New kid on the block!
Gretchen’s there, in the heat of a stultifying nor’west, sitting, chewing her cud. June and I, there incidentally, in the cow paddock below. We’re putting poplar logs in a trailer to cart back to the house – next winter’s firewood.
Facing up hill, jaws going, belly oozed out – full of kid and fluids: nearly always just the one first time round. We get on with our job, and several minutes go by: “She’s up with the other four again, and eating. Probably needed to cool down,” June said. The nor’west’s building, close, breathless, but not too much bluster yet.
Gretchen’s reached full-term – due date, as they say. We’d like her to oblige, would suit our sense of what’s natural – us just happening upon the labour and birthing.
Not gonna happen! Goats, our ones anyway, usually a few days late. “Four days now. Don’t remember them ever being more than four.” June, imagining her hands doing what a friend’s had to do – pull them out of the same doe two seasons running. Luckily, the kids survived.
That same evening, June comes in from feeding the herd and milking Minnie; she tells me that Gretchen is talking. Mute till now, she’s found her voice: a low bleating. Sound waves ripple the amniotic fluid: “You’re in the womb kid – not long now. Near and far afield, another way to know that I’m your mother.”
It’s a boy! Born the early hours of the next morning, before June went out to milk. “She had it in the shed. Still got some licking to do to clean him up – looking good though. Gretchen won’t let the others in!”
“A promising start – looks like she’s going to be a good mother,” I reply.
Over the next few days, June gets Gretchen up onto the milking stand and takes colostrum off one side. The kid’s not touched that teat – a usual problem when there’s just the one. But you can’t leave the colostrum and milk to stagnate: that’s an infection waiting to happen.
Catch mastitis early enough and you can often get rid of it after several days by good hygiene measures, and milking each day, squeezing out every last infected drop. Leave it to fester and it’ll do real damage. Our first house cow had had mastitis in a quarter before we bought her – we never did get much milk out of that teat. A bad infection will need a course of penicillin. Inject it up the teat – not nice.
Day five. All’s well. Half a litre off June’s side – the honorary kid! “The milk’s starting to come in now.” Still strong tasting, laced with colostrum, but good for cooking with. “I’ll use it in the pancakes at lunchtime,” June said.
Day four. The kid ventured out for the first time. June had to carry him back to the shed that evening – mum following. Gretchen really has found her voice – long strings of varied vocalizations.
Day three. I’ve been counting backwards – the recalling of the pleasant enough interactions between humans and animals gives me hope that you’ll cut me some slack on dastardly early morning deeds.
Get ’em early and you keep trauma and pain to a bare minimum and avoid problems occurring later on. Boys will be boys – I’m talking about balls and horns.
The rubber rings are used in their thousands to castrate ram lambs. When we used to have calves born on the property, we’d put the rings on three week old calves. They look something like blue versions of the white Lifebuoy sweets you get in tubes – the ones with a hole in the middle. They won’t rot your teeth like sweeties but they sure know how to emasculate a guy.
So day three it is. June upends the kid and rests his rump on the milking stand. The rubber band stretches wide over the four prongs of the aptly named ‘Elastrator’. I use my other hand to make sure the testicles haven’t snuck up into the body cavity. I slide the expanded ring over the scrotum and use the plier-like handles of the Elastrator to contract the rubber ring round the base of the sac. There are two teats in front of the scrotal sac – good, they’ve not got caught in the tight band that is now stopping the blood from flowing into the scrotum. Give it a couple of weeks and the testicle-full sac will drop off.
Castration over, it’s time to cauterize the horn buds. You can get away with leaving doe kids till day five, but buck kids have pronounced horn buds by day three. You’ve got to kill all the horn growth cells circling the base of the bud. To do that, we use a gas heated debudder.
Random patterns of small brown circles – burnt etchings on a small pine board. I add two more: thin, light brown rings. Two more a couple of minutes later: dark brown and biting deeper. That’s when I know the circular copper rim on the head of the debudder has reached the temperature I need of over 600 degrees Celsius.
The kid’s on the milking platform and immobilized: June keeps the body still and my left hand makes sure the head can’t move. I’ve got the heated rim of the debudder centred – down it goes: “One thousand and one; one thousand and two …” We’ve done this job enough years now to know that, taken off after ten seconds, we’ll have a full-grown goat without horns.
Gretchen’s been put with the others and can’t see what’s going on. All over, but she won’t go past the milking stand to get to her kid, who’s now back in the goat shed. Her nose and lips are twitching. “The smell’s spooking her,” June says. A few minutes later and Gretchen’s mothering instincts override her fear: she’s gone to her kid.
The stench of burnt hair and flesh: acrid with a hint of sweetness. Spooked me also, the first time I did it. But seeing kids bouncy and back drinking off their mums in no time at all, and encountering no infections or other problems later on, confirmation enough for me that this method is both safe and humane.
Day six. The young fella’s getting out and about during the day: on mum’s teat or by her side when he’s on his feet, or flopped down in the long grass when he’s resting. A couple more days and we’ll have Gretchen’s milk in glass bottles alongside Minnie’s in the fridge. There’ll soon be enough for June to start making feta cheese again.
Day seven. He’s skipping around, inviting the others to play with him. He gets pushed round a bit – rough and tumble fun. He’ll get on okay – part of the herd – this new kid on the block.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.