I wandered down the hill to check on her and sure enough she was presenting all good signs of labor from a small leak of mucous to the telltale intermittent neck stretching, leg pointing, and lip curled grunting. She was eager for me to rub her face and neck and seemed calm and strong so I wandered back up to Jeff figuring that she was in early labor and we would have a long night of watching, waiting and possibly assisting. We talked a bit about the shelter construction and the flocks and I decided to head inside for a while to conserve energy for the events to come when I started hearing some funny noises from the direction of the laboring doe. I couldn't quite tell what I was hearing because it wasn't a sound I had heard before, so I took off to check on our girl. Since I approached from the back of the shelter I peeked in between the slats and saw her munching on the straw bedding. That's odd," I thought, "Why would she eat bedding when she has a bin full of sweet grass and alfalfa right there?"
I wandered around to the doorway and was met with her messy backside as she greedily chowed down near the back of the shelter. While I was taking in the scene she gave a grunty push and out came a stream of blood. I called to Jeff to join me because I was not expecting to see blood before baby. As he made his way down my eyes finally adjusted from the snow blindness to the dark stall, and I saw that she was not eating straw at all, but was happily cleaning a squirmy little goatling!
She looked around at me to give the air nosing greeting that she gives and went back to cleaning up her little one.
Because we adopted an already pregnant doe with signs of obvious neglect we needed to keep an eye on several things, not least of which being the muscle strength of the kids and their ability to nurse within the first hour. White Muscle Disease has been a concern we have carried since day one with our doe, so we pulled up a log and sat at the doorway so as to keep an eye without disturbing her.
There are a lot of goatherders who are very hands-on at kidding time, but as a homebirthing family that sought to avoid the delivery of our own babies being hands-on and overly assisted (in a world that screams DANGER at such practice), it was our natural desire to give our doe the space and chance to do well on her own. She took it and made us proud. She spent about 20 minutes actively attending to her new kid before her next set of contractions began. She gave a few standing pushes before deciding to lay down beside her new kid and switch between nudging him and riding her contractions. After about 10 minutes she stood to swiftly deliver baby number two. We watched to see that he presented with two little feet and a nose before plopping to the ground where our doe began cleaning him up beside baby number one.
At this point Baby One was on the ground for nearly 40 minutes so we began to encourage her to let him nurse. This is where the going began to be less smooth.
Our mama was patient and accommodating, but the two little bucklings simply couldn't find the right spot. Jeff crawled into the stall and helped them get a good latch for their first nursing and I headed in to find our three kids busy at cleaning the house. I told them that there was a surprise outside for them and Quinn set to helping me prepare the goat electrolyte drink, grain, black oil sunflower seeds and mineral gel for our doe.
When I came back out I found that Baby Two was up and walking about poking at mom and trying to figure out how to nurse, but Baby One was lying on the ground like an unblinking rag doll, getting trampled by his brother. So I asked Jeff to pull him out and rub him vigorously with the straw while I readied the the mineral gel and set my heart to accept losing our first kid. Because Jeff's paycheck was once again several weeks behind we had not been able to purchase the Bo-Se (vitamin K/Selenium) shots like we wanted in anticipation of this situation, so I asked Jeff to pick up the kids and I applied the concentrated vitamin/mineral gel to his finger so that he could rub it in their mouths and we set to the quiet process of watching and waiting.
Mama doe lost no interest in her kids and continued to dry and nudge them as she should and we sat on our hands and hearts waiting to see some signs of livening in Baby One. Finally he began to try to work his legs underneath him, and though he failed a full stand he made it up on four feet and we went ahead and put him on to nurse again. Over the next hour both babies were up on unsteady legs and poking (wrongly) at Mama's teats.
All prepratory reading that I had done stated that once the kids got a good taste of mama's milk that they would do the work to find their way back, but this simply wasn't the case for our little ones. Try as they might they could not figure out the process of having to lay down to locate the bottom rather than the top of her huge teats. We knew that we were not supposed to leave them until we had witnessed them nurse of their own accord, but it was not looking promising, so I left Jeff so that I might hit the goat forums and beg advice while googling the heck out of our problem.
Every reading indicated that we had done everything that was to be done and that the kids should have persistently sought out the nurse on their own. No such luck for our little herd. After some three hours (past sunset) we had to set to the evening chores of feedings, milking, etc. So, satisfied that we had provided them with several nursing sessions, we left them be in hopes that nature would follow course and all would be resolved.
We continued to check in and watch, but the kids seemed weakly, lacked persistence, and gave up easily on trying to find teats. We were worried. On top of it, Mama was presenting a rapidly engorging udder and fat teats. No amount of searching could provide us with any answer beyond the kids figuring it out on their own, and we were at a loss of what to do now as the evening progressed.
We plugged in the heat lamp, provided a nice thick layer of new bedding and left them be. Several other farmers had suggested that it was not uncommon to not witness the nursing in the first few days and that they would figure it out. We checked on them the last time just before 1:00 a.m. and Jeff said that he saw no evidence that they had nursed because our doe seemed very full and they still seemed confused, but they were both on their feet and walking about so we went to sleep for the night.
Early the next morning we were not pleased with the sight. Mama was crying, kids were crying, and Mama had gigantic purple torpedoes instead of teats, and I was done with waiting. She had lost patience with her kids and was rapidly jumping her legs about when they came near to bump and nudge her swollen, angry teats. I told Jeff to get her on the milking stand because I feared mastitis, not to mention kid starvation.
Mama goat was NOT pleased and refused to get on the stand which at some 140 lbs presented a real challenge for us, but Jeff managed to lift her and force her unwilling head into the stanchion. She proceeded to kick at us furiously while we tried to milk her. Her teats are some 10x the size of the other doe we had been milking, swollen to boot, and the fierce kicking was not making things easier.
Jeff's hands have been very painful for weeks and he had to stop from the pain so I (not the household milker) set to milking. I quickly found that I could not milk with one hand and had to use both hands on one teat at a time since she quite outsized them in circumfrence and length. Jeff held her kicking legs to protect my arms and chest while also steadying the milking bucket where we were trying to collect the milk for the starving kids.
After I had expressed about a half gallon of milk she finally started to settle down a bit and kicked only once every minute or so and I found that I could now milk with one hand per teat. They finally took the softer, darker form they should have. As we reached what looked to be almost a gallon of milk we decided to leave off what little remained and see if the kids might nurse more readily on these newly soft teats. I took the milk in to strain and bottle while Jeff put mama back with the kids and watched to see if they could manage now, but Mom was having none of it, and they were just as inept as before, poking some two inches too high of the sweet spot.
So we decided to leave them be for a half hour while we prepared to run to town for baby bottles and such. Before leaving Jeff helped the kids nurse and they spent much longer on her than they had before, and she had returned to being patient and still for them, so we headed out hoping (again) that things would work out, but came home to a full mama and sunken bellied kids again. They wanted none of the bottled milk and it looked to be a repeat of the previous night.
This morning then was a repeat of the previous morning, though it took two of us this time to get our ornery doe into the stanchion, and I wound up with some bruised fingers. We fought against furious kicking while we milked her again. This time she gave two quarts instead of three since we had been nursing the kids on her. The kids were still refusing the bottles with sunken bellies so I put them in my lap and shoved the rubber nipples into their mouths until they got the hang of it while Jeff let Mom exercise and browse.
I gave before and after photos on the homesteading forums, along with a complete rundown of the past 40+ hours, and asked for help and understanding. Is mom defective? Kids defective? Do we quit trying and get stuck with bottle babies? Do we keep trying and milk mom at the same time? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
The consensus seems to be that Mom is formed normally for her breed, though possibly a little pendulous, she's behaving in good fashion, kids are achieving fat bellies with our help, so there is little to do except continue to help them nurse every two hours until they get the hang of it.
So here we are. Tired. Frustrated. Confused. Irritated. But, we have a healthy doe and two lively kids who are now able to empty mom for us.
Our next issue will be deciding what to do with the two bucklings. I won't lie. It was a big disappointment to wind up with two bucklings and no doelings. We have a wether that we are preparing to put down as he is no longer needed and is a fierce bully of our other milking doe. This leaves us with two does and none growing to replace the wether. So, do we castrate and disbud the kids to raise them for spring meat, or do we disbud and sell them as bucks? We are not yet sure.
The last of our chickens are in this week's stock pot, and the laying hens are providing a few dozen eggs each week, so meat is a need which must be met with the wether being too old to provide much but soup bones, stew meat and dog food, so this is where we are leaning.
Updated to add that as of this evening Buckling #2 is nursing unassisted! Woot!
Sorry, but I still can't get pics on my computer so they're here on Imgur: