Late Night…With Queen Anne’s Lace

We have three dairy goat does: Queen Anne’s Lace (our original doe, bred and drying up but not currently being milked) and her two daughters, both of whom recently had twin kids. Those two daughters, Button and Marigold, get a ration of supplemental grain in the morning and evening; this helps them keep their milk production up, ensuring their hungry kids get as much as they need.

In the mornings, I scoop that grain into a pan and set it in an empty stall in the barn. At the sound of the grain hitting the pan, Button and Marigold eagerly stand on the gate and look to see what’s taking me so long. Scooter the Border Collie also knows the routine, and plants himself just outside their gate. Once I open the gate, Scooter’s position blocks the goats from going anywhere but toward the empty stall with the grain. (Not like they need any help from Scooter — both goats make a beeline for that grain even when he’s not with me.)

I then re-latch the gate, and get hay for the sheep while the goats eat their grain. By the time I return from the sheep pen, the two goats are finished and ready to be let back in to the main goat area. Once they’re back in, I secure the gate behind them.

Homeschooled Farm Girl takes care of this chore in the evenings, and it usually goes off without a hitch…except when it doesn’t. Last night, she apparently didn’t get the gate secured all the way. While we were inside eating dinner, and then spending a little time watching something on the History Channel, the goats managed to get their gate open and disperse themselves all over the barn. Queen Anne’s Lace (QAL), being the largest, oldest, and smartest doe, knew that a couple of swift head-butts to the grain can would manage to tip it over — and she wasted no time settling in for a feast.

Homeschooled Farm Boy didn’t discover this disaster until he stopped by the barn to turn the lights off for the night. With Scooter’s help, he managed to get all the goats back in their pen…but he was concerned about the amount of grain that QAL had ingested. If a goat eats too much grain all at once, they can develop a terrible (even fatal) case of bloat. He had me come out and take a look at her, but not much time had elapsed yet. QAL still looked fine. But as Mrs Yeoman Farmer was concerned she might still develop bloat, I agreed to check back a little later.

Back out in the barn at 11pm, it was unmistakable: we had a terribly bloated goat. Remember those old Alka-Seltzer commercials, where the person blows up like a balloon and moans, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing“? That was the look that QAL was giving me.

MYF swung into action, getting out one of her natural goat care books and reviewing the instructions for dealing with bloat. We put a half cup of olive oil into a jar, got out a new 30cc syringe (with no needle), and together headed to the barn. Somehow, with MYF straddling QAL to hold her in place (and shoo away all the other goats, who were terribly curious and wanting to get in on the action), I managed to drench all of the olive oil down the goat’s throat. Then came the really fun part: trying to get QAL to run around outside, and heavily massaging her bloated belly every time she stopped. Given her bloated state, running around seemed the last thing on her mind — and goats can be very stubborn when they make up their minds about something. Even Scooter wasn’t much help in getting her to move.

We managed to get QAL to belch a few times, but weren’t making too much progress. MYF sent me in the house for another half cup of olive oil, which we again drenched down the goat’s throat. More belly massage. More trying to get her to run.

At least it was a really nice night to be out — clear sky, huge canopy of stars, and comfortably warm (hey, after the winter we had, 50F feels sweltering). As we worked with the goat, alternating between running and massaging and listening for belching, MYF and I found ourselves having a fun time joking and chatting and getting caught up on what’s been going on.

Finally, at midnight, we figured we’d gotten all the gas out of QAL that we were going to get out. We returned her and Scooter to the barn, double-checked that the goat gate was secure, turned out the lights, and called it a night. Back at the house, I fell into bed and went right to sleep.

This morning, before doing anything else, I headed straight to the barn to check on QAL. She looked a bit tired, and still a little on the large side, but no longer bloated. Her udder and teats looked fairly full of milk; that could be an effect of the grain, and I’m hoping it doesn’t mean she’s about to deliver her kids. But I may have our children put her in the stanchion and see if they can milk her out today.

There’s never a dull moment on a farm. Even when you might really, really want one. Like at 11pm on St Patrick’s Day.

But we still wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

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