Kids in Winter

I’m driving a gallon of milk to my snow-bound neighbor. I can’t believe I just spent five dollars on a gallon of milk, but she needs it, so I’m in 4-wheel drive powering my way through eight inches of snow that don’t often collect here in our zone 6/7 village.

“Hey!” She yells from her front doormat where she’s standing on the sides of her feet to keep them dry. “Hey! Your husband just called. Your goat had babies!”

Now, I’m vrooming through the drifts hoping to get there fast. It was probably twins. This goat is a second time Mama and was so big! I have been counting the weeks, because the lady who sold the goat to us said she was due in late March. It’s mid-February, and cold.

Kids in winter are hard. Kids in this weather… I grip the steering wheel and roar on.

“Triplets!” the children are yelling from the back door as I pull in the drive. “Triplets! Mama! She had three babies!” My seven-year-old daughter is having trouble catching her breath. I gather that she went out to help her brother with the duck chores and heard strange sounds from the goat shed. My twelve-year-old son puffs out his chest and relates his strength and bravery, protecting his sister as they went to investigate.

“And there she was!” gasps the seven-year-old again, interrupting. “And three babies, Mama!” She already has the kidding bucket in her hand and, grabbing a flashlight, we flounder through the snow to the shed together, just as Grandma arrives to join us.

“Kids in winter!” she gasps.

my-kidding-kitThe kidding bucket is a new rubber bucket. I love rubber buckets because you can jump on them to get the ice out in cold weather and they don’t break. Inside, I have:

– Iodine for dipping umbilical cord stubs
– Chux pads for rubbing kids dry
– Towels for wrapping cold babies
– Bottle and kid nipple, just in case
– Two 8 oz bags of kid colostrum supplement, just in case (Colostrum is that fluid mama mammals give their babies to prepare tiny digestive systems to receive the milk. It’s also chock full of antibodies and everything else a new baby needs – not to be missed.)
– Molasses, to mix with warm water and give to Mama – she will appreciate the sweet, iron-and-mineral-rich drink after delivery

It’s cold in the shed. Colder than I expected. There, on the thick bed of straw are two brown kids and a black and white one. I make one assessing glance.

“This one’s in trouble.” I grab a handful of straw and rub the little black and white kid vigorously. Then I do the same with a chux pad, leaving him wrapped in it, so the layer of plastic will keep in some of his body heat. He is lethargic, and his neck is extended backward nearly the length of his body.

My iodine is in a bottle, and I flip each kid on its back to soak the stubby, inch-long end of the umbilical cord in a stream of the brown antiseptic.

“It keeps germs from crawling into the babies,” I tell the five-year-old hanging over my shoulder. In the back of my mind, there is room for the fleeting thought: this is my children’s education. This is how we teach them about life.

We dry the brown kids and snuggle them in to Mama goat. They are in that post-birth place where they are alert, but not moving around much. We mulch them with straw.

A quick glance under Mama’s tail shows no red stringy stuff. “Placenta’s out!” I crow, poking at the straw until I see the leftovers of the organ. Not much. Mama must have eaten most of it. “More vitamins, minerals, and hormones for Mama,” I tell the grossed-out children.

Now, we’re trudging back along our boot prints to the house, a precious bundle wrapped in chux and towels zipped inside my jacket. After the boot-stomping, we troop into the living room, where a box layered with pine shavings is warming next to the heater.

The fourteen-year-old mixes up a cup of colostrum powder and warm water and we feed the kid through an oversized bottle and nipple the store insisted was for baby goats. Too big for this kid, I think.

He swallows and shivers.

We name him “Little Pete,” after a human baby we knew who had trouble getting warm after his birth.

He is losing strength. I can see it at each subsequent feeding. His shivering has stopped, and his little hooves, so gel-like after birth, are hardening up. But he’s not eating.

I resort to feeding him with a straw and then a spoon, pouring tiny quantities of the yellow liquid down his throat. He’s not gaining. The night is long, and despite constant care, he is gone the next morning.

A heaviness settles over the excitement. Grimly, we hurry down the frozen path to the goat shed. The remaining kids are well, it seems. Their ears are still warm, and I’m glad because I know if they get too cold, they will swell, blister, and eventually fall off.

Mama is uncomfortable and irritable. Her udder is swollen tightly and warm. Again, only one glance is needed to assess the situation. Mastitis.

“Do you keep antibiotics on hand?” asks the emergency on-call vet through the phone. It’s Sunday, and the office is closed.

“Yes,” I mumble, blearily, wiping the sleepless night from my eyes while I dig through my goat supplies. “I have Oxy-something.”

“Good!” The vet sounds relieved. “Give her an injection of oxytetracycline.” We estimate the dose and I know the antibiotic will stop the infected milk and udder which are threatening Mama goat’s life.

Mama goat takes the poking needle without comment.

But the babies are cold. They are shivering, and I know from their glazed eyes and seldom twitching nostrils that they are not getting enough food.

Friends drop by with homemade goat jackets complete with a pocket for holding a pocket hand-warmer.

We ignore the bleating anxiety of Mama goat and bring the babies inside. A sinking feeling overtakes me as we nestle them into the pine shavings. I feed them tiny amounts from baby bottles.

feeding-tubeAnother sleep-deprived night and it becomes clear these babies are in trouble. The milk we express from recovering Mama goat isn’t making it down to their bellies. I drive to the vet, who is open, finally.

“Failure to thrive,” I sigh to the face behind the counter.

“Kids in winter,” mutters the vet in Exam Room 4, shaking her head. She shows me a feeding tube.

“This long rubber part goes down the throat and into the stomach.” She holds it so all of the children, shoulder-to-shoulder in the tiny room can see. “You measure it by holding one end just below the last rib and the other end at the kid’s mouth. Then you’ll know how far to insert it.”

I gag as she slips it down the throat of the unresisting kid. She smiles at me. “It’s super easy, and it’s not likely to go into the lungs. If the kids coughs, you’ll know it went down the trachea. Just take it out and try again. “ Now, she holds up a large syringe. “Put an ounce or two of milk in here and push it through the tube into their stomachs. Two or three days will probably be enough. They should perk right up. Then you can bottle feed or see if Mama will nurse them again.”

The baby goat chews reflexively.

“And by the way,” adds the vet, “just go buy some of those red-nipple bottle caps. You can just screw one onto a soda bottle and save yourself some money on those huge bottles and nipples they sell at the farm supply store.”

We go home much reassured.

Mama goat gives us some milk, and our first experiment with the feeding tube is a huge success. Each baby gets an ounce of milk, their small stomachs rounding out pleasantly.

Two hours later, more. Then out to Mama to practice nursing. The babies are stronger. We begin to consider names.our-goat-shed

Now, we milk Mama goat completely and get enough milk to last another long night of feedings. Tonight, it’s harder to intubate the kids. They want to walk around. They jerk their heads, they nose each other. We are so happy for the difficulties – our kids are getting strong!

In the morning, we bundle them into their coats, zipper the bundles into our coats then slip and slide to the goat shed. They spend the morning with Mama while we cover the shed with tarps and insulate it with straw bales around the interior. It’s toasty when we go out at noon with a bucket and the feeding tube.

mama-goat-and-her-new-kidsI hold up the girl kid. She is warm and squirmy, her belly round under my fingers. The boy kid, too. I put them down under Mama goat’s udder.

“No need for that feeding tube,” I laugh, pointing at the fight going on beneath Mama as they butt each other off the teat.

“This is what they call ‘kidding around,’ smirks the twelve-year-old.

It is a beautiful moment, there in the toasty goat shed with the energetic kids, the wide-eyed children, a smiling Grandma, the healthy Mama goat, and a relieved, but tired Mama human. From now on, my kidding kit will include a feeding tube.

Kids in winter. Beautiful.


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  • Mike63Denver says:

    Were everybody like you this world would be a better place to live.

  • Carol Sadler says:

    When we raised goats, it seemed at least one nanny always kidded in the coldest period of the winter. They seem to have a knack for it! And it’s hard to loose a kid, but it is another aspect of real life farm kids come to recognize as natural. Farm kids are so much more in tune with real life. Good job helping yours come to terms with life. Excellent article!

  • Eldon says:

    All kidding aside, I loved this article. Real life. One can’t kid about that. I can’t help kidding around a little… 🙂

  • Bonnie says:

    What a beautiful story – it brought tears to my eyes. She should win first prize and she should write a book – educating adults and children about animals and life in a most entertaining way. By the way, there are homeopathic remedies for mastitis, like Phytolacca, that work on humans as well as animals. The fact that remedies work on animals is proof that it is not just a placebo effect! Homeopathy is the only medicine that is tested on people, and used on animals.

  • Grapefarmer says:

    Lots of learning at all levels. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marlin Scholljegerdes says:

    Very good writer & story teller. Great portrayal of the warmth & charm of rural family living. Enjoyed it a lot. Gets a 5 star rating from me.

  • Great article! Really timely too, as our two Lamancha goats (Mom – Janie and daughter – Lori) are pregnant, as is our young Toggenburg, Jenni. We have had these wonderful creatures for less than a year, so this will be our first kidding. The information presented in the article is a great help in getting prepared for what we hope will be non-stressful deliveries.

    That the article covered a difficult kidding is a plus, as things don’t always work out, and we have to be prepared for the problems that may arise. We will definitely prepare our ‘kidding bucket’ ahead of time and hope and pray that all goes well. Thanks to the author for sharing!

  • Penny says:

    Hi, Marjory. We’ve been raising milking goats for about 5 years now, and we’ve learned a ton about it along the way. One of the best resources that I have found is Pat Colby’s “Natural Goat Care”. It is a fantastic reference for all sorts of natural ways to keep your goats healthy and avoid illnesses. It also talks a lot about how to treat and deal with common goat problems and illnesses. I have found it invaluable in trying to keep our small herd of 6 does healthy without resorting to antibiotics and vaccinations. One of the things I would suggest you try out is offering your does copper sulfate (commonly used as root killer at the hardware stores), and dolomite (used to lower the acidity of soil for gardening). Goats have very high copper requirements and the dolomite basically buffers any excess copper that they might consume. When they are even a little low in their copper requirements, they are much more susceptible to all sorts of diseases and infections (like the mastitis that the writer had to deal with). When put out in separate containers at the same time, goats can just self feed out of them as they want. I also leave out containers of baking soda (to help them regulate the pH in their stomach), ground kelp (to provide essential trace minerals like selenium), and Redmond’s loose salt. We don’t get enough sun where we live (in a canyon among the redwoods) so I also supplemented them with cod liver oil, to increase their vitamin A & D, the month before they give birth to avoid “bent leg” in the kids when they are born. Worked great this year!

  • susan says:

    I love the way that this true life account reads like a story from a book, especially the way it starts. Great story and story-telling, very heartwarming and well-written. She had me in the moment and on the scene, almost instantly. I’ve never owned goats (sadly, as I don’t live in the country) but I’ve bred dogs before and know the strife and trauma of mastitis and needing feeding tubes, etc. I also love the way that the author describes the fleeting thoughts (like remembering to use this as a learning experience for her children) while coping with a trauma. Farm children with great parents like her get unique and valuable life experiences early in their upbringing, developing an early respect for all living things. I was tearing up as I read it! Bravo!

  • Paulajean says:

    I envy the life in this story! It was written so well, my heart was beating faster and faster as I read – until the health of the babies had a breakthrough! Ah, sigh, thank our good God. I doubt I will ever be in this situation on this side of heaven, but I am enjoying the tips and sharing of info from other readers. May you all be blessed out there in your tender care of the animals! My vote is that this story is a winner!

  • Vicki Sann says:

    I am very impressed with all of the information provide in Kids in Winter, it boggles my mind on how much more I have to learn before I even consider purchasing adult Goats.
    Thank you for this insight, now all I have to do is finding someone to show first hand knowledge to eventually do it on my own.

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