Pacing the barn waiting for babies
By Larry McDermott
Life on the farm
There is no sweeter nanny goat in the world than Lucille when she is in the final days of her maternity. She nuzzles you and begs to be cuddled.
That’s the stage we are in this week, and it’s enjoyable to have her push her head under an arm or lean her head on your back. It’s as if she has no memory, although she should, of how painful and stressful this will be. This will be her fifth season to kid.
Her track record of producing triplets is pretty high, but we’re hoping for twins. Triplets can present challenges, because a doe has only two teats. So, unless the doe is attentive, it’s possible one of the three kids isn’t going to get as much milk as the other two unless you intervene, which boils down to devising a way to get the runt on the teat. No small feat in Lucille’s case.
If the kids favor one teat over the other, the udder can get lopsided in no time. The female farmer here actually had to explain to me how the udder works, which is not unlike nursing in humans. If one side is engorged and the other is small, you have to get the kids to nurse on the small side, which stimulates the doe to produce more milk on the weak side.
When she kidded last year, she quickly developed mastitis. We had to inject medication through the teat orifices into the udder over a couple of days. I don’t mind telling you that was something to behold—not that there was any great skill involved. If there had been, the first injection wouldn’t have gone squirting in all the wrong places because I forgot to squeeze the teat closed while I massaged the liquid upward into her udder.
I’m not sure who was more embarrassed—her or me. The look on her face was the one you saw when your mother handed you an ice cream cone and you dropped it. You know, that “I’m so sorry honey but you have to get a good grip on the cone next time” look.
Over time she learned to be a good mother, which wasn’t the case in her first go round. She made it clear then that having kids wasn’t her idea as she picked up the runt with her teeth and tossed it around when it tried to nurse.
Molly, the runt, wasn’t harmed, and to her credit she came right back for more. She was, after all, hungry. Incidentally, Molly became a great mother a few years later when she first kidded.
With each kidding Lucille has improved as a mother, gaining patience and accepting her duty.
So, we now enter the final stage, watching her closely for any of the several signs that she is heading into her delivery window. My favorite is when she begins to lie down a lot and talk to her babies. It’s a low, humming sound like a deep-throated lullaby being sung to tell them their waiting is almost over.
She will be calm. We won’t.
Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, and chickens. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or see farm happenings at www.facebook.com/hardscrabblehollowfarmllc