Have you ever wished you could attend some goat births with a mentor? That is the idea behind my latest book. Giving birth to goats: what to expect during the joke season.
In today’s episode I’ll tell you a little bit about the book and read the introduction and the first birth story in the first chapter. The book contains more than 20 birth stories from normal to complicated to tragic. Every birth consists of two parts – the original blog post I wrote at birth and my thoughts about today’s birth. It also contains dozens of color photos of births.
You can visit my new online shop to learn more about it Give birth to goats. If you buy the book directly from me, you will receive a download of a birth list that explains everything you need – and what you don’t need – and how and when you need to use it.
If you want to read the introduction or the first birth story, you can get started …
Transcript of the goat giving birth
There is nothing in goat possession that creates more anticipation, excitement, frustration and fear than birth. It’s wonderful to go to the barn one morning and see some kids bouncing and breastfeeding. But it feels like you were slapped in the stomach when you come in and see a desperate deer or a dead or malformed child. If you’ve never given birth to a goat, you don’t really know if something is normal or not. As a former obstetrician and doula, I knew everything about the birth of people, but I soon learned that goats are very different.
Just three months after I brought my first goats home in 2002, I became a member of several goat groups on Yahoo. Since I knew no goat owners other than the woman who sold me the goats, the Yahoo groups took on the role that a knowledgeable neighbor or parent would have played a century ago. Whenever something happened that worried me, I would log on and ask for help. There were always other goat owners in cyberspace who gave advice and encouragement.
Today there are also Google groups, Facebook groups and a multitude of other groups. In 2009 I started my own group on Ning for owners of Nigerian pygmy goats (nigeriandwarfgoats.ning.com). Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of goat owner posts around the world, and I’ve noticed that jokes are the event that causes more fear than anything else.
So many people join an online group and post something like this:
We are new goat owners and are waiting for the birth of our first children! What do we need to do or know? How do we know everything is fine? What do we do if we have to help? Any advice is appreciated! Thank you so much!
You can also register and post something like this:
Our first goat has been at work for two days and we are worried! What should we do?
This book is part of the answer to these questions, but since every birth is different, it is also useful for those who are not new to joking. Raising goats naturally in my book: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, I explain all the technical aspects of goat birth. However, most goat owners believe that information is not sufficiently prepared because there are so many exceptions to “normal” and so many of them are not problematic. It is not very helpful to know the average values of the textbooks. The average time for the first phase of a first refresher’s job is twelve hours, but three hours are normal, and eighteen hours can also be normal. Just as some women work two hours and others two days, goats can be different.
When someone asks me if something is normal, my answer is almost always “it depends”, and then I ask a dozen or more questions as I try to understand this particular situation. Every goat is unique and every birth is different, even from year to year with the same doe. I have some goats that were born on this farm, have given birth for ten years and are now retired. Every birth was different, although they could usually be called “normal”.
In this book I tell stories about my goats that give birth. I want to make my experience your knowledge – not because I have experienced everything, but because the more you know, the more you realize that you do not know. I bluntly describe the experience and share my thoughts, fears, and confusion at the time. The pictures also illustrate the reality of these births. I hope that these stories take their place at birth and expand your knowledge base and your confidence in yourself, but above all in your goats. If you’re new, the big overriding fear is that your goats can’t. You have to help – or worse, you think you have to save them. That is almost never true. According to Goat Medicine by Mary Smith and David Sherman, 95 percent of births do not require support. The longer I have goats, the more I think this number is correct.
The idea behind this book is to share stories of real goats giving birth to find out which 5 percent actually need your help. I see every joke as a learning experience, from the first to the one that will take place in our next joke season. I also learn from experiences others share with me, and sometimes I think of these stories when I’m working with a goat. Many of the stories in this book come from my Antiquity Oaks blog, where I recorded the births of our goats from 2006 to 2016. Most of the posts were written within a day or two of the joke, so you can read all of the raw feelings – the joy and sometimes the sadness – that came with each birth.
The advantage of reading birth stories here is that, in addition to the original birth story, I am giving you my assessment of the birth as I understand it today with accumulated knowledge and experience. I look back at some of these births and know that I should have done something different. With other births it is clear to me that nothing would have changed the result. As you read through these births, you are likely to think about what you would have done in this situation and how you might have reacted differently. At some point you could also become paranoid – or you might think that something terrible is wrong with our goats and that none of this will ever happen to you.
The book begins with a variety of “normal” birth stories so you can see the wide range of the normal. Please don’t be tempted to skip these “boring” stories. If someone has never given birth to a goat, he often thinks that something is wrong when it is not. Sometimes the deer is not even at work! I knew a woman who had spent several nights in the barn and finally called her vet, only to find out that her two weren’t even pregnant. In fact, the most common mistake I see is someone who thinks something is wrong when everything is completely normal. Birth takes time, and unfortunately that gives us a lot of time to worry, which means a lot of time doing something wrong.
Stories about difficult births are presented in the chapters “Not so normal births”, “Caesarean section births” and “Death”. I deliberately share the stories of our worst births. We have had more than 650 children on our farm when I write this, and the vast majority of births were happy occasions with smiling people and healthy children. We only had two Caesarean sections and only two died from complications from pranking. There are farms with poorer records and there are farms with better records, but if you have goats long enough, you will have some unfortunate experiences. However, the happy experiences will far outweigh the sad ones. When someone asks me what I love most about our farm life, I always answer: “Joke season!”
Part 1: Normal births
Although 95 percent of goat births do not require intervention, you do not know whether your 5 percent will occur after the birth of fifty or eighty goats or after the birth of your first goat. I have a friend who had two or three for fifteen years before having to give birth. On the other hand, someone bought two cans from me and the first birth ended up with both children dying when they were about nine hours old because they never breastfeed and they didn’t know this was a problem. The second birth involved a child who needed help to be born, and the deer died a few hours later.
But if you have never seen a normal birth, how do you know if the goat is behaving normally in front of you? It is quite common for new goat owners to think that something is wrong if everything goes well. It seems that if you could only see one or two births, you wouldn’t be so worried. Law? The chapters “Normal births” and “Normal but different births” tell stories about normal births and how “normal” people react. You will see that it is normal for us to ask if everything is OK even after we have given birth to a few goats. After a few years, my motto was “If the goat is happy, I’m happy”, and even after eighteen years in which goats were born, I still sing it in my head when I wonder if everything is fine .
Wednesday April 14, 2010
We had a visit from Sarah, our November apprentice, last weekend. She came back because she wanted to see a goat give birth. As of Thursday, Cleo’s tapes were so soft that I kept thinking that they would give birth “pretty soon”. When I went to Chicago for a speech on Thursday, I thought it would give birth later that night. When I went to pick up pigs on Friday, I thought they would give birth while I was away. However, when I got home with the piglets, Mike and Sarah said Cleo was waiting for me.
I went into the barn and sat on the straw with her. She gave me more kisses than ever from a goat. She licked my face and neck over and over again as I sat in the joke with her. She kept making small two-syllable “ma-a, ma-a” blocks. She kept looking at my lap and pawing at my legs. I could see that she was thinking of crawling into my lap. She would lie next to me on one side and then get up almost immediately, turn and lie on the other side. She clearly felt uncomfortable. I went to the walnut grove, where Mike and Sarah finished repairs to the fence before I released the piglets into their new home.
“Cleo is getting closer,” I said to Sarah. “You don’t have to hurry, but I’m not sure I can pick you up later.”
Sarah came with me and when we got back to the barn I found Cleo was very serious about giving birth. She no longer made little grumbling noises. Instead, a whispering groan escaped her every time she pushed. She lay on her side and pushed her legs in front of her body. Her big belly almost made her roll onto her back, but she winced and straightened up again.
“No matter how often you see it, you always get to a point where you feel that it is taking too long,” I said to Sarah. “But really, she is fine. There is no sign that something is wrong.”
Finally a hoof started to look out, then a second hoof. “That’s exactly how it should be,” I said. “First the front hooves, then the nose.” And as if it were a script, a nose appeared. “This is a textbook birth.” The whole head appeared and the body quickly followed. I placed the little deer next to Cleo’s face so she could help me clean it.
While Cleo was licking her baby, I wiped it off with a towel. The little doe shook his head and sneezed. Within a few minutes, she slid around the straw and carried out the baby goat equivalent to crawl. Cleo got up and lay down a few times. Then she seemed to stare into the distance as if she was concentrating on something none of us could see. I said to the little deer, “Okay, child, you’re alone. It’s time for mom to give birth to another baby.” And the second child was born quickly.
Two makes! Of the 16 children born so far this year, there are twelve. If you raise milk goats, this corresponds to winning the lottery. Of course we’re only in the middle of the year and things could change, but I’m enjoying the dozen little things in the barn right now. And yes, I keep one of them.
Usually Cleo was a very distant doe. For the rest of the year, she wasn’t a cozy goat. But I always knew when she was going into labor because she suddenly became the friendliest doe on the farm. This birth took place after we raised goats for eight years, and luckily I was learning patience until then.
It is important that there is no large audience when a deer is at work. Over the years we have had many interns during the prank season, but it has never been more than one at a time, and the goats usually have the opportunity to meet the intern before birth. It is important that goats feel safe when they are in labor, otherwise their labor may not be productive. Remember, they are prey and always wonder if a new stranger will eat them. We had work twice on the farm during a day, and in both cases the work was unusually long and the deer only gave birth when almost everyone was gone. In the case of the second doe, I was ready to take her to the university veterinary clinic and asked my husband to load a dog crate into my car as soon as the event ended. Fortunately, it took forty-five minutes because when he came back to tell me it was done, she squeezed, which saved me a two-hour drive – and the experience of delivering baby goats in my car! As tempting as it is to invite guests to your goat births, it’s not a great idea.
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