Not Such a Bummer

Raise sheep or goats long enough, and you’re sure to get the occasional “bummer” — a newborn which, for whatever reason, doesn’t get nursed by his or her own mother. Any time we have lambs or goat kids, we pay close attention to the bond the newborn is developing with Mom. The overwhelming majority of the time, things work out great. But when they don’t, it’s important to have the bottles and nipples ready.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving (November 23), we came home from a day with relatives to discover a newborn goat kid in the barn. His mother goat had licked him off, and he was perfectly dry. That’s usually a good sign. He was up and moving around nicely – another good sign. He was quite large, and beautiful. We didn’t actually see him nurse, but he seemed content. For her part, the mother seemed to be doing fine as well. It was her first kidding, and she seemed to have taken it in stride. Other than what appeared to be a little bit of afterbirth protruding from her rear end, she looked no different than she had that morning.

Monday morning, however, it was clear something wasn’t right. The goat kid was bleating like he was hungry, and yet we couldn’t get him fastened on to a nipple. His mother’s udder was very full, another sign that he hadn’t been nursing. Plus, Mom’s “afterbirth” hadn’t come out the rest of the way, so we gave it a closer look. It appeared that her birth canal had actually prolapsed somewhat during the delivery. We’d never had this happen before, to any of our sheep or goats, so it came as quite a surprise.

Concerned about infection, we immediately called the vet. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer arranged for the goat to be seen, and in the meantime Homeschooled Farm Girl milked all the colostrum out that she could. We took the goat kid to my office, and used a small syringe to squirt colostrum into his mouth. He was definitely hungry, and lapped the stuff up eagerly.

Given how nasty cold the weather was getting, we decided it would be best to leave the goat kid in my office for the time being.

The box proved a little small, but was a good try

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer took the mother goat to the vet, who diagnosed a prolapsed vagina. Fortunately, it was a fairly straightforward fix, and he said it shouldn’t recur in future kiddings. He got everything put back in place, stitched it securely, and MYF drove the goat home.

We tried again to get the kid to nurse, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen. Despite his obvious hunger, he wouldn’t go on the teat. And Mom, for her part, didn’t want to stand still for him anyway. With all the stress of birthing complications, and the trip to the vet, it appeared that their bond was permanently broken. Bummer.

Homeschooled Farm Girl again milked out all the colostrum she could; we put it in a bottle, and fed it to the kid in my office. He got the hang of the nipple right away, and sucked the stuff down with gusto. Our kids named him “Francesco,” in honor of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.

With the weather not looking any better, I didn’t have the heart to leave Francesco out in the barn. My office building has an old vinyl floor, which has seen more pet accidents than I can count, and cleans up well enough. Besides, with two farm dogs and a cat already living out here…what difference would another little animal make? I decided to let him stay until he gets big enough to go all “mountain goat” on my furniture and/or starts leaving goat pellets all over the place. Then, he will get transitioned to the barn. We’re hoping that being bottle-fed will make him more docile and manageable, and therefore a safer adult breeding buck to keep on the property long-term.

Three days old. Decided the collie was more comfortable than his box.

On Thanksgiving Day, he was only five days old. We were planning to be gone all day visiting family, which created a problem: Francesco would need to eat, and no one would be home to feed him. We decided to put him in a large box, and take him (and a quart of goat milk) with us.

Francesco proved to be a big hit at the family gathering, and one of our kids’ cousins in particular really enjoyed holding him and getting a turn bottle feeding him. The rest of the time, he stood or slept securely in his box.

Back at home, he continued working to fit in with the the other denizens of my office building.

Floyd, the border collie, was the most welcoming
Tiger, the cat…not so much

By December 1st, at just over a week old, Francesco figured out how to climb onto the couch like the other pets do. He’s not stupid. It’s a lot more comfortable than the floor.

Tiger remained unimpressed

Floyd continues to treat him as just another member of the gang, and seems happy to keep serving as Francesco’s pillow.

The Homeschooled Farm Children think it’s great fun having a new pet. I designated the 12 year old as primary bottle-feeder; he needs to be reminded to take care of it, but he gets the job done. In the meantime, five-year-old Little Brother is eager to fill in any time we let him.

On a farm, it seems there’s no shortage of opportunities for learning responsibility…even while having fun the whole time you’re learning it.

As for me…it’s kind of weird having a goat kid rummaging around in my trash can, pulling out pieces of paper, and nibbling them down. And I do need to keep a pile of old towels handy, for his inevitable piddle puddles.

The goat is more likely to eat your homework than the dog ever will be

But I have to admit, it’s also a lot of fun having him around. He spends quite a bit of time at my feet, under the desk, on an old piece of carpet.

Technically speaking, I guess he’ll always be a “bummer.” But he definitely hasn’t been one for our family.