Written onOctober 25 , 2012
When I arrived at Green Mountain Girls Farm in April for a yearlong apprenticeship, one of the many animals I met was Tacamba, a stocky but relatively skittish Boer goat, new to the farm. She was markedly more uncomfortable with us two-leggeds than her herd mates were, so Mari and Laura, farmers-in-chief, had spent some extra time socializing her with human interaction, hand-feeding her alfalfa cubes and petting her when she would let them.
To continue Mari and Laura’s efforts, I gave Tacamba some special attention, too. I would stand near her, talking to her to familiarize her with my presence and sounds. She would come to me on her own time, sniff me out, and sometimes stay for a brief scratch behind her (big, floppy) ears. After a month or so of these sessions, I felt like she was finally warming up to me, if just slightly. She began to surprise me with longer stays by my side, enjoying back scratches in the sun.
Then came kidding season. Of the three Boer goats at the farm, Tacamba was the first to show signs of impending labor. Her udder grew heavy with milk, but her due date came and went, and farm chatter began to revolve around one running joke: Tacamba’s imminent but never-underway labor. We all checked on her often, sometimes as frequently as every couple of hours, looking for tell-tale signs, such as contractions, or the “glazed eye” that does in labor often exhibit. Day after day, our anticipation rose, but Tacamba provided no release.
Of course, when Mari and Laura went off-farm for a seminar, Tacamba decided it was time. While the cat’s away, the mice will play…or give birth, I suppose? That afternoon, I waited with her, assessing her status and hand-feeding her hay. Sure enough, I noticed that she soon began to pause every couple of minutes, turn away, and look off into the distance without focus—the glazed eye! In my makeshift seat within a stack of square bales, I grew increasingly anxious and excited about the proximity of this long-awaited event. Not only was this impossibly long and suspenseful gestation about to come to a close, but like being with a loved one in the waiting room, I was on pins and needles anticipating that age-old, thrill-ridden act of labor.
I watched as Tacamba, the cautious doe I had come to know, went through a series of seemingly predetermined, primal steps. She sat and stood in odd positions; she huffed regular, laborious exhalations; she stretched her neck upward; she curled her upper lip. She was mysterious to me, and awe-stirring. As dusk set, Tacamba prepared to give birth, something she had done five times before, and I watched on, mystified.
Over the course of her labor, I ran to get Liva (a more experienced farmer) for a couple of false alarms, thinking Tacamba was actually delivering when in fact she was still in the seizes of early contractions. I felt so anxious, in a positive way, wanting to give her all the resources I could. When she finally began to deliver, Liva and I quickly noticed that the kid was presenting in the most dangerous position—a breech. Instead of diving out, forelegs and head first, the kid was backward, which meant Tacamba would have to push the widest part of the kid out first—a task that has claimed many doe and kid lives alike. I racked my brain, trying to piece together the all-too timely tips I had just learned at a kidding workshop two weeks prior—when intervening, how do you re-adjust the kid? Do you turn it upside down? Reach for its hind legs? Liva donned an elbow-high glove smeared with lubricant and readied herself to go in, while I ran to get the vet’s phone number, just in case.
By the time I got back to the barn, the first kid was lying in the bedding I had prepared days before, breathing. Breathing! Tacamba had managed to deliver a breeched kid by herself, with only a slight hand from Liva. A physical sense of relief swelled in my chest, and deep glee settled in for the night. I was so proud of her. Twenty minutes later, she delivered a second kid: a floppy-eared doeling.
Tacamba cared for her kids beautifully, licking them clean, nickering to them as they made their first vocalizations, letting them nurse. Mari and Laura returned from their seminar, pizza leftovers in hand, and we recounted the evening to them. For the next couple of hours, we all sat around the barn, eating pizza under its dim lights, watching the two kids stand for the first time.
Diablo and Tamalpias (named after mountains in California) are now two of the best-looking kids in our goat herd. With shiny coats and sturdy frames, it’s clear they’re off to an excellent start. Their company is an honest reward for the daily pasture moves we execute for them, and the heavy water we haul. What a joy to plop down alongside them, watch them caper about the browse and, in a timid manner reflective of their mother’s, slowly approach.