A Farm Story
Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm
On Saturday, March 19th, Al went out to do his morning chores as usual. He returned shortly with an armful of mess. He had two tiny goats that had been born sometime in the night but had been abandoned by their mother. They had been barely cleaned with only their little noses sticking out of their gooey birth sacks. They were cold but still alive so I began to work on them.
I rubbed them hard with a towel, dried them with a hair dryer and prepared some colostrum into a nice warm formula to get a little something in their bellies. Both were too weak and cold to suck at a bottle. Even the insides of their mouths were cold, a very bad sign. I put the colostrum in a syringe, greased up a stomach tube, and then held each baby tightly as Al gently inserted the tube down the throat of each little goat and gave them their first feeding. The twins were then tucked under a towel in a box on top of a heating pad. We continued to feed and fuss over them the rest of the day. It was evident that they had been born prematurely. They did not even have hooves grown onto their little feet.
The smaller of the two could not get warm, even while being held in my lap as I gently worked on him with a hair dryer. As hard as we tried, we could not save him. He died during that first night. The larger kid would frequently try to lift his head, bawling for a feeding. He was still too weak to take a bottle so we continued to tube feed him. Sometimes I just held and cuddled him as I worked on the computer or tried to knit.
Sadie, the youngest of our Anatolian Shepherds, was fascinated with him. She continually peeked into his box and licked at him. Whenever Sadie was in the house she laid next to his box and lifted her head if someone walked by him or if he began to cry. He lived through his second day with Sadie watching over him and nourished by a few more tube feedings. I am grateful that we can tube an animal but hate to do it often so constantly checked to see if he had the strength to suck at a bottle but he didn’t. At the end of the day we gave him another feeding and tucked him into bed. I awoke at about five the next morning and realized he’d not cried in the night so I was afraid to look into his box, knowing I’d find him dead. I came into the kitchen to find him trying to stand and silently crying out – apparently the many tube feedings we’d had to give him had made him hoarse. He had gained enough strength to take a bottle and his voice returned by the end of the day.
After several days of very intense care on our part, the little fellow started to become more active. He was jumping out of the box we’d housed him in, preferring to curl up on top of Sadie. Although he was walking around, his little ankles splayed his feet forward as they could hardly hold his weight. His hoofless feet ended in what looked to be two fat pink toes. He stumbled and fell often but fought to get back up. Sadie also did her share of knocking him over as she lovingly licked him from head to tail. She felt it was her duty to run to the side of our bed throughout the night to remind us that he needed a bottle. We were often awakened by Sadie even before the little goat began to cry.
The more he explored the house, the more he got into trouble. I had diapered him so that I did not have to constantly clean up after him but he was still a handful. One morning I found him under the ironing board, tugging at the cord of the iron in an effort to bash himself in the head. I tried to block off the stairwell but he squeezed around, tumbling down the steps a few different times. We named him Ralphie after the character in A Christmas Story who wanted a BB gun but was constantly told that he would shoot his eye out. Seems our little Ralphie spent most of his waking hours trying to get into trouble.
As Ralphie became stronger he began to follow either Sadie or me everywhere we went. His little hooves grew in, covering his funny feet. Once he was strong enough I began carrying him to the barnyard to play with the other kids while I worked. In about three weeks we moved him out of the house during the day and brought him back in to sleep at night. By the time he was a month old he was living outdoors with the other goats. He was still getting six or seven bottles a day but was beginning to follow the example of his peers and nibble on hay and grain.
Ralphie is now down to four bottles a day. He is a busy little man who recently accompanied me to a school for a visit. He does want to return to the house and will try to squeeze through gates as I am closing them. He winds himself around my legs as I walk in his pasture, craning his neck to get closer to me and tell me how terribly he needs just one more bottle. He has come along amazingly well.
I will give Sadie a fair bit of the credit for Ralphie’s story. Although she will not even be one year old until the end of May, her protective instinct is evident. All of our Livestock Guardian Dogs amaze me. The can be quite aggressive when they feel their animals are threatened. I have seen them work together so that one holds back a coyote at the fence line while the other dog quickly and almost violently pushes all of the flock as far away from the threat as possible. I’ve also watched even the youngest of dogs lay silently within a few feet of an animal giving birth. Once mother has birthed and carefully cleaned her baby the dog will gently sneak in and give the newborn a few tender licks. The dog will than thoroughly clean up any of the birthing mess so as not to draw predators.
Baloo, our Great Pyrennes-Kangal cross male, did borrow a newborn lamb from its mother. This is Baloo’s first baby season and the lamb was the first born this year. It had apparently been born very late at night. When we found it, the lamb clean and dry and was following Baloo around the pasture trying very hard to nurse on his lovely white curls. We had to take a flashlight and search all the ewes in the dark to find out who had given birth. Fortunately she was an experienced mother who was glad to take her lamb back once we reunited them in a stall in the barn. Baloo seemed disappointed to have lost his new baby. He did take quite a keen interest in all the rest of the lambing and kidding but we were better at catching the new babies and putting them up with their mothers before he could steal another. The dogs are a special part of the farm, giving us lots to smile about. They have also been a big help during a very busy baby season.
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