"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, February 22, 2016

The (Finally) Four

It was a tough morning for me. I didn't get much sleep - I kept dreaming that I was going out to the barn to check on Flopsy. When I did wake up and go out to check, there were still no babies. I stumbled through my morning chores - milk, feed, get the girls ready for school - and seriously contemplated going straight back to bed, but it's monday, and that's Gleaner's Pantry day.

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

The Goat That Won't Kid

Yesterday was the first clear day we've had in ages. It's been raining so constantly that I had almost forgotten how to see colors - the world has been nothing but various shades of grey since last October. I read that this has in fact been the wettest winter in Washington State history - more than 28" since December first. 

I brought the goats out to graze during our short respite yesterday (today it is raining again). See the black goat on the left? The one who looks rather like a hot air balloon or like a giant beanbag chair? That's Flopsy, and she is pregnant. 

She is sooo pregnant. She is so pregnant it hurts to look at her. Her udder is tight, her ligaments are loose (see below - I can just about close my hand around her tailbone), but she just won't kid. 

She has been like this for about a week. Every day I am certain there will be kids on the ground in the morning and every day there are not. 

She just keeps getting bigger. I am a little worried - I think she is probably carrying triplets. She has thrown triplets at least twice before. Triples aren't usually a problem for a Nubian mama, but Flopsy has a problem. 

Several years ago she had mastitis, a serious infection. Even with the best treatment I could provide, she lost most of the function in one side of her udder. She's lopsided. Since then, she has successfully raised twins, but not triplets. 

I was hoping, after Iris lost her baby last week, that Flopsy would kid quickly, and in the event that she had triplets, I might be able to get one of them onto Iris. That is unlikely, now. Enough time has passed that autos would not accept a newborn kid. 

Lots of people love bottle babies, but I am not one of them. Call me lazy, but my days of 2 am feedings are OVER. If Flopsy has triplets I'll give one of them away to a friend who enjoys that sort of thing. 

Gotta go - it's just about time to go out I barn again and look for signs of incipient kids. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Rough Day for Iris (and Me)

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

State of the Farm: Early Spring 2016

It seems absurd to call today, February 12, "spring," but the signs are unmistakeable. Crocuses are up; pussy willows are grey, and I even saw a dandelion in bloom.

The rhubarb plant on the north side of the house is starting to put out crimson and green growth. 

Looking back over the blog, it seems that most years I have posted about an early spring. I am of two minds about this - since I only moved here ten years ago, it is entirely possible that I am just ignorant about the local climate (although I moved here from Seattle, exactly 100 miles south in a straight line).

 In support of this position, when I was talking with members of my local church this week about the early spring, a discussion was sparked about the timing of spring among several members who are each over 70 years old and who have a collective experience of living in this climate of some 200 years. Thier collective judgement was that we often get a couple of beautiful weeks in February, followed by a harsh March. 

Science, however, bolsters my
Point of view. Spring has indeed been coming earlier in the last couple of decades over a use swath of the globe.

All that aside, I have been enjoying the few sunny, unseasonably warm days interspersed among the approximately 726 consecutive days of rain.

Today was such a day. 

The Mercury got up to about 57, perfect shirtsleeve weather. I enjoyed an hour or two out with the goats and a good book. 

Kidding season is weird this year. "Christmas" was born Christmas ever, to Polly, who seems to be given to
Going into heat very early in the season. Two years in a row she has gotten pregnant in July, which is quite odd for a
milk goat. Christmas is now a handsome six week old doeling, well able to keep up with the herd. She is the first kid I have chosen to be part of the new generation of milk does. 

The other two does, Iris and Flopsy, are both gravid. Poor Flopsy is so pregnant it hurts to look at her. Every evening I lock her in the mama barn and every morning I go out expecting babies, but so far
No dice. 

We sold our buck. Haboob is a very nice buck who has reliably impregnanted our does for three years now, but the time has come for a new buck. 

I am
Still having major
Computer difficulties - right now I am
Typing on my phone and it is so annoying that I am
Going to stop this post right now. I have a lot of things I would like to write about (the orchard, the garden, the dog$ but I have already been qoeking in this silly
Post for two
Hours and I

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Good Imbolc (Repost)

Welcome February 2nd, a day of many names in many traditions!

In what is probably the very oldest and most universal tradition of all - the solar calendar - February 2nd is one of the cross-quarter days, meaning a day that is exactly halfway between a solstice and an equinox. Believe it or not, ancient astronomers knew the dates of the solticses and equinoxes more than six thousand years ago. Today is halfway between the winter soltice and the spring equinox, and in the Northern hemisphere used to be marked as the first day of Spring. Indeed, only a few days ago, I noticed that the pussy willows were grey. One of my neighbors has a large pussy-willow, and I had to stop and ask her if I might take a few sprigs for my altar. I have them in water, and I'm hoping they will root and I can plant them on my property. It should work - willows are notoriously easy.

Other unmistakable signs of early spring I have noticed are robins (I saw a whole field covered in them the other day, driving home)...

witch-hazel in bloom at my sister's house...

...and the plaintive cry of the killdeer, looking for a nesting site. Killdeer are handsome shore birds who breed in sandy or gravelly uplands within a few miles of the beach - which perfectly describes my property. Their piercing cries in the evening and their swift, low, straight flights across the twilit ground are hallmarks of February and sure signs of the coming nesting season.

In the Celtic, or Pre-Christian European tradition, the first cross-quarter of the year was known as Imbolc, the beginning of the season of "emerging." It marked the time that the first sprouts began to emerge from seeds and bulbs, and especially the time that sheep and goats begin to drop their lambs and kids and to produce milk. It is the time that the world begins to emerge from the long sleep of winter. It is the season of waking. In modern celtic tradition Imbolc is observed with white candles on the altar to celebrate the return of the light to the world.

It is fitting, therefore, that when Ireland became Catholic, February second was commemorated as St Brigid's day. Brigid of Kildare was a real person, a contemporary of St Patrick, but the woman was named for an old Celtic Goddess, Brigid. Brigid the Goddess has always been associated with fertility, and more specifically with lactation and the fruits of the breast. In olden days she was the maiden, the young feminine divine, the nubile virgin ready to be made fruitful by the divine male. Her name, in fact, is the derivation of our word "bride."

In more modern Irish Catholic tradition, St. Brigid is the protectress of dairymaids, of cattle and kids, and the one who blesses the making of butter and cheese. Pregnant women and dairy farmers pray to her to this day, and many people believe that "Brigid" is one of the oldest, original names of the Divine Mother and venerate her as the Creatrix. She wears the youngest of the triple faces of the Great Goddess.

February 2nd is still a sacred day in the Roman Catholic church calendar, known as Candlemas. Indeed I was rather surprised when I asked my Lutheran pastor about Candlemas and learned that she knew nothing about it, at least by that name. Today marks the day that Jesus was presented in the temple, the day that Mary's period of ritual uncleanness after giving birth was over (forty days) and she was permitted and required to present her firstborn son to the priesthood. Since I am a very fledgling Christian I cannot provide gospel verses, but I bet Christians among you can find them. The event of Jesus' presentation to the world - his Christening, if you will - is very appropriate to the old theme of the holiday, the theme of beginnings, of emergence. Christ emerged from his mother's womb and was born to the world of men on this day.

Of course it is inconceivable that such an ancient and deeply rooted holy day as a cross-quarter would be ignored by the Catholic church; no doubt it was consciously appropriated. That doesn't matter to me at all. I am perfectly happy to celebrate Imbolc, Brigid, and the Newborn Babe all at once. I am delighted to have pussy willows and white candles on my alter, along with a few of the first eggs of spring and soon, the first crocuses and perhaps soon, a small vial of the first milk. In a month or so, I will have the cross of the risen Christ.

Right now, my favorite goat, Iris, is within days of giving birth. I see no conflict between the rites of Spring on my farm and the sacred rituals of the Chruch calendar. It may seem strange to others, but it is not strange to me that Iris reminds me of Mary, heavy with child or newly delivered. Mary was, as I am - as Iris is - a female animal, channeling life through her body, guiding a spirit into flesh. We are all of us examples of the ongoing process of creation, most joyfully evident in this season of Imbolc.

Thus is the world renewed, year after year.

This picture above is my favorite icon of the pregnant Mary. It is painted on the ceiling of a church in Huatulco, Mexico, and is advertised as the largest vision of Mary in Mexico - which is saying something. Having been there, I can tell you biggest or not, it is big. And beautiful. In fact I think this is my favorite church among all those I have visited in Mexico, land of a thousand gorgeous churches. This pregnant Mary (see the small blue fetus, floating upside down in her mid-section?) is so serene, so calm. May the spirit of Mary, of Brigid, of Iris enfold you this season, and may you take great delight in the awakening and the emergence of new growth this early spring season!