Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kitchen Goats

Lily & Dirk
During our first year of dating, Bubba showed up at my house for a date carrying a cat-sized pet carrier.  And it made noise.  The kids and I peeked inside and saw the tiniest baby goat any of us had ever laid eyes on.  Thinking back on it, I’d say she was about the size of an 8-week old kitten.  The kids fell in love on the spot and were appalled to discover that she had no name.  They jumped right on the problem and named her “Clementine.”  Little did we know that little Clementine was the first of many “bottle baby” goats to come into our lives.

Clementine was a real eye opener for all of us.  For me, I was impressed all to pieces that Bubba had such a sensitive side.  Every two hours—LIKE CLOCKWORK--he fed that baby goat either out of a bottle or a tube, making mental notes of how much she ate each time.  He even woke up in the middle of the night to feed that little animal. 
playing possum
My only experience before that with men and babies was with my Ex who would not under any circumstance whatsoever wake up to feed any one of his own five children.  When our oldest was about a month old, I elbowed The Ex early one morning to encourage him to get out of bed and feed the howling child.  Nope.  You would have thought The Ex was stone cold dead or in a very deep coma.  In reality, he was exceptionally good at playing possum AND ignoring me (I should’ve seen the writing on the wall…) 

So I ended up doing all the “mid-night feedings” for the first 3 kids.  By the time kids 4 and 5 came around, I had negotiated a “night nurse” into the deal: no night nurse, no kid. 

So, anyway, there was Bubba, getting out of bed on his own volition--no alarm clock!-- to feed a tiny baby goat (not even a human).  I was VERY impressed.  “At last, I’ve found a nurturing man,” I thought to myself.
Sadly, Clementine only lived about a week.  But her death was a learning experience for the kids and me, too.  We had lost a couple of dogs, who were virtual members of the family.  So we experienced the death of a pet—any pet—as emotionally wrenching.  Many tears were shed over Clementine.  And that’s how we learned Bubba’s farm mantra, “The Circle of Life…” 
Fast forward about a year, and the kids and I had moved in with Bubba on his goat farm.  I had purchased a pregnant doe for Bella in a three-for-the-price-of-one deal.  The breeder wasn’t exactly sure when the goat was due, so the kids and I watched her closely for about 2 months.  (The gestation period of goats is 145-155 days, or about 5 months.  They can survive at about 135 days, but it’s touch and go). 
goat gestation
In hindsight, we had absolutely zero idea what we were looking for.  Bubba would glance in the field every few days and say, “Nope. Not yet." “How do you know?!” the kids and I would exclaim.  He would shrug.  It seemed like magic or divination to me at the time.

One morning, while I was getting the kids ready for school, Katherine (aged 11) came squealing into the kitchen with a teeny tiny baby goat under each arm.  “Look what I found!” she cried. Bubba appeared out of nowhere and rushed her back outside.  We have since learned that if you take a brand new baby out of sight of the mama goat, the mama will often reject it.  Yikes.
Turns out two different does had kidded in the wee hours of the morning, and so Bubba and Katherine had to figure out which baby went with which mama.  I’m not sure how they did that… One mama took her baby back; but the other mama, who was a “first timer,” saw Katherine and Bubba coming at her and ran away as fast as her squatty little legs would carry her.
Bella & Lottie
So they came back in the house with a motherless kid, who was even tinier than Clementine had been (like a 4 week old kitten!).  Turns out she was about 10 days premature—right on the line of surviving.  We named her “Lottery Ticket” because we had virtually bought her in utero, sight unseen.  We called her “Lottie” for short.
I leapt into action because it was Bella’s first baby goat and we were still in the suburban “pet” mentality.  Every goat must be saved!
Good thing I didn’t have a “real job” at the time, because after carpool I ended up driving to Julie's vet clinic 2.5 hours away (see blog entry "Howard Goat-sell").  She took little Lottie into her emergency hospital and kept her for 3 days.  The vet gave Lottie IV fluids, steroids, antibiotics, and tube feedings and kept her in an oxygen-enriched tank.  At the end of three days she was strong enough to come home.  Suddenly my three-for-the-price-of-one deal did not look so good... quite a vet bill!
But Lottie was worth it.  She was pale, pale carmel—about the color of a manila file folder—with black stockings, a black dorsal stripe, and black accents on her face.  The children and I thought she was the most beautiful goat we had ever seen.  Bubba thought we were nuts.  She was kinda runty.
We set up a puppy exercise pen in the kitchen, with a shallow bucket for a bed and some newspaper.  The kids helped me feed her EVERY 2 HOURS for a couple weeks.  So did Bubba.  He didn’t even play possum when I nudged him…

My divorce was still new and The Ex and I were still stumbling through child visitations.  Technically, Lottie belonged to Bella so I said that if The Ex was going to have the children for the weekend, he had to take the goat, too.  

The Ex is allergic to every kind of hair and dander known to the animal kingdom and is an OCD neat freak to boot.  So the idea of sending him a smelly, poopy, hairy, baby GOAT was hysterical to me.
But he said yes – probably to prove me wrong.  Whatever.  It gave me a few weekends off from bottle-feeding!  His girlfriend at the time, Jen (see my post called “Mutual Friend”) fell in love with Lottie as much as the rest of us (except not The Ex).  She spent a fortune on little sweaters, leashes, collars, etc. for that … goat.  And took the goat and the children for long walks in Palo Alto—for the sheer fun of it.
Eventually Lottie grew up and went to live outside in the field, with the other goats—much to her dismay. 
Elizabeth & Lottie

long line of other bottle baby goats followed in her hoof prints: ‘Lil Hula Gal, Hula in ‘da House, Dirk Digler, Hinky, Here Kitty Kitty, Little Egg, Portumna, Spicy Chicken Curry, Remarkably Spicy, Richard, and Gilbert.  I’m sure I am forgetting a few; and, yes, Katherine, I know they are out of order.

Katherine feeding Lily & Dirk
Katherine & Tallulah feeding Kitty

Katherine, Cash & Tallulah feeding Mark 
“On We Go” (aka Wego) is the latest addition to the kitchen goats.  She’s the one that Katherine delivered the other day in “Birth Plan.”  Wego was doing so-so for about 5 days, and getting weaker by the hour.  Katherine was doing everything she could think of to keep Wego with her mama (Ritzy): steroids to reduce inflammation, antibiotics to treat her runny eye, Vitamin B12 and sugar water to pep her up, enemas to clear out her system, syringe feedings with milk from her mom to get some food down her, heat lamps to keep her warm (even though it’s 85 degrees here).  None of it was working and Wego only gained 1 ounce. 
So Katherine made the call to bring her in the house to start the next level of care: subcutaneous fluids every 2 hours, tube feeding, syringe feeding, stronger antibiotics, sweaters, and heat disks. 
[My job was to lead Ritzy (aka mama) back in the field, where she now stands screaming for her baby all day and night.  I feel bad for her.  Imagine how you’d feel if someone took your baby away after a week? I try to explain it to her, mama to mama, but nothing I say helps Ritzy one bit.]
our current setup, Wego inside
So now the kitchen is set up again as a goat nursery.  The last goat (Gilbert) left the kitchen four months ago, so I had four months of a clean-ish kitchen.  "Clean" is a relative term with 7 children.
Over the last 5+ years we have gotten much better at this bottle baby-thing.  I use the “Royal We” here.  It’s really just Katherine.  
She has figured out to use an XL dog crate instead of an exercise pen, because the goats can’t push it around the kitchen with their faces.  And that keeps the poop contained. 

She uses puppy pads instead of newspaper, because they really and truly are more absorbent. (Costco sells them by the case--hooray).  She has a wardrobe of XXS dog coats to keep the babies warm (and stylish), as well as a collection of microwavable heating disks (that stay warm up to 6 hours!).  

Gilbert feeding himself

She has figured out the very best nipple from the huge selection available at the feed store, and she even found a gizmo to hold the bottle so the goat can feed itself.  Hallelujah!
All of that on top of which medications to give for which illnesses.  Did you know that LA-200 treats ecoli better than penicillin? CD-Antitoxin treats the “smell of death” that baby goats can get right before they crash (and die)?

We’ve come a long, long way since Clementine.  Not all the babies live, of course.  And all of us are still sad when they die, but Bubba was right about one thing: The Circle of Life.  

Some baby goats live, and some die. But you pull yourself together and keep moving forward, preparing for the next one. Another life lesson from the Goat Farm.

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