Gloves (2 layers). Krocs. Barn coat. Hood, hat. Cowl. Hoodie. Totally dorky snowpants. Sweatshirt.
Gloves first? Yes, I’m back after the third barn trip of the day. We’re warm-blooded crustaceans out here. Cold is a predator, and overlapping garments are armor. Once encased, I can face anything. Now I’m molting.
Kidding season hasn’t really begun – they bred to kid at the end of January – but it’s off to a poor start. Monday they were calling for single digits. After feeding grain, I filled the hay nets in the stalls and coaxed them in, including low goat Trillium, her daughter sly, agile Zinnia, and Edie, who kidded in August and wasn’t allowed to breed again this season. Either the boss goats had been chasing them outside at night, or they had just been keeping themselves away from the charging and butting. But this night, every bit of warmth and muscle mass would count. Once they were shut in, I let go of worrying and concentrated on keeping the house snug for the night.
At 7:3o AM Tuesday, the kettle of hot water from the woodstove went into a water bucket along with a cup each of corn oil and dark molasses – tonic to prevent ketosis of pregnancy. My cardio for the month has consisted of lugging this to the barn and doling out portions to each doe while the others jostle her for more than their fair share. This gives me the chance to count them – well, call their names from eldest down – and in doing this I missed Lilly, and heard her, still in the back stall, bleating.
There she stood, the sturdy 2-year-old, nuzzling at 3 limp shapes in the trampled straw: two half frozen, one just cold. She had done her best to lick them dry, and they were well-developed, but skinny, most likely premature. Either they were born dead, or died a few minutes from hitting the cold air: apparently none of the three ever drew breath.
What could I have done? Well, if I had even considered the possibility that she would go into labor ten days before her due date…OR happened to check the barn at midnite and seen her pawing the litter – OR… gone to the barn at 6, or 5, or 4…
Most likely there was nothing I could have done. What would I have tried? What I’ll try now: have a laundry basket of dry towels by the door: keep a pan of warm water on to thaw a jar of frozen colostrum: set the alarm for every four hours, sleep in work clothes, get up, pull on snowpants, slip on cowl, hoodie, hat, hood, barn coat, Krocs and gloves, and take the tiniest flashlight I own, to keep from startling or waking them. Walk out in air that feels at first breath like a cool drink, and later like inhaling sand, step inside the barn door and stand listening – for pawing, grunts, restlessness (a doe in labor will get up, lie down, get up, lie down…) or worse, a shrill but thready bleat. Or two, or three.
It’s been quiet in the darkness, the last three nights, and early mornings: just the soft steady crunch of cud. So I quickly run the light across the sleeping shapes: one or two blink at me, nicker softly and settle their chin on their mother’s or sister’s or daughter’s back. (My flock now are all related in some way to each another. I should make a chart. ) Relief… short brisk walk…molt armor… bed.
Every year, a new concern, a new response. Last year, too-rich feed led to triplets and even quads. How to tube and feed a cold kid. This year, premature labor, which could happen to any of them, but didn’t have to happen on the worst of the cold nights. And the decision: no more September breeding: no more pushing to have meat processed by April: no more putting them, or me, through this. Friendly, motherly Lilly, her mother, aunts, sisters, will be resting till October.