Two things (well, maybe more than that, but we will go with the two) prompted this blog post: first one was a comment from one of my delightful staff as I was dashing out the door last week to check imminent mommies. She said, “Gosh, your life is just like a fairy-tale”. Hmmmm….I had to think about that just a little before I could really wrap my mind around what part of it looks like a ‘fairy-tale’ to someone else. Yes, I love my life, but ‘fairy-tale’ doesn’t exactly describe what kidding season is, especially for those of us juggling off-farm work and taking care of expectant mommies. I thought about this ‘fairy tale’ proclamation several times over the past week as we had our bumpy start to our kidding season. Maybe after this blog, I will let you decide if we live a fairy-tale life.
Second reason for this post, and perhaps more to the point of the blog, was my newest friend’s question, “Who throws FOUR kids? And do the Moms cry when the babies go away?” These questions were in response to my upsetting news of losing one of our does (Nilla) to a metabolic disorder. Do I really like publicizing that we lose animals? Nope, not really. It makes me feel like an inadequate manager and that I have failed in my responsibility as steward of these beautiful creatures. Sadly, if you have livestock, you can most assuredly know that at some time you will have dead-stock!
So, to the second question quads are quite normal here on our farm. Quints usually happen at least once per year. Triplets are the norm. Twins less common followed by the rare single. The number of kids a doe has is directly correlated to her condition and feed during breeding season. With increased feed offered about 1 month prior to breeding, the doe will begin to put on weight. This signals her body that she will be capable of raising more than one kid. In turn this will increase her ovulation rate, which results in more kids born per doe. This is good-news/bad-news. Our does are highly prolific and highly productive. We have bred for that and feed for that, and it can be a blessing and a curse. It can lead to metabolic issues, which is what happened to Nilla.
About three weeks prior to her kidding date, we noticed Nilla (quite heavy with kids) was off. She was suffering from pregnancy toxemia or Ketosis. Before kidding, internal body fat plus large fetuses prevent the goat from taking in enough calories to support both herself and her fetuses. After kidding, does can come down with something called Milk Fever, which is a misnomer as they don’t really get a fever at all. Milk Fever is actually low blood calcium, which is known as hypocalcaemia. The goat may have plenty of calcium in her bones and in the diet, but due to a sudden increase in calcium and phosphorus requirements due to lactation, she is unable to reabsorb the calcium she needs from her bones or absorb it from her diet. Both Ketosis and Milk Fever can be in part, attributed to over achieving does (lots of kids and lots of milk). We have become skilled at dealing with over-achieving does. Sadly, it is a crap-shoot as to how it turns out. Honestly, Nilla took the wind out of my sails. We typically have a pretty good pulse on when they are going to pull through and Nilla had me convinced she was gonna be just fine. Spent some long days and nights nursing her, making goat smoothies to make sure she was getting enough to eat (spinach, yogurt, bananas, oatmeal, and alfalfa all blended together in yummy goodness–’cause I am that kind of goat-Momma), stuffing her full of the appropriate meds until we induced her labor hoping the kids would make it. (This has to be that ‘fairy-tale life’ that my co-worker was alluding to, right?) Once we induced Nilla and she kidded, we opted not to rob her children the way we usually do. It gave her a job and she was bright eyed, taking care of her babies and drinking. All good signs, but sometimes even when you do everything you can they still don’t do what you want them to do. So, back to the question and the answer is, quads aren’t that unusual for us, for better or for worse. This time happened to be the worse.
The second question was about us taking babies away from the does at birth. I think this is a hard one for people to grasp, and we do it for a number of reasons, not the least being so that we can hand-raise the babies is to create a terrific bond with the animals when they are young. Those same does grow up bonded to us and (after kidding) still look to us for affection. They aren’t particularly maternal and are completely content if their people are in their space all the time so they can ‘mother’ us after they give birth. (Maybe the reason I like the goats so much…we share the lack of maternal skill). Some are chattier than others, but by and large they don’t really miss the kids. We are at every birth so we scoop them away before they even realize that something has come out…all they know is that we must have made the discomfort go away because we were there and then we give them all kinds of yummy treats and lavish them with attention, so they are basically queen for the day (or week). They love it.
That’s my fairy-tale friends. Happiness and heartbreak are all part of what we do. My mother shared that raising livestock isn’t for everyone, and I would certainly concur with that sentiment. Sometimes I wonder if it is for me, but then Mom reminded me that it is the deep compassion and care for the animals that make us do what we do and want to do it well. I’ll second that motion, Mom!
Shaun & Lorrie