Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lucy's Birth Story

Dusk was beginning to fall as Ute and I had sat down to do some homework, when the Disgruntled Farmhand shouted from the bathroom,

"You know your goat's giving birth?"

"She is not!" I yelled back. "I checked her right before I started dinner and she was hanging out chewing her cud."

"Well she's screaming bloody murder now!"

Wtf? No warning? My mind raced as to what to do next. "Go outside and check her" was my first impulse, but I knew that there wasn't much time with goat screams like that. So I thought I better call the doula first. But where was the camera? Crap! Locked in the back of the car. Where were my fucking keys? Shit! I was in such a panic I could no longer prioritize. I took a deep breath and called the doula. I needed her here for support. I sent Ute to find my keys and meet me in the animal yard. I then flew down the basement stairs, whisking up the birthing kit on my way out to Lucy.

I found her in front of her dog igloo, on her side, bleating a sound that resembled more of a human cry than a goat's. The head of the first baby was already out and the amniotic sac broken (uncommon in caprine births). I tried to gather my bearings as I watched her through another contraction. I saw the head and one hoof lurch forward, but make no progress. The other hoof was possibly bent backwards. A goat needs to leap from his momma's womb with both hooves forward, otherwise the shoulders are too wide to pass. I stuck my finger in her on the side where I didn't see a foot and immediately the baby came rushing out covered in a thick slime, like a translucent version of the pink gunk that covered the lady and little girl in the movie Poltergeist when they returned from "the other side". The hoof was indeed back, but that tiny bit of added space gave free clearance for the kid to shoot out.

I placed the baby in front of Lucy's nose and she took to her motherly duty of eating off the amniotic sac like a duck to water. I was nervous that she might be one of those disinterested mothers, but she was amazing from the get go. With fumbling, nervous hands, I lifted the kid's leg to assess the sex. It was a boy!

Ute missed the birth of the boy, but made it in time to see a clear bubble pushing out Lucy's backside. Another baby was coming. (A fellow urban farmer over in Oakland, Kitty Sharkey of Havenscourt Homestead, alerted me to the fact that clear, whitish bubbles, the amniotic sac, indicated babies and red bubbles were the afterbirth.) I saw two hooves, but no nose. This one was coming into this world feet first. A perfect kidding position. Lucy heaved this one out with a couple of strong bleats, but nothing like the blood curdling cries with the first one. She was too busy licking. A girl! Fred and Ginger had arrived!

As I dried the kids off with a towel, Ute cooed to the mama, "Lucy, you did such a wonderful job! Thank you for all you've done for us." When I thought I couldn't take anymore of the sweetness of the scene, I felt Ute fling her arms around me in sheer ecstasy over the event and exclaim "I'm so happy!" And not in the way that a child is thrilled with a new toy, or a bag full of candy, but like a dad who is seeing his own child for the first time. It was the joy of witnessing new life springing forth into this world: a feeling truly beyond words for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it.

Monica, the doula, arrived before the afterbirth. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. A marine biologist who has discovered more than one new species of nudibranch, she has also been absolutely everywhere, including Antarctica. AND she has experienced birthing lambs during the lambing season in Ireland. I can't even imagine. Finding someone like that in a city is a real godsend. She spent the next four hours helping me get the babies to nurse.

Oh what an ordeal we put ourselves through trying to get the kids onto the teat.With a lot of coaxing and forcing heads towards the nipple (a completely useless and frustrating maneuver, which I don't recommend), we got Ginger to take to it within an hour or so. Fred was too out of it. He tried to nurse everything else BUT the teat, including my chin. After a while he became tuckered out by his own confusion and began to doze off. We were concerned because you want them to get the colostrum in them within the first hour after birth. Two and a half hours of trying with a sleepy goat baby was enough for me and Monica. I hauled off to the shop for a baby bottle. We were going to have to milk some out for him.

Monica was a milking champ and got out almost 6 full ounces of liquid. But the bottle went over about as well as the teat. Fred was too tired to even suck. It was time to pull out the big guns: the syringe. Though he protested with his kitten-like bleats, we got the milk in him and called it a night. Well more like half a night. I went out to check on them at 1:30am, 3:30am, and 6:30am, fearing that Lucy might roll over on one of her babies out of exhaustion or that one of the kids might get pummeled by Ethel.

Poor Ethel. She stood off to the side and witnessed everything, head cocked, with the most puzzled look on her face. Now she knows what's in store for her next year. I could tell Ethel felt very left out by the family scene. It didn't help that Lucy made a low cow-like bawling sound whenever she came near. She was warning Ethel to keep a good distance from her babies for now. Lucy has amazing motherly instincts. So Ethel slunk off to spend the night under the chicken coop, which at first I thought was rather odd. But at my 6:30am check, I noticed that one of the chickens had been left outside the coop all night. I guess Ethel was standing guard for her. What a good goat. Given the situation, I'm pleased Ethel had a job to do.

The Disgruntled Farmhand and I decided to let Ute take a "personal day" from school so that she could bond with the kids. We stayed home as a family and watched as Fred and Ginger began climbing and scampering in less than 24 hours after having been born. We took pictures, shot videos, held the babies, made sure that Fred got the hang of nursing, which he of course did once the fresh from the womb cloud wore off, and spent quality time with our animals. I can think of no better reason to miss school.
I will be selling Fred and Ginger in the next 2-4 months and I would like to sell them as a pair. Fred will be wethered. Having been raised together, they will make excellent companions. While they are here, I will train them to walk on a lead. If you or anyone else you know might be interested, please have them contact me (heidikooy (at) yahoo (dot) com) as soon as possible. Otherwise Fred might end up a Bodhran, like in the Irish song.


  1. well, if Ginger is sold without Fred, perhaps The San Francisco School will take him. We have a goat house built. If he is tame, I'll inquire. We'll see you tomorrow!

  2. So can I call you when our girls are about to give birth now that you're a pro at it?

  3. That was like reading a chapter of All Creatures Great and Small, except with more swearing!

  4. @ Rachel - Lucy is the pro, not me! but you can certainly call.

    @ Elise - Thanks so much! I take that as the highest of compliments. I've been watching the series on Netflix instant viewing. Wanna come over for fondue and BBC?

  5. How much fun to read this birth story! I hope you find a good home for Fred and Ginger.

  6. saw the goats. the goats are cute.

  7. Aaaawwww congratulations! I just had my first goat birth experience in March, and yes, it's truly impossible to put into words the utter joy of witnessing it all!

    If you'd like me to put something up on Goat Berries about selling them, send me something over (michelle(at)goatberries(dot)com) welcome, of course :)

  8. How exciting, and wonderful, and happy making, and.... oh, I'm so thrilled about the babies and that now they're going together to a new home and .... wow, this totally made my day!