Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crappy Things Happen on the Homestead Too

I don't want to write this. I'm only doing it because sometimes it sounds like everything is always wonderful here, and for the most part it is. New life abounds. Baby chicks peeping, beautiful baby goats being born, the garden growing new plants, buildings being constructed, horses contentedly munching hay, attempts being made to one day have a calf and milking cow on the farm... Life is beautiful...almost always. But as we all know, --it happens. It's never all roses, peace, love and happiness. There's also pain, heartache and sorrow. That's the way life is.  That's the way Homestead Life is too.

   Tuesday afternoon, around 1:00, Brindle had twin bucklings. I knew the previous day that she was ready to kid so I moved her into the birthing pen to let her get settled. I kept a close eye on her but walked away for a few minutes and missed the birth of the first baby. He was licked clean and almost dry when I got back, nice and big and healthy. There was no placenta on the ground so I assumed another was still coming. A few minutes later she birthed baby number two.

Wow! I'm in awe. It's such an amazing experience.  I've only watched two other births on the farm. Generally it happens so quickly and quietly that, for the most part, they go unnoticed. Many kids are born at night and are there to greet us first thing in the morning, but lately I've been keeping track of birthing dates and indicative signs so I'm becoming more aware and watchful. Though his mom would have, I immediately pulled the sticky, thin placental cover off the newborn's face so he could breath right away, and then his mom, Brindle, cleaned him up. I stayed with the two babies and made sure they were both nursing and that their mom was lactating, and all seemed fine.

  Three years ago, two dogs came onto our property during the night and began killing our goats. That's a another blog I have yet to write, but during this rampage, Brindle's ears were torn off and she suffered other massive wounds, one of which damaged her milk bag and teats. A teat canal was severed leaving her with only one working teat to nurse her babies, but I assumed and noticed that they both were taking turns suckling so I wasn't concerned.

To be perfectly honest with you, my initial reaction when I saw that they were both boys was disappointment. Billy goats are undesirable in that they are much more difficult to sell.  We have 8 bucks from this past spring that we have yet to sell and it's becoming critical that we do. They're beautiful, healthy, dehorned, bottle raised and friendly goats, but they cost quite a bit to feed and we have no need for them here on our farm.  We already have three breeders to keep our bloodlines pure, and, as endearing and sweet as they are, it's time for them to go! I'm afraid we'll have to take them to auction very soon.  I'm not sure why I have such a dislike for livestock auctions - I've never even been to one, but I would never buy an animal from an auction, and I dread having to bring my hand raised babies to one. Which is kind of funny because,  to be grotesquely honest with you, when I saw that the two new kids were both boys I was reminded of an article I read, in a  Homesteading How To Encyclopedia, written by a woman who stated that becuse boy goats were so undesirable on a farm, the best thing to do would be to euthanize them immediately after birth. She was quite graphic in her details which I won't go into, but for a (very) brief second the thought crossed my mind. Perhaps in a hard-core, survivalist world this would be a viable option, but upon returning a little later in the day and spending time with these snuggly tiny newborn kids, I was smitten and dismissed this cruel idea instantly. Besides, there was the ethical question of how wrong is it to purposefully breed animals to obtain a desired sex and kill the other? Nope, couldn't do it. Now, on the other hand, I am perfectly fine with the idea of killing and butchering a full grown male goat to eat,  but I couldn't purposely take the life of an infant unless it was a mercy killing. And even in that situation, Bob would have to do it.

   Yesterday, Wednesday afternoon, my friend Kira came over and we spent some time holding and loving on the babies.

 I checked their mom again and began to be a little concerned that Brindle was not producing enough milk to sustain both babies so I decided that I would begin supplemental bottle feeding the next day.  My husband had brought all that day's milk in to town to sell so I planned to milk in the morning and bring the fresh, warm milk to feed the boys. Because Brindle would not be producing enough milk to warrant my milking her, it would behoove us both to share the feeding responsibility. With any other nanny goat we would typically leave the babies on the mom for the first day or so and then separate them if we were going to bottle feed. The sooner we take the babies away the less traumatic it is for everyone. With the last few kiddings I had decided that bottle feeding was just too time consuming so we left the babies with the moms all day and then separated them at night.  That way I could milk the nannies first thing in the morning, and have milk for us to drink and make cheese, and yet there was still plenty for the babies to suckle all day long.  What I found though, was that the kids who stayed with and nursed on their moms wound up becoming skiddish and shy, while all the bottle fed babies were friendly and sweet and desired human attention, making them much more charming and easy to sell. I'll probably re-think the bottle feeding decision.

This morning before leaving for work, while I was with Dixie, our Belgian draft horse, soaking her foot, Bob took a bottle over to feed the babies. He found that they had both died during the night. I was absolutely shocked and couldn't believe that it could be so! Surely he was mistaken. Could it possibly happen that fast? How could they die so fast? They were fine last night. I had tucked them away in a warm place with their mom, knowing I would feed them in the morning.  I ran over and tried to will them to life thinking maybe it wasn't too late.  They hadn't been gone long. Bob thinks they starved to death. I'm heartbroken.  Was there something I could have done when I first got up two hours earlier? It was dark outside and they were quiet when I finished milking at 5:00am so I assumed they were sleeping, and I waited for Bob to go out with me.  Maybe if I had started feeding them yesterday... Self blame - it's not a good thing and it can't change anything.

I learned a painful lesson today, that newborn babies need food, and sufficient amounts right away. I would have never thought death from starvation could happen so quickly. I know now for next time.  Thankfully it won't be for several more months.


  1. I felt like that when my gerbil Pepper died. Before i got her the little boy who owned her would'nt feed her for weeks!!! Gerbils can live a long time without food so I was'nt worried (Because i give them extra food all the time just in case something happens) and I figured when I got there in the morning i would be greeted by Pepper's usually shiny-eyed grey, beautiful face along with her sister Skunks chunky one. Gerbils usually live an amount of 2-4 years. Yes, Pepper's father lived to six and her mother lived to five so I was absolutely sure i would have her (with her strong breeding) for many more years. Possibly even seven! But that morning I walked in and was only greated by my little chubby baby Skunk. At first I assumed Pepper was still sleeping. She did that on days when it was super sunny like that one. I dug around the bedding. could she have ran away because i did'nt feed her for one day? Did she really not like the red pellets that much?
    Skunk ran into their wooden house with a pleading look and i picked it up. Something was black with splotches of grey fur(gerbils decay rapidly). I screamed in i cried that it was all my fault. but then i realized, that mother-natures will for her babys to live is never that short. Because she just was'nt meant to live any longer. And that was probably the case with the baby goats :D

  2. Hey Marcy!

    I don't make it over to your blog very often, but I've had time to read several of your posts lately and am really enjoying them! I'm sorry about your little kids. I know it's tough not to get attached to such cute little animals, even if you know they won't serve a purpose on your farm.

    Don't blame yourself over it. Human babies don't require much milk for the first few days of life (just small amounts of colostrum), so I'm surprised that they would have died of starvation so soon. It's possible that it really was just out of your control.

    As far as your billy goats are concerned, I wonder if you could sell them for the meat. I've read that certain ethnic groups such as Hispanics regularly enjoy eating chevon (goat meat), and some restaurants serve it as well. The only thing is, I don't know if people usually eat adult intact males, but I'm really not sure. If we were ready for goats, we might buy one to keep on our property, but I'm afraid we're just not prepared for it yet.

    My own plan once we get goats is to slaughter most of the males while they're still young. I know it sounds cruel, but if we can learn the method of kosher slaughter, that is a very humane way to kill an animal. I've heard that often, the animal never realizes what is happening; it just passes out and slips away gently. Of course it's humane -- God invented it, right? :)

    Blessings and love to you and Bob -- we miss you guys and look forward to seeing you again soon!