Jan 29, 2010

"there's a rhythm to things out there..."

I know, I know....I've already missed the first 29 days of the year.  Not a good sign for this here blog, but I promise I have a really good reason:  BABY GOATS!

One December morning Brit, trying to prepare me for what I was about to experience in my year-long internship at Celebrity Dairy, motioned to the barn and told me, "There's a rhythm to things out there."   I had no idea that that rhythm would be jump started by some intense contractions, little bleets and the arrival of over 50 new members to our farmily. 

So after a month of sitting around in anticipation, the second week of January marked the official start of kidding season with the arrival of our first baby, a beautiful little brown and white doe I named Suri.  One day nothing; the next filled with life and change and work. 

I've already witnessed several live births, assisted with the daily feedings, milking and care of our herd, weened babies, and am learning constantly.  But I haven't found any semblance of a rhythm.  One moment I am frantically trying to keep up with new babies, tagging and logging their every move, chasing them around with a spray bottle of iodine to sterilize their recently severed umbilical chords. And the next, I'm perched atop a bucket with babies trying to nurse at my legs while I coach them to take a bottle for the first time.  From feeding and milking before dawn to the nightly feeding and milking schedule, each day offers up a set of unique challenges.  The only constant seems to be that there is never enough time to get everything done.  You could work endlessly in the barn.  Every time I  turn around there is a doe in labor, a baby in need of some extra attention, or a pen to ready. 

There is joy in these first new days, beauty and playfulness to be sure.  A baby suckling in my lap, tail wagging, locks eyes with me and I am in love.   A favorite goat dancing with me in the yard as we play, jumping up on my back when I try to leave.  Babies bouncing off the walls, literally, climbing on anything and everything.   But with this goodness there comes equal parts blood, excrement, urine and death.  Some of it you adapt too and I've definitely reached a new level of dealing with the more animal nature of the goats - you can wash most anything off at the end of the day.  But, other things that happen aren't easily left in the barn.

On Friday I delivered a dead baby.  Brit was gone from the farm on an errand run when a younger yearling went into labor.  As she pushed the embryonic sack outside her body, it became obvious that the baby was not in the proper birthing position.  A baby should be in a diving position with their front two legs pushed out straight ahead and their heads resting on the legs.  This baby, however, had one leg pulled back, still lodged in the birth canal.  Luckily, Caitlin was there and called Brit to get some quick advise over the phone- we were going to have to guide the baby out.

While the mama continued to push, the sac broke and I was covered in fluid.  I immediately removed the lining of the sac from the baby's nose and mouth.  Its tiny head barely outside of the mother, the baby took its first breaths.  The mama pushed and I held pressure on the baby, pulling and trying to guide the baby downward in the manner that the birth canal is curved.  But no luck. The shoulder of the baby was wedged too far back. I could feel it, bony and angular pressing against the cervix but unable to move forward.

I had no idea how hard  I could pull or if I was doing more harm than good.  I was worried I would dislocate the baby's shoulder if I used any more force.  The mother was exhausted, the baby was looking more and more distressed.  I became panicked we would loose both baby and mother.  Caitlin stepped into the pen and assisted.  She finally guided the baby out, but it was to late.  Its limp body collapsed on the hay beside its mother.  We tried to move him and wake him up.  I kept thinking for sure his eyes were moving and that he was going to come to any minute.  I held my breathe listening for a tiny bleet, a twitch, something.  He had just been alive, warm and breathing and looking at me.

If I had more experience I think that I would have been able to reach in, find the baby's shoulder and reposition him for an easier birth.  But I don't and I didn't. Had I caused the baby's death? What if I hadn't intervened at all?  Would the mother goat been able to work it out on her own? Or should I have been more aggressive? Somehow turning the baby?  You want to think that you will do the right things in these situations.  That you will rise to the challenge and find the strength inside yourself to do what is necessary or right or needed.  That you will somehow just know what to do.  You hear stories of people delivering babies on buses, in unexpected circumstances, ordinary people who jump in with no experience, roll up their sleeves, and save the baby and mother's life.  But it wasn't like that this time. 

Later, Brit told me that he was sure I did everything I could have in the situation.  He said that there will be days that are sad, that these things happen, that there will be many more moments of wondering what we could have done instead.  But that each time we learn and move forward, hoping to be better prepared for the next time.

This isn't like any job I've ever had before.  The immediacy of the animals and a new intimacy with birthing and dying are present every day, lived in moments, interrupting chores and plans and my tired mind.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about these things yet.  There is little time for processing each new step. I just know that whatever happens, I still have to get up the next morning, put on my muck boots, and walk out to the barn.

Photos from the first month to follow.


  1. Hi, Lora, thanks so much for writing this. I love the candid nature. There are many mortalities associated with farm life... some leave you feeling resolute and some leave you feeling very sad. I have felt and continue to feel both ways. There is also life and joy and a great sense of wonder and accomplishment. Please keep posting on this adventure. I'm hooked! peace, honey. Angie

  2. Wow Lora, the way you write makes me feel these things like I am there. I'm sorry for the sad time in the barn. Those times are hard, and they stay with you. But there are joyful times too, and hopefully the majority of times are good, or at least satisfying. See you at dinner!