Not all of my stories have happy endings, and I’m afraid this is one of those that might leave you feeling sad, so feel free to skip it if you’d like. It’s a post that needs to be written though, because the subject of this little tale deserves to be remembered. This isn’t an event that happened years ago, but this very season.
If you’re a regular follow of my other social media, you’ve probably seen Viper, the black and white darling of the 2017 season. This year she was paired with a beautiful red and white buck for her first freshening, and these were some of my most anticipated kids. Red or black and white kids were my most likely results, and I am very fond of Viper and her entire line. She was due January 8th – the day I am posting this blog entry.
Sadly, as sometimes happens in goats, something went wrong with Viper’s pregnancy. Early on December 21st I noticed a sudden change in her body shape and some discharge with blood in it. Not good. I placed her in a stall and kept an eye on her throughout the day, but it wasn’t until late in the night when real contractions started. Another doe was also laboring at the same time, so I sat in the barn and watched them both, trying to convince myself that Viper had somehow gotten with a buck early and this would be a full term birth. I couldn’t quite believe it – I remembered specifically how I’d had a hard time catching Viper in heat and she had had only one exposure to the buck. But you never know right? My misery was compounded by the beginnings of the flu that was crawling in at a rapid pace, promising an unpleasant next few days.
Both Viper and her neighbor Hyssop were racing to give birth – Hyssop won by a literal nose, delivering the first of triplet doelings right before Viper delivered a delicate stillborn doeling, obviously premature. Feeling very disappointed and sad, I removed the baby (if you’d like to see a picture click here) and tended to Hyssop, leaving Viper to continue her labor – a palpation of her belly told me there were more babies to come. Hyssop delivered her next two doelings with scarcely a grunt and went to work cleaning them and nursing them. I took one and gave it to Viper; she had colostrum and I wanted to stimulate her milk production. Shortly afterward Viper gave birth to another tiny red kid that lay limply on the straw. In no rush, I unrolled some paper towels to wrap it in.
The kid squeaked.
Shocked, I swooped in and pulled the kid closer and wiped it off. The little doeling immediately opened her tiny mouth and screamed in indignant protest, spider-thin legs flailing about in wild circles. A third kid – also stillborn – would be delivered afterward, but all the attention was on the somehow alive red doeling, who was still squeaking at us. Leaving Viper to clean off and nurse her adopted Hyssop doeling, I carefully dried the remarkably tiny 132 day old kid in front of a heater and wrapped her in a towel. The rest of the barn was quiet, so I returned to my home along with the newborn.
Though I was ready to fetch the feeding tube to put colostrum directly in the kid’s stomach, she lifted her head and began to make what I call the “sucking face” – pursing her minuscule lips and moving her jaws in the typical nursing motion. So after I thawed the colostrum we keep saved specifically for times like this, I put it first in a bottle with a soft nipple and gave it a go.
She latched on and sucked at it vigorously, though only for a few swallows before she dropped off and lay still, shivering a little bit. It was then I realized that this tiny tidbit of a goat didn’t even have her eyes open yet – they were sealed tight, much like in a newborn puppy or kitten. Her hair was like velvet, short and fine, and her head wasn’t quite right looking, with limp hanging ears, but there she was, breathing and eating and even screaming. She couldn’t stand, but it wasn’t for lack of trying as she flung those legs tipped by comically delicate hooves in every direction.
I wrapped her up in a warm cloth and let her sleep in my lap as I worked on the computer, trying to finish record keeping before I went to bed. The flu came rolling in hard at that point, but the little premie woke up an hour later and cried again for milk. When I went to bed, she came with me and slept on my chest, waking up every two hours for a few swallows of milk.
It was a very long night, and I groggily came back to life in the morning reeking of a mixture of sour milk and Nyquil. I bundled the baby up with her bottle and took her to my partners who were milking in the dairy parlor at the time. “She’s still alive. Can you take her, I need to rest. By the way her eyes aren’t open yet,” are the only things I remember saying as I handed her over and crawled back into bed, where I would remain the rest of the day.
I honestly fully expected to be told that the little doeling passed away when I finally resurfaced from the worst of the flu. I’ve never before had a premature baby this early survive the birth, let alone live very long, and neither had anyone I know. The fight she showed immediately at birth spurred me into giving her a chance, but I remained convinced she would die soon.
Yet when I went to fetch her back into my custody, not only was she alive and still eating with gusto, but this miracle of a goat was now standing on her own, eyes still sealed as she blundered about the box, falling over more than walking, but still succeeding. Inspired by her ambition, we buckled down and continued to work with her. Soon her feedings went from every two hours to every four hours. Just a couple of mornings after her birth, her eyes began to open exactly like a puppy’s will – unsealing bit by bit as foggy blue eyes started peeking through. Soon they were open fully and she began to look up at us as she shouted her desire to be fed. After a mere week, she was sturdy and mobile enough to go outside with the youngest babies of her breed during the day, to cuddle and sleep, though she still hadn’t exhibited much play behavior, and when she ran, it was with a wretched hunched up posture I watched unhappily. It could work itself out in time, I told myself, and indeed as the days went by, little Tidbit looked more and more like a proper goat kid. At a week and a half old, she learned how to use the lambar and began to feed herself at will, and my optimism rose.
As I write this post, I feel vaguely frustrated by the inadequacy of it. How can I describe in words something that was so delicate and unfinished yet so determined to survive and fight for every moment. They fail to describe a tiny little star that shone in our world for a moment. I never took any pictures of Tidbit you see, beyond a couple blurry ones I sent to a friend the night she was born. First I was too sick, and then I was too busy. I also stoutly refused to make any post about her on Facebook, and I only mentioned her to a handful of goat friends. I find it hard sometimes to not only share bad news from the farm, but to share something that might have a sad ending, so I held back. I told myself – let her make it to 150 days. 150 days is the accepted length of gestation for a goat (though most kids are born somewhere between 140-150) and I decided that if she survived that long, I would write a post about her and share her with everyone.
Today she would have been 150 days, January 8th.
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you have come to realize as you read, Tidbit did not survive to see her due date.
The night before she passed away, Tidbit played for the first time. She ran back and forth with the other kids during the group feeding time and even tried to jump up on a hay bale with them, though of course she came no where close to the top. She was nearly three times the size she started, but still half the size of the other kids, though her ears were finally standing up, and her eyes were bright and inquisitive. I picked her up and kissed her little face, which she repaid by biting me on the nose. Always looking for that milk. The next morning, January 5th, at 147 days old since conception, Tidbit passed away. She did her best, but she was just not ready for the world.
I immediately regretted not taking video and pictures of her. It wasn’t right that her valiant battle to survive wasn’t recorded and shared with everyone to appreciate. Tidbit deserved to be remembered. So this is the best I can do – keep my promise to tell the world about her on her due date. Tidbit was born at 132 days of gestation and survived two weeks with us. No, not every story has a happy ending, but every little life has value and something to teach me.
Even if all seems hopeless and the end is inevitable, it’s worth the fight to enjoy what little you have sometimes.