From the Burbs to Owning Goats
In June 2012 we bought two goats – sisters – from a man named Sadhu who owns Govardhan Gardens here on Puerto Rico. They were 6 months old at the time and they came with names, Amani and Mayani. Just two months later we bought Ravi, who was a year and a half, also from Sadhu, to be the “husband” they’d
share, and now together with nearly 50 chickens, four dogs and nine cats, we were one big happy family. Our purpose in having goats is two-fold: one is that we want to get off our dependence of soy milk and start drinking goat’s milk. We also love what their organic manure does when added to the compost: the plants love it!
When Amani went into her second heat on November 30, we decided it was time to mate her with Ravi. What a lucky buck who got to have sex with her six times or seven times, although I think one might have been enough. In February 2013, our awesome vet, Dr. Trautmann came with his family and his ultrasound to confirm what in our hearts we already knew – that Amani was indeed pregnant. He could appreciate one kid, but he felt pretty confident that there were two in there, which seems to be the norm. The ultrasound wouldn’t allow him to determine sex.
Amani and Mayani were always very different from one another. From the moment she arrived, Amani was a goofball. Cocking her head to get a better look at you or sticking her head out of the fence of the play area, just to say, “hi,” her expressions made us laugh frequently. Mayani was from just six months old quite aloof. The markings on her face and body only add to her mystery. With maturity inevitably comes change. As Amani matured, she grew out of her goofiness, and Mayani is no longer as aloof. Both will chew on your clothes and when you aren’t looking, both will steal your hat, or whatever article of clothing they can sink their teeth into and shred to pieces. Ravi is pretty docile, despite his 200-pound stature. Provided you pet him and rub the space between what used to be his horns when you come visit him, he’s a happy guy.
As Amani’s pregnancy progressed, I wondered what kind of mother she’d be. Maturing yes, motherly? Not at all. Time would tell, I suppose, but frankly I saw Mayani, with all her seriousness, being a better mother than Amani.
Paul and I read books and articles about raising goats, and more recently about birthing or as it’s known for goats, “kidding.” We spoke with other farmers, Sadhu being the one whose advice we sought most frequently, including some new friends we met about six months ago named Peter and Susan who own an organic coffee farm here in Utuado, who owned goats when they had a farm in Virginia. Each time we had an appointment with Dr. Trautmann for this or that cat or dog, we’d ask him questions as well. He’s a country doctor for certain. Although his father was a well-respected dentist and orthodontist in Utuado, more important to us is that he grew up on a farm and knows farm animals inside and out. While he and his awesome staff treat and care for dogs and cats, as one might expect, many of his patients are livestock. We spoke with other farmers both locally and on the Internet: Janice in Alabama; Hanne in Mississippi; Char in Texas; and Mickey, his sister Olga and their nephew Norberto here in Utuado and and so by the time we got to yesterday, we felt pretty prepared for Amani’s kidding.
"The Time Has Come," the Walrus Said
We both took one look at Amani yesterday morning and knew that this would be the day she would have her kid(s). Her udder was very long and full. Although her amniotic fluid hadn’t started leaking 12 hours earlier, as the books indicated it would, we just knew. She was acting strangely, and she bleated a lot. She had two weeks earlier scoped out a place just under her pen where we assumed she wanted to have her kids. She hung out there frequently yesterday and as she got up, we raked the manure pellets and placed new hay there. We tried to keep it as clean as possible.
Something else made it obvious she was going to kid yesterday. For a combination of reasons, Amani and I aren’t as close as we were when she first came here. I attribute this to two reasons and in particular since she became pregnant. Paul is the farmer in the family. I sit on my ass all day writing or managing the business that keeps the farm afloat. I come out periodically throughout the day to say hi and at night after we’ve collected leaves for the goats to eat, we both have a ritual where we hand feed them these leaves. For those moments Amani and I are close, but Paul is the primary caregiver of all the animals; they know this and the goats see me as the leaf lady and the chickens as the rice/cracker lady. I don’t bring them their feed in the morning; I don’t usually rake their poopy pellets, I don’t let them out of their pens to run around as often, I rarely brush them, and I have never cleaned and trimmed their hooves.
Yesterday was different. As I left the play area where Amani spent the day alternating between pacing and lying in the hay bed we made her, she started bleating. I returned and she just stood by my side with her head resting on my hips. I petted her; she bleated more. I got the message and brought two chairs into the play area and this time it was me who alternated between pacing and sitting (in the chair, not the hay bed).
Throughout Amani’s pregnancy, she wasn’t too excited about me touching the side of her body where her womb is. The other side is her rumen. Throughout the day yesterday I felt her womb and could notice considerable difference in the tautness from morning to late afternoon. I also observed almost the moment that the kids shifted from her uterus to the birth canal. I brought one of the books out to confirm what this would look like and indeed the uterus did appear to get smaller, more taught, while the area above her hip bones (the flank) went from sloped to almost horizontal. It would be soon, I decided.
Periodically I noticed Amani bearing down (the only way I can describe it), which she would follow up with a bleat. I imagined she was having contractions, although never having had kids (human or goat), I don’t know. I looked again at the book and noticed the positions of the kids’ bodies in the birth canal and decided that if one or both were breech, I should trim my nails, just in case one of us had to go in and turn the kid or kids around. I didn’t want to scratch her inside. I also changed from shorts into my farm pants knowing that I would be on my knees and more than likely getting messy.
We ate lunch, and I took a few pee breaks, but for the most part I spent the entire day with Amani. About two hours after she started bearing down, she began licking my arms. Up and down, on the inside and the outside of my arm, mostly the right arm, but sometimes the left, she licked. I couldn’t tell if this were something she did to comfort her or because she was salt depleted. We filled her water dish. She continued licking.
At about 2:00 pm the usual afternoon rains came. But it was clear this was going to be no ordinary rain. Lighting, followed by thunder meant Amani would have her babies during a heavy rain, while I fought off a mother of a migraine!
For a goat who didn’t like me touching her womb during her pregnancy, by the time it was time, I had been very familiar with her womb, feeling the bump that indicated one of the kid’s heads was in position and trying to come out and interestingly, Amani had no problem with me lifting her tail to see if her cervix was dilated, which I must have done about 100 times yesterday. Once I saw that it was dilated, and noticed the faint presence of amniotic fluid (I guess her water broke late), I called Paul who by this time was putting the dogs inside the house and closing all the windows to keep the horizontal rain from flooding the house. By this time it was about 4:45 p.m., and the rains were so heavy, I kept thanking Paul for extending the roof from over the pens (where each goat has his or her own “room,” out about four feet. As the wind and rains raged, we all stayed dry.
Something else gave us a hint she was ready. During her alternating pacing and lying in the hay bed, when she would lie down on the hay, she had her rump facing the pen. When she lied down this time, she positioned herself such that her hind quarters were easy for us to reach. We removed the chairs from the birthing area and it was about that time we noticed her vagina opening and a blob pushing its way out. Amani did a curious thing as she was pushing. She reached for my arm to lick up and down, she moved her head away, opened her mouth as if to yell, bore down and pushed. The blob kept coming out and Paul and I saw what appeared to be a head.
Warning: Graphic Photos! If Real Life, Not the Glossed Over Fairy Tale Version of it, Grosses You Out, You Might Want to Skip The Next Seven Photos
Nobody prepares you for the blob. I have to tell you, we both thought a head would pop out. Neither of us had a clue the body would be encased in a bubble, a sheath, if you will.
First we saw the eyes and breathed a sign of relief – this kid wasn’t breech. Amani continued licking my arm, yelling with no sound and pushing. Then we saw a hoof, then two, and then all four legs were out. We got nervous at this point because the membrane hadn’t broken and so I called my friend Char to ask her what to do if it doesn’t break. The membrane broke and Char stayed on the phone with us a few more minutes, thankfully. Paul and I started removing the membrane from this new perfect kid. It was 5:15 p.m.
Amani took a break for about fifteen minutes and then looked for my arm. I knew it was time for the second kid to come out when she started licking my arm again. Wash, rinse, repeat and fifteen minutes later a second kid rested in a pool of broken membrane. We breathed a second sigh of relief when baby number two wasn’t breech. By this time, the first was struggling to get on its feet.
Mama took a few minutes to breathe and then she looked for her kids. This indicated to us she was done and no more kids were coming out. Good, we both thought – one for each teat. She cleaned them off, in between looking utterly exhausted. We offered her water and then food. She cleaned those kids up so well! All concerns that Amani wouldn’t be motherly went out the window as soon as I saw her with them. Thousands of years of instinct really do kick in the moment those vulnerable babies arrive.
As baby number two struggled to its feet, baby number one found Amani’s teat and the important colostrum filled with the antibodies it needs. A little slower to its feet, baby number two finally found mama’s teat while mama continued cleaning baby number one. It was at this point that we noticed what sex they both were. We breathed a third sigh of relief when we saw both were girls. The sad fact of reality is that there is room for only one intact buck on a farm. If one or both had been boys, we would have had two choices: sell one or both or castrate either or both.
As baby number two drank, mama had apparently snipped off the umbilical cord. Thanks mom! The other one she left and we had to tie some nylon string around it.
Then there was the issue of the placenta. Much ado is made about ensuring that all of the placenta is expelled from the body. We felt pretty confident that the all of it lay in a sac that hung from Amani’s vagina. We didn’t feel it was necessary to call our vet to ask him to come out on a Sunday night - his only day off - and remove it from her body (which you may be able to see in the first photo, but certainly can in the second one), but we agreed to let Amani decide what to do with it.
By 6:15 all of us were starving. Mama was exhausted, having just run a marathon; my back was aching from hunching over in an awkward position, and mama was anxious to tend to her babies. She lightly nudged me with her head – it was time.
We fed dogs, ate dinner and came back around 9:00 to check on mama and babies. All were fine, and Amani’s placenta was gone – we assume she ate it. Although she’s safe from any predators on our farm – Gigi and Yum Yum are fiercely protective of everything on the farm (Hector, when he's not sleeping - he's an old man, after all, he is protective also) – instinct tells her to eat it, lest she leave evidence behind of having had kids.
The Next Day
Normally struggling to wake up in the morning (I am NOT a Morning Person!) when Paul gets up to feed animals, I was awake before he was this morning. We both went out to see Amani and her kids whose names are Emily (after my late mother) and “the other one” because Paul hasn’t had time to name her. Amani is such an incredible mom. Worried when they get more than three feet from her, she bleats and they bleat back and return quickly, still a little wobbly on their feet. Beyond adorable, no wonder she’s already in love with them! We just want to snuggle with them both, they’re so cute.
We’ve decided to keep them both; impractical as that sounds. Yes, we really should let her breast feed for two to three months and then sell them, but we just can’t. Everything that happens on the farm reinforces that we made the right decision to leave corporate America and start a new life.
Watching these two being born is one of the most incredible experiences either us has ever had. Sure we’ve been to Paris and been to the top of Le Tour Eiffel, driven through the Rocky Mountains, been to several national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Mount Zion, hiked some of the most beautiful mountains in California, upstate New York, Arizona and now Puerto Rico, driven cross country and both as a couple and prior to meeting have done some incredible things in our lives. When we look at those perfect beings, we know with absolute certainty that nothing compares to this. We can sell the next kids that are born – whether they’re Amani’s or Mayani’s, for now, we want to enjoy these two gifts. Prior to Amani's birth, we'd both read numerous accounts of farmers whose goats kidded in the middle of the night and the owners came out to see two already cleaned up babies and mama sleeping quietly. We both can't begin to explain how relieved we were to have shared this experience with Amani. To be sure, I don't think she really needed us. Goats have been giving birth unassisted for thousands of years. She didn't need us. Although we provided comfort for her and a couple of arms to lick, she honestly could have done this all by herself. We are really glad we could be there and share this with her and that we got a chance to witness this. Our lives are truly changed forever and after everything we’ve done and seen and experienced in our lives, we have finally arrived and we have no intention of ever going back to “all that!” Com’n, just look at ‘em!
Update: June 16, 2013
It has taken me nearly a month to be able to post this update, both because it has been very busy around here and because putting it into words would make me cry all over again.
Unfortunately one of the baby goats died only two weeks after the kids were born. Purple Girl, as she came to be known because she wore a purple collar, died of tetanus. We have been able to determine that this (in all likelihood) happened because prior to our living on this farm, the previous owner kept horses in the same area where our goats live. It's a natural spot because it's one of the few flat areas on the farm. Tetanus is naturally present in horse manure. Manure, no matter how well one cleans and rakes, will seep into the ground and once this occurs, it can lay dormant for up to 40 years.
We don't know if the tetanus was allowed to enter through the area on their heads where we dis-budded the goats or if she had a cut in her mouth. As soon as we realized she needed medical attention (she became stiff with lock jaw), we took her to Dr. Trautmann. He and his staff did everything they could but unfortunately the ravages of tetanus are extremely swift in goats. Purple Girl died 36 hours after onset of symptoms.
Although a day late and a dollar short, we got Green Girl, aka Goatita aka Paul still hasn't found her a name, vaccinated against tetanus. For prophylactic measures, we vaccinated the adults, although they probably didn't need it at this point.
Goatita is thriving! As of today, she is 39.5 pounds and although she lost her goat sister, she gained four dogs siblings. I don't think she knows whether she is a a dog or a goat.
Bye for now, updates as they come!