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.
The 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.
Another 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.
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.
I 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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