I don't see much difference. She is clearly suffering, and besides her eye, she is looking thin and rundown. Maybe she needs a different wormer than the one I've been using - pretty haphazardly, I must admit. But as the single most superfluous animal on the farm, I don't get much of a vet budget for Rosie. She is getting on in years, and soon I will have to start thinking about when it might be time to send her on to the great green pasture in the sky. Not yet, but soon.
We had a chicken attrition situation over the winter, as is often the case. In fact, the chickens and turkeys were disappearing at such a clip late last fall that I invited a couple of local boys to lay out in the field with .22 rifles and wait for the coyotes to show up. The coyotes never did show up, but when the boys were scoping out the perimeter, they said we had both canine and feline tracks in the mud along the fence line and suggested we probably had a bobcat as well as coyotes preying on our poultry.
The chickens are locked in the coop, now, though I hate to do that to them. This time of year it is always wet in the coop, and the chickens really ought to be out scratching for spring bugs and eating the worms who are lying about all over the place, trying not to drown. There are five hens left, but only three of them are laying. Two of the three eggs that I gather each day are distinctive - the tiny egg is laid by the one banty hen; the white egg is laid by the lone leghorn - but the third egg could be anybody's, so I don't know which hens are the slackers.
Five chicks are in a big wooden box in the shed, under a heat lamp. I brought them home last week. They are leghorns. I had never raised that breed before (most commercial layers are leghorns) because I thought I wanted a dual purpose hen, one that was heavy enough to eat when she ran out of eggs. But time and experience taught me that actually, I am not interested in a free-range old layer hen as a culinary item. It's nasty. And then I acquired a couple of leghorns - I disremember how - and was very impressed with them. They are small, streamlined birds. They are bright white (we named them Pearl and Shell) and are good flyers, which keeps them a bit safer from predators. They will never go broody, which means they lay more eggs per year. They are regular egg machines - each hen laying one large white egg a day, with only the very occasional day off. I liked them so much I decided to buy all leghorn chicks this year. Five isn't very many, but assuming that at least three of them live to laying age (you never know with chicks) they will provide more than enough eggs for us.
Let's see, what else. Oh. Out of Flopsy's four babies (The (Finally) Four) we only have one left. On the day they kidded, I gave two bucklings away to a neighbor farmer lady who enjoys bottle babies. I do not enjoy bottle babies. We kept two babies on Flopsy - a beautiful buckling and a fabulously gorgeous spotted doeling. But there was soon a problem. Both babies only wanted to nurse off one side. Flops had mastitis and now has lopsided teats - one normal teat and one small one that gives about half as much milk. Oddly, they both wanted only the small one. I guess the big one was difficult to latch onto. Since the buckling was bigger and stronger, he drained all the milk from the small teat and the little girl didn't get any. I couldn't seem to teach her to use the big teat. After a few days, I went out in the morning and found the little girl flat out and cold. That happens if they don't get enough milk - they just lie down and give up the ghost.
I tried to revive her in a warm water bath and get her to take a bottle, but after a frustrating 24 hours I knew I wasn't up for it. I called the same neighbor and told her she could keep there baby girl if she wanted to try and save her. My saintly neighbor told me to bring her on over. She worked patiently over the next day and succeeded in getting her to take a bottle. Then - this is so cute, I wish I had a picture - my neighbor's pigmy doe kidded with a single kid. And our little baby Nubian girl went straight for the teat. She hadn't forgotten hoe to nurse. So now, this valiant pigmy Nigerian is nursing her own kid, plus a Nubian kid, who has to practically lay down in the dirt to get to the teat.
My neighbor insists on giving us the doeling back when she is old enough to be weaned. She says that keeping the two bucklings is payment enough for the trouble of caring for the doe. I told her not to make up her mind just yet. Assuming that little Ziggy (as her children named her) lives and thrives, she ought to be worth a fair amount of money. I said she should feel free to sell her, but so far, she continues to say she will give her back to us. If so, then we will have two new does from this season, Ziggy and Christmas. That will make up for the two I plan on retiring - Iris and Flopsy.
The farm goes on. 2016 is a new year, our eighth here on this windy wet hill, I think. I'm not quite so "new to farm life" as once I was. We are settling into a good groove. I know now, more or less, how many animals the land will support, and what sort of animals are most useful and profitable to us. I continue to learn about husbandry, both of the land and the animals - and, I suppose, of my children and of my marriage and of my very own soul. I really do love to feel the slow deepening of knowledge and experience that comes from knowing a single place - or a single person - intimately, and living with a single place - or a single person - intimately, in all of its seasons, in all of its moods, in all of its slow splendor. This land, this place, this time, these people, these animals, this carefully tended ecosystem - here we all are, surviving. Hopefully thriving. Caring for each other as best we can.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Kefir is a weird thing. Most people who buy it in liquid form at the store probably think it is some sort of yogurt, but it is not. You cannot use kefir to make more kefir, as you can with yogurt; you need
a Kefir SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast), and you need to keep the SCOBY alive by providing it with fresh milk every day or two. That milk will become kefir as the SCOBY digests it.
There are lots of SCOBYs, by the way - a vinegar "mother" is a SCOBY, as is kombucha. the Kefir SCOBY looks sort of like cauliflower. The photo above shows the one given to me by M., another nearby farmer lady. She tells me it came from a woman on Lummi Island, who says she brought it with her 30 years ago when she moved here from the east coast. And one of the really cool things about this Kefir SCOBY is that is adapted to goat's milk, having been grown only in goats milk for at least the last several years.
Although I like knowing the age and history of my ferments, it feels like a bit of added pressure to keep them alive. What if I kill the 1890 Skilly Dough? What if this ancient and unique kefir SCOBY dies an ignominious death in the back of my crowded refrigerator? Well, presumably there are lots of other kitchen witches like me keeping their own little SCOBYs alive. Long may they prosper!
Monday, February 22, 2016
I didn't go to Gleaner's Saturday, or at all last week. The cupboards were bare, so I dragged myself out there. I really don't know how I got through three hours of carrying boxes, sorting food, and making small talk. By the time I got home, about 12:30, I was ready to collapse.
Homero helped me put the food away and then went to check on Flopsy. He came back pretty quickly and said, "I think it's about time; she is in the barn, panting."
"Ok," I said, "just let me finish my coffee, and then let's go out together."
It was probably ten minutes later that we headed out to the barn. It was a beautiful sunny day - warm and bright. Nice day for baby goats to be born, I thought.
There were two babies on the ground when we got inside the barn. Flops was chuckling and licking them, but they were still all slimy and hadn't yet even tried to stand up. Clearly they had been born just a minute before. A beautiful little black and white spotty one, and a bigger, brown and white spotted one. I picked up the little things, getting slime all over my shirt, and brought them into the mama barn, which is warmer and drier. Homero came after me, leading Flopsy.
Homero hung around for a few minutes, and then went back to work. For the next 30 or 40 minutes, I watched the babies struggle to stand up and nurse. The smaller spotty one was a doeling, and the big brown one was a buckling. Considering how large Flopsy was, I was surprised that she had only had twins. But relieved, as well. With an udder damaged by a long-ago case of mastitis, Flopsy wouldn't be able to raise triplets. I had in fact made arrangements with a farmer friend to take an extra baby off our hands, should there be one. I don't care for bottle babies.
I was just starting to think that Flopsy was taking a long time to pass the afterbirth, when she commenced to paw at the straw and to push.I took a look at her rear end, and whoops! There was another bubble. There were three after all. I waited several more minutes, but Flopsy didn't seem to be making any progress, and it had, after all, been three-quarters of an hour since the twins were born. I decided I'd better see what was up.
After running back to the house for soap and hot water, I went exploring with my right hand. There was an unbroken bag of waters, but the baby was far away down in the uterus. Having just seen the vet, a few days ago, working elbow deep to turn Iris' baby, I knew that I could go in as deep as I needed to to figure out what was happening. But with that bulgy bag of waters in the way, I couldn't feel anything. And I didn't have a pocketknife on me. I never do - I seldom need one, but on the few occasions that I do, I always berate myself. It's a simple thing to do, carry a small pocketknife.
My fingernails are pretty long, though, and with a little work I was able to tear the bag open. After the waters spilled out, I could reach in far enough to feel the baby (Flopsy was being enormously cooperative - I didn't even have her on the stanchion). What I felt was a butt. I had a breech.
Baby goats can in fact come out hind end first - in fact, as long as the feet are extended, hind-end first is considered a normal presentation. All I had to do was find the feet and bring them forward. This time, it was very easy. I don't know if that's because Flopsy is a big, roomy doe, with an enormous uterus that had already expelled two babies, or if I was more relaxed about exploring as far as necessary, after seeing the kind of treatment a doe can take and still be just fine afterwards. In any case, it only took me about forty seconds to find the feet and bring them forwards, flexing the legs and knee and ankle.
Once the feet were in position, the baby was born very quickly. Another big buck. He was fairly exhausted, but Flopsy set to work licking him off and he lifted his head and snorted. I ran back to the house to wash my hands and grab another clean towel. I stopped b y the shop to tell Homero that there were three after all, and he came with me to see the third baby.
But I was wrong, There weren't three. A fourth baby was snorting and snuffling on the hay by the time we got back. Quads! We've never had quads on the farm before. The last baby, was another buckling, a handsome black boy with white ears.
I called my farmer friend and asked her if she wanted TWO bottle babies. She did, and she came right over with a bottle of colostrum from her freezer and her two adorable little boys. Sometime a little later in the spring, she's going to bring over her rototiller for us to use, in trade.
Now I'm ready for a well earned hot bath.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Monday, February 15, 2016
I got up early this morning to go to a work appointment, only to find when I got there that the client had cancelled only minutes before. Barely awake, I executed a U-turn and headed for the nearest coffee shop.
On the way home, as I was drinking my coffee, a crown popped off of one of my molars. Although it didn't hurt, it seriously freaked me out. Instead of a tooth, I suddenly had a small squishy gap where a tooth should be, with a small steel spike sticking up. I was so horrified, I almost swallowed the crown. Almost. Luckily, I was able to pop it back on - after I pulled over, of course, and after rotating it through a few revolutions and trying all the possible angles.
I drove straight to the dentist who had placed it, just last year (I broke that tooth cracking Dungeness crab with my teeth. Please don't ever do that. Crab-crackers were invented for a reason). I asked the receptionist at the dentist's office if there was a guarantee on the crown, seeing as I had had it for only a little over a year and further seeing as how I have no dental insurance. She told me that there was, and that if neither the crown nor the remnant of my tooth were damaged, then it could be replaced for free. However, she had no openings that day and the best they could do was tomorrow morning.
Sadly I drove home, trying not to test the strength of the crown by probing it with my tongue. When I got home, about ten thirty, Homero was waiting outside and flagged me down.
"Iris is giving birth, but I don't think it is going too well," he said. "Come and see."
Passing through the house to quickly wash my hands and get some soap and warm water and a towel, I raced out (through the driving rain) to the barn. We got Iris into the mama barn by main force, as she did not want to get up or walk.
Iris is my oldest goat, my first goat. She has had many babies and is now about nine years old. Last year she didn't get pregnant, and I had figured her mothering life might be over, but then she did catch this year. Once in the mama barn, she laid down on her side and started pushing hard, grunting and curling her lip. We tried to get her up on the stanchion, but no go, so I laid down in the straw behind her, soaped up my hand, and went exploring.
There was no sign of any residual "goo" which told me that her water had broken some time ago. She was dry and tight. There were two hooves right inside the vulva, both front hooves, and in normal right-side-up position. Further back, alongside and below the legs, was a head.
I needed to find out if the head and the legs belonged to the same kid. It didn't seem like it, because in a normal presentation the head should be above (dorsal to) the hooves. Feeling for the jaw, I found the mouth and inserted my fingers to feel for teeth. There were sharp little teeth on the upper (dorsal) side. Goats only have front teeth in their lower jaw, not in the upper. So feeling these teeth told me that the head was upside down.
What I needed to do was follow either the head and neck, or the front legs, down to a body and try to figure out where they all came together - or not. If there were two kids, I would need to push the head back into the uterus, and then find the head belonging to the legs and bring it around. Or, of course, the opposite - push the feet back and then find the other feet belonging to the head.
This might sound easy in theory, but in practice it is not. It's not easy even if you have an upright goat and are not laying on your side in the straw without very good light. I went in as far as I could, but I was unable to ascertain for certain whether there were two kids or one. The head did not budge when I pushed on it, nor did the feet come forward with gentle traction. Without having a clear picture of what was going on, I wasn't going to pull any harder than a 2 on a scale of ten.
I though we had twins - one with legs forward and head back, the other with head forward and legs back. Knowing there was nothing more I could do, I called the vet and told them I was coming in.
Getting Iris into the van was a challenge, but Homero and I did it, and then he stayed with the children while I drove as fast as I could (through the driving rain) to the vet. Not very fast at all, as I spent the entire twelve miles behind first a tractor and then behind one kind of semi-truck or another. I am not a patient driver at the best of times, and least off all with a beloved goat in the worst kind of distress in the back.
Once Iris was at the vet's and up on a stanchion (lifted by three people), the doctor gave her an epidural and went in to try to figure it out. It wasn't obvious to him either. It took a good ten minutes to first figure it out and then straighten it out. I was wrong; there were no twins. There was only a single baby, who had her neck wrapped around her own front legs like a corkscrew, so that her head was upside down underneath her own knees. It is an impossible presentation. The baby cannot come out that way, and pushing the head or pulling the legs is not going to help. The doctor had to twist the head and bring it around up over the legs, into a normal presentation, so the baby could be born. That was a pretty violent procedure requiring a lot of force, and Iris was in great pain - epidural or no.
She was dead, of course. It appeared she had been dead for some time, perhaps two or three hours. The vet said that with the poor presentation, Iris had probably been in low-grade labor for several hours. Without the head providing the correct pressure on the cervix, the labor didn't progress, and after the baby died (whenever that happened) the baby couldn't help by wriggling or changing position. If I hadn't taken her in, Iris would most likely have died eventually as well.
Poor Iris. She got a shot of painkillers, a shot of penicillin, and a ride home with a full udder and no baby. She is fairly torn up. I'll give her a full course of penicillin injections, and I have painkillers for three more days. She is also now officially retired - no more babies for Iris. I asked if any of this could be attributed too her age, and the vet said not definitively, but older dams do have a harder time kidding in general. Iris has earned her retirement at least twice over (How Much is a Good Goat Worth?) - we will have this last season of milk from her, and then she can spend future breeding seasons with the ponies in the horse pasture.
The baby was a doe. A fine, big, brown doeling.
When I came home from the vet, covered in poop and blood and slime, aching for a bath, I found one of my kids already in there, and they had already used up all the hot water.
Also, there's no wine in the house.
Friday, February 12, 2016
Posted by Aimee at 4:48 PM