Bumble’s Beginning

This year brought a lot of kids, and a lot of adventures, but there is no doubt that one doeling sticks out of the bunch. A little darling that was born dead, and once revived, reminded me that the bad can always be balanced by the good.

The day the insane buck JP (reminds me I need to write about him sometime too) left, I bred him to two does – Orchid and Crown Royal. Orchid unfortunately passed away from a sudden heart related event, but Crown Royal, one of the dairy’s top milking does and favorite La Manchas, carried her pregnancy without issue, and went into labor late one night.

Crown Royal has always kidded without assistance, so I left her to herself while I worked on other necessary chores during my overnight barn shift. However, as time passed and no kids arrived, I became concerned.

I checked internally to see what was going on, and unhappily, all I found were legs. Too many legs! At this point it was nearing 3:00AM in the morning and no more time could be wasted. As poor Crown Royal groaned in discomfort, I began the arduous task of sorting out what these legs belonged to. It was quite a tangle in there – all I could find was legs legs and more legs. It certainly felt like even more legs than eventually came out, but with time, I was able to shift everything around, and trace a pair of front legs up to a chest, neck, and finally head. Triumphant, I helped Crown Royal deliver the first kid, a massive buckling that looked just like his father.

He was alive and alert as I dumped him into the bedding, still steaming in the cooler barn air. Right away he began to try and jump to his feet and Crown Royal knocked him back down in her eagerness to lick and clean her new son. We didn’t have much time to appreciate the scene, as there was still at least one kid in there that needed to come out. So I went fishing again, and found some hind legs and a front leg. Two kids? No, just one I discovered, but it took time – too much time – to get it readjusted so that it could come through the birth canal easily.

That night was a strange one – I was already bone tired, even though we were just a couple weeks into kidding. I was dealing with some frustrated feelings, having just been through the Toggenburg troubles, which had been an immense amount of work that left the entire dairy with no reward in exchange. The time of year that was normally my favorite had become just another tiresome chore that I wanted to be done with. Time had no meaning, and I just closed my eyes and felt my way to bringing this goat kid out of one world and into mine.

Finally, things aligned and with a final grunt from Crown Royal, out the kid came. I was filled with disappointment and anger – the kid was limp and didn’t take a breath. I’d taken too long. This was our last JP doeling, from a great doe, and I blamed myself for losing her. I rained admonishments upon my own head in those brief seconds the dead doeling lay on the straw – why hadn’t I checked sooner. Why hadn’t I worked harder. Why had I failed? Failure is something I often don’t handle as well as I should.

I wasn’t ready to give up on her just yet though – I snatched the slimy kid off the ground by the hind legs and swung her back and forth in an effort to clean the fluid from her lungs. I massaged her little chest, and blew a couple of breaths through her warm wet nostrils, trying to get her to breath on her own. Finally, I thumped her sides, and my eyes filled with boiling hot tears that spilled over as I continued to blame myself.

I don’t know how long I worked on that doeling – longer than I normally would. But finally I dropped her onto the bedding and admitted defeat.

Then she kicked her hind legs and took a breath.

In that moment, it was like the world shifted – the tears were still coming, but now with relief as I returned to rubbing and encouraging the little doeling to keep breathing. When she let out a soft wobbly cry, my heart wobbled right along with it. Crown Royal was busy with her buckling, who by now was on his feet and thrusting his muzzle at her swollen teats, so I picked up the little doeling and took her to where I had a heater set up for just these instances. I worked on her until she was dry and breathing well, but I could not get her to latch onto her mother’s teats. So I fetched the syringe and tube and filled her little belly with Crown Royal’s rich colostrum.

I realized then that it was almost 5:00AM and my shift was ending. The doeling was weak and Crown Royal had paid very little attention to her, but I had done everything I could do. I warned the next shift that she would need help, and I honestly admitted that I was not sure she would survive – it had been a struggle, one that was only starting for the weak baby. I went to bed, certain that the morning report would include her passing away.

She did not, and in fact, by the time I returned to the barn in early afternoon, she had a suck reflex. I helped her nurse from Crown Royal, but it became pretty clear that her mother was not interested in her. By removing the doeling and drying her myself, I had broken the bond that’s created when a dam licks off her doeling. However, Crown Royal being the patient good doe she is, she would allow the doeling to nurse if I asked. Otherwise, the poor dear was butted away and ignored.

So now we had a bottle baby – just what I didn’t want! Although I admit, she rarely got a bottle – most of the time I just held Crown Royal and the little doeling would fill her belly until Crown Royal kicked her away and let me know that lunch time was over. This situation would continue until her weaning, and I thank Crown Royal for her patience and willingness to please.

The doeling came to recognize my voice very quickly, and her long legs made her terribly clumsy and endearing as she ran over to me anytime I came out. As she grew stronger, so did my affection for her, and as she bumbled about the barn attempting to play with the other newborns, I knew I had a good name for her already. Bumble!

As she grew, I wanted to ensure she got enough nutrition to live up to her large heritage, so we began to allow her into the dairy during milking. It was often easier to just put her on the stand and let her have her milk that way. Soon enough, she discovered a taste for grain as well – and the Bumble invasion of the dairy really started.

Not only did the little bugger decide that she was allowed to run into the dairy parlor anytime the door was open, nothing was off limits to her. The grain became a sandbox to play in when she was finished picking out what she wanted – she’d dig her front hooves in and send it flying across the floor. The floor that I would need to clean afterward, I might add!

Too, she realized very quickly that the really good stuff was on the milking stanchion. One milking she slipped into the holding pen with the other milking does, and all by herself, galloped onto the stand and stuck her head through to get her share, imitating her older working relatives. I couldn’t even begin to control my amusement at the sight of her little face poking out one end.

It became a habit to take pictures and post them on Facebook to “complain” about my little dairy pest. Spoiled brat! I would shout at her as she scrambled out of my reach after dumping a scoop of grain all over the floor. Pesky pain in my tail! I lamented as I shoved her butt out the door for the third time in one milking. Annoying little urchin! I grumbled when I needed to extract her from the stand so that legitimate milkers could take that spot.

I was relieved I tell you, when weaning time finally came and I unceremoniously dumped Bumble into the pen with the rest of the distressed kids her age.

Yet, milking time just wasn’t the same. A bit dull, to be honest So Bumble spent just a short time with her agemates, and now she’s back to her usual antics, brightening each and every day for all of us here on the farm.


Grand Theft Goat (Kid)

For Mother’s Day, I have quite got a funny little tale about a funny little goat to share with you. Hemlock the La Mancha is actually a newcomer to our herd, purchased from a friend to join the dairy’s line up of milkers. Everyone knows how much we fancy black and white goats, and an unusual amount of pigmentation in one eye made Hemlock even more unique, and she was very much welcomed on the farm.

Once she arrived and went into quarantine, we were able to see what a lovely personality she had – if a bit needy. I was told she kidded in secret overnight and hoarded her doeling until morning, when it was removed to be raised by hand, as is very typical for many farms.

Most does forget about their offspring rather quickly, transferring that affection to their owners who are milking them, but Hemlock wasn’t ready to give up her dreams of being a mother – not by far. After milking one evening within days after Hemlock arrived, I watched her shove her nose through the fencing and call after a group of our own goat kids who were running by. They paused to look at her, then ran on, and I swear I saw her expression fall in disappointment. She repeated this process over the next week, even encouraging several kids to come closer and talk back. I noticed with interest it was exclusively the dark chocolate and black colored kids she was interested in, paying the lighter colored and patterned kids no mind at all. Curious, I sent her previous owner a message and asked what color her kid had been. Black of course.

Now I was incredibly interested in what would happen next – would she continue to show interest in the kids after being released from quarantine, or would she realize they were not their own after being able to sniff their little bums. By now I had no doubt that goat mothers recognized their kids visually, and kid theft was not an unusual thing among the herd – especially the Nigerian Dwarf. I imagine the herd itself carries its own scent, and the raising of kids has become an almost community project among them. Every year a few does would end up as baby snatchers, and some of those relationships still stand to this day. The young kids quite frankly don’t care who feeds them – any spigot will do. But for a stranger to walk into the herd and take a kid? Unheard of. I figured once she had taken her ritual beatings from the top does of our own herd, her mothering ideas would take a backseat to just figuring out this new home and her place within it.

Well – I was wrong. Two days after passing all of her health clearances and entering the herd, Hemlock came into the dairy with an empty udder. I followed her around that day, and watched her go from kid to kid, as if trying them on like new pairs of socks. Every single one was dark in color, and thanks to the buck we used on the La Mancha the year before, a beautiful chocolate fellow, we had a lot of them running around!

At one point she attempted to make off with Strawberry’s young daughter, who followed her willingly enough until Strawberry chased after them and gave Hemlock a bashing I don’t think she’ll forget quickly. Hemlock left that particular kid alone afterward, and it wasn’t long before she finally settled on her favorite – a little chocolate girl belonging to first freshener Cupcake.

In no time at all she took complete control of the doeling and Cupcake no longer had any say in the matter. Hemlock came proudly into the dairy every milking sporting a mostly empty udder, and even learned to kick and stomp in an attempt to protect her milk for her adopted offspring. We’re used to such behavior, since we do dam raise, and soon enough she realized it’s polite to share.

I did however, have to send a funny message to her previous owner – Excuse me, I ordered a milking goat, not a nanny goat!

She found it as funny as I did.

I found Hemlock’s escapades to be incredibly interesting. How strong must her mothering instinct be! She was separated from her own kid almost immediately, and it was several weeks until she had contact with new kids, kids that had to smell drastically different than her own. She was in a completely foreign place, confronted with a mass of strangers, and it still didn’t stop her. The first time she went out with the herd to browse, she hung back and refused to allow her new kid to stay with the others who preferred to play in front of the house. They slowly followed the herd, Hemlock talking and fussing over the baby every step of the way.

So now Hemlock is a mother again, despite all odds, and I feel happy for her. I do not consider the methods of hand rearing goat kids to be wrong in any fashion and could see myself doing it even in a different situation, but the bonds between dams and doelings is one of my favorite things, and it brings me a great deal of happiness to see the complexity of it, and even better, something new happened on the farm thanks to this funny doe who just would not stand to be “kid-free.”

What about Cupcake, the victim of such an absolute baby-snatching? She didn’t seem to care at all. In fact, her second doeling was stolen by a herdmate named Lime and Cupcake was able to continue the kid-free life that Hemlock was not interested in. Different strokes for different goats, as they say!

Our theme for naming this year is cars, trucks, motor vehicles, etc.

So I named her kid Grand Theft Auto.

The Toggenburg Tragedy

Some stories are harder than others – and this is one of them. This story exposes a very large painful mistake that I made, and it would be easier to just bury this tale the past and ignore as if it never happened.

But that just isn’t something I have ever been good at doing. Wrong decisions are made every day, and we have all made them. If I can show just one person very clearly how easily this mistake is made, even by those of us who know better, then that person may not repeat it. That alone makes sharing this story worth writing and sharing.

As many of you know, I manage the stock at a dairy. With the business growing, we have been in need of good (but affordable) milking does. Not always an easy thing to find! So when I was tipped off that there was a large herd of Toggenburg goats that needed a new home, I immediately looked into it.

The story was a sad one – the elderly owner had kept and bred these goats for many, many years. They used to be show stock, and then dairy animals. Now she was facing eviction from her farm, had serious health problems, and her herd was facing the auction house. We have very little time to make a decision, and the goats were several hours away, making this a pressing issue right away.

When we visually inspected the animals, the decision ultimately lay on my shoulders. There were health records going back generations, and the herd had been closed to outside animals for over ten years. I found no abscesses – or scars from abscesses – that would indicate a Caseous Lymphadenitis issue. Not one doe I put my hands on had the classic swollen knees of Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis. Each one peered up at me with bright eyes, their delightful shaggy fur glowing in health. The kids were tagged, disbudded, and bounding around the area in picture perfect form. The facility was clean, and even the bucks in the next pasture over were everything one could want in  quality Toggenburg stock. Despite the fact the owner was well into her eighties, hobbling along a pace at a time with a walker, she had used every resource she had, including hired help, to keep the animals healthy. I enjoyed speaking with her – this was a woman who had seen more years of dairy goats than I could ever hope to. She told me baldly that she could no longer care for the herd, and wanted them to find a new home before it actually became an issue of declining health for the animals, but circumstances had come crashing down. Now it was surely the auction house, because how can one sell over sixty Toggenburgs to quality homes in just days?

We knew it was a risk. We knew we were gambling. But we felt the odds were in our favor – and if it worked out, it would be an incredible opportunity for the dairy. A treasure just waiting for us, to help us continue to grow and thrive. The breed is growing in popularity in our area, and it could mean a much needed increase in revenue with the sales from the kids, not to mention the boost in milk we could expect. So we decided to do it.

We were able to arrange transport right away, as the current owner of the Toggenburgs had a friend willing to help out. They showed up on an awful rainy day in two trailers, and I supervised the unloading into the quarantine pens, bucks separate from the does and kids. I had planned to refrain from mentioning our new additions until after the cleared all their health testing, but I didn’t think to share that plan with others, and it leaked on Facebook pretty much immediately. Of course, everyone was very excited for us, and it was contagious!

We were able to clear the animals for the really scary stuff right away, which put our minds at ease somewhat. The herd was settling in, and I was growing very fond of them. They were wonderfully calm animals – I almost never saw them engage in disputes, and they took the move in stride. The kids were big and sturdy, and we were able to get everyone on track with vaccinations, copper, and hoof trimming. With our next free day, we drew blood for the final test, Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis, commonly shortened to CAE.

To our absolute horror, all but two of the does came back positive. It was incredibly crushing, and I in particular was incredibly disappointed – mostly in myself. Announcing the results to those following the herd’s progress was difficult, and quite frankly, embarrassing. The support was amazing for the most part – I couldn’t ask for better friends.

There was no choice but to break apart the Toggenburg herd and remove them from the farm. Several private breeders approached me, and many of the friendly and attractive does went to homes that were set up to appropriately care and keep CAE positive animals. Even some of the bucks were able to find good homes where they should live well. The rest were lucky enough to find a job as a pasture herd. I hope their future treats them well.

As for the two does who tested negative, one unfortunately died from pneumonia, but the second was placed on a regular testing schedule, and as of today, has continued to test negative for all disease. I came up with the name “A Pretty Penny” – because in the end, that’s what this entire ordeal cost us.

I knew better than to purchase untested animals – the idea of doing it with so many was ludicrous. But I was over confident, and I wanted to have these beautiful animals for myself. I wanted what they represented for the dairy’s future. I was willing it to succeed with every ounce of my being. So when it turned into tragedy, I put a lot of the blame on myself. I refused to take any commission for the rehoming of the animals, and worked endlessly to place them in appropriate homes. The hardest one to let go of was the oldest buck, a massive wise looking boy I had dubbed The Old Guy. He would stand quietly with me while I scratched his thick neck. I was truly heartbroken for them – they were beautiful gentle loved animals.

So often we hear a breeder say something along the lines of, “I’ve never tested, but my goats have always been healthy.”

It’s just not good enough. A great number of infected animals will be asymptomatic. With how accessible testing is, there just really isn’t any good excuse. A responsible breeder should do everything in their power to control and prevent disease.

Learn more about Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis at the links below: