"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sad Day (Breeding Gone Awry)

A likely looking buckling: Storm Cloud
To keep a buck or not to keep a buck is one of the major questions I struggle with. There are advantages and disadvantages to keeping your own buck  (see, for example,The King Must Die (Goat Breeding and Divine Kingship)) but the main advantage is not having to frantically search for a buck to rent every year, which can be a major hassle ( New To Farm Life: Unwelcome Drama in the Goat Breeding ...).  Accordingly, I have usually kept a buck around.

The next question is whether or not to let your buck run with the herd. Most goat folks will say not to do this, and after the story I am about to tell you, I have to agree. I have changed my mind. I always let my bucks run with the herd, truthfully because my fences have not been up to the task of keeping them separate. A buck who wants to get at does in heat is a very difficult animal to contain. Some people say a buck will harass the does until they are thin and sick; or that he will keep breeding a pregnant doe until she aborts. I haven't noticed that to be the case with my bucks. What any buck WILL do, however, is breed a doe at the earliest possible chance.

Nubians are generally seasonal breeders, meaning that they will not go into heat until the days begin to get shorter and the nights to get cooler, usually in early September around these parts. But if a doe goes in to heat early for some reason, no buck is going to stand around metaphorically twiddling his thumbs. He's going to blubber and pee on himself and strike ridiculous poses and breed that doe the second she'll stand still for it. And apparently, Polly went into heat in July this past summer.

The reason that you don't want your does pregnant in July - if you live in a place with wet, cold winters - is that you don't want baby goats born in January. They have a distressing tendency to die. Especially if the weather has been very wet and chilly. And most especially if you weren't expecting them, and therefore were not able to pen the mama goat up in the dry barn, and instead she gave birth in the middle of the night in the cold wet pasture. Then what will happen, 9 times out of 10, is that when you go outside to do the chores, you will find a couple of dead kids and a mama goat with a drum-tight udder.

Which is what happened here last friday. Homero found them. Twins; a buck and a doe, beautifully spotted and perfect, but cold, flat, and dead. I'm certain the poor little things were born live and just never stood up to nurse. If I had been there, they would almost certainly both be alive. I felt just awful - this is my fault for being lazy and slack about fencing, and not keeping good notes about when my does were bred, and not keeping close tabs on the mama goats regarding signs of pregnancy. Although to be fair to myself, it is often very difficult to tell when these large bodied Nubians are pregnant until the udders fill up a day before kidding.

It also so happened that when Homero came inside to tell me about the babies, I was just finishing up packing for a long-weekend vacation we were taking to Victoria. For the first time in years, we were all going together, all five of us. I had arranged for friends to take the dogs and we were simply going to leave the large animals with extra hay and water. There would be nobody at home at all to care for Polly.

Polly was fine - the birth didn't seem to be hard on her at all - but she would lose her milk if no-one milked her. Of course we didn't want her to lose her milk for OUR sake - that would make this breeding season a dead loss - but I was also worried about just leaving her to dry up on her own, without supervision. The vet said, when I called, that most times they will dry up just fine on their own, but they should always be watched for signs of mastitis. We were supposed to leave to go catch the boat in just a few hours, and the tickets were non-refundable (of course).

Desperate, I put the word out on the Facebook Farmer's group. I said I know it was an insane request, but I had to try - could anybody take my goat for a few days and keep her in milk for me? To my surprise and relief, no fewer than three other goat owners offered within minutes. My neighbor M., who was already caring for my elderly dog, was one of them. So we bundled the goat, the stanchion, and a bag of alfalfa pellets into the van and brought them all over, gave her a crash-course in milking, and thanked her profusely. Then we went to Victoria and had a perfectly lovely time.

I bitch a lot about technology but it really is wonderful to be part of this Facebook group of local farmers and neighbors. Ten years ago I would have been shit out of luck, and would have stayed home milking my goat while my husband and kids went to the Royal B.C. museum and the bug zoo without me. Being part of this community is a privilege and a responsibility - surely it is my turn next to help in any goat-related emergencies.


Anubis Bard said...

Sorry about the kids. But glad you were able to get away - and that you've leavened your self-sufficiency with some semblance of community.