Sometimes sad things take longer to share. Especially around things that feel like they make no sense I have a tendency to need to try and figure out the Reasons – whether that’s the “big picture” God’s Eye View or the crucial mistake – I have a need to Understand, to find a story I can tell myself (and you) that makes it all make sense. A fool’s quest – but there it is. The saga of the goats is one of those things. Remember back in February when Pearl had two beautiful kids and everything seemed to be going well and then two days later she died? Well, those two kids are alive and healthy and living in up Banner, much thanks to Rachelle’s rescue and care. Pearl’s corpus is well mixed back into the molecular stew by now and the rest of us go on.
Fast forward five months from Pearl and Spot is due to kid – it’s her first time. I’ve done a bunch more reading and researching about goat kidding and been reassured by goat people that these things do sometimes happen – goats seem to have a high mortality rate compared to most domesticated animals. I’ve midwifed over 100 horse births in my life but in goat world I’m still barely a rookie. At least Gryph’s here. I’m still nervous.
It’s the morning of my birthday, Saint George has left for work. I’m sipping my second mocha of the morning on the front porch, enjoying a rambling conversation with Fox and easing my way into a beautiful morning 49 years into my tenure here on Earth. Gryph is still asleep, the chickens are scratching around the edges of the yard, it’s peaceful. The sudden loud panicked bleating tapering into a moan is not peaceful. “What is That?” asks Fox. “Go get Gryph, it’s Spot.” and I’m down the steps and around the house in search of the source of the sound. I’m on hands and knees when I find her; she’s almost directly under Gryph – with a floor between them. She’s centered under the front room of the house in a space less than 2′ high and she’s in labor. It looks like there’s about 4″ of kid emerged but when she’s pushing it’s not moving. She looks straight at me and bleats “help!” Fox goes under the house and gently pulls Spot out into the yard as Gryph joins us.
It takes Spot a few minutes to settle down again. She’s licking and blowing and gently nuzzling me and needing some reassurance. When she’s ready she lies down so as to deposit her kid in my lap. The first kid is stillborn. The cord is wrapped around his neck and one leg, the other leg is folded back along his body. He’s white with a few small brown spots and he’s gone. Spot is licking him and nuzzling him and Gryph is quietly crying, “It’s so sad.” And then there’s another kid arriving and this one is alive! Pure white and smaller than his brother, he’s alert and adorable. Spot shifts focus to the new kid easily, cleaning him up and loving him.
Gryph and I put the dead kid into a big black garbage bag and the new arrival figures out how to stand up. Spot gives him her full attention until he’s had his first meal and then she goes looking for his brother. Which feels a little macabre, but we roll with it and open the bag so she can see her dead kid. I make up a story in my head about her saying good-bye. She goes back and forth between the two kids a few times and I make up a story in my head about her working out the difference between alive and dead. Then she starts licking and cleaning her dead kid who is still wrapped in most of the afterbirth. It turns out that the afterbirth is what she is after, because goats eat their afterbirth. They don’t do it because it’s fun, they do it because they need the nutrients – which means that despite the fact that there is something deeply and viscerally disturbing about watching an herbivore slowly masticate a large and bloody mass we stand back and let nature take its course. Before breakfast.
And things are good for a few days. Quid spends a lot of time sleeping in the hollow of the venerable cedar. Spot is attentive and the nursing is going well. Quid is adorable and getting better at gamboling and cavorting between naps. Then in the afternoon on day 3 Spot takes Quid under the house, tucks him in behind the concrete steps, and leaves him there. Eventually we bring him back out but she isn’t interested. It takes two humans helping so he can nurse. He starts getting wobbly and weird. He won’t take a bottle and his attempts at nursing are getting feebler. Spot is more inclined to push him down than to help him find her teat. Cute turns pathetic and hope goes grim. When he’s two weeks old he starts head banging (unable to stand up) and we give up. No sense prolonging the misery. Meanwhile, one side of Spot’s udder has dried up and once Quid is gone we let the other one dry up as well. It’s all just too much.
Which brings us to August with Spot and Taz sharing an enclosure more or less harmoniously and lately a bit more amorously. Of course, last week Spot figured out how to climb the goat fence panels and ate most of the millet patch before it could come to seed. I’m stymied by the goat situation. The idea was chevre, goat cheese, which I love, also milk – both of which would reduce the grocery bill. Meanwhile, while the chickens pretty much feed themselves, the goats do not. Having goats costs money. Gestation on a goat is about 5 months – so the soonest we’ll have milk available for human use is the end of January. That’s assuming things go better this next time – and my track record isn’t so good! Maybe I’m just not meant to have goats at this point in my life? (But we do all love Spot and we’d miss her if she wasn’t here.) Obviously, I’m still working things out.
And this is where I bump back into my search for Reasons, Meaning, Understanding. Because sometimes a sad farewell is really a search for nutrition. Sometimes a nanny knows there’s an invisible fatal flaw long before a human does. Sometimes a fantasy is a whole lot different from a reality. And sometimes goats just die.