Saturday was going as planned. Better than planned really. We were at the farm, had a nice lunch together, and my husband was napping with our toddler. My dad needed to milk and feed the goats, so my oldest son, my stepmom and I joined him for his chores – more help than he probably needed but we were each excited to be part of the work and see the progress on transforming the barn. As the milking and feeding progressed, I thought I heard the cry of an infant goat. Their cry is much higher pitched and desperate; hard for me to describe the difference.
I pushed the thought from my mind, knowing no babies were expected today. We continued to the east side of the barn to fill the trough with hay. I heard the cry again, this time a little bit louder. I asked Dad why I heard that. He quickly climbed over the gate into the shed, as if he had only needed confirmation that he wasn’t the only one hearing the noise. He found one baby and immediately another. He told me to get back on the other side of the gate so he could hand them to me. I took them in my arms gently, in my normal everyday wool dry clean only winter coat no less.
One was brown, strong, bleating, and relatively clean. Dad later pointed out that this was clearly the first born based on the strength and cleaning. The other was black and white, weak, quiet, and covered in after birth. I was worried but also reminded of holding my own babies for the first time.
Dad told me to get to the house and find a box. Linda, my stepmom, came around the shed asking what happened. Seeing the babies in my arms, she quickly went back to the house to get the box. Not knowing exactly what I was doing and wondering if I was really supposed to take the babies into the house, I went to the warmest spot I could in the shed…and swayed my little babies; a mother’s instinct.
My son helped Bumpa find the mother, then followed me into the house with the babies. Dad set me to work rubbing the black and white baby down to warm the baby and encourage a stronger heartbeat, while he cared for the mother and milked her for the much needed colostrum. My son asked me questions about how they came out of their mom – and how he came out of me! I said as much as seemed appropriate for his age. He cooed over the brown baby, proclaimed it a boy and named him Connor after a classmate. Later, Dad checked and he was right – Connor. I checked the black and white one, a girl. I wondered to myself what I would say to my son if this little girl didn’t survive. We were worried about her, but she was responding. My son pet her and asked why she had red on her head – blood from the birth. My husband woke from his nap from the sound of a crying goat. Linda fed the doeling milk and then she was laid on warm towels; later moved to a heating pad. Dad named her Clarice after the doe in the claymation cartoon Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Our toddler woke up from his nap and was thrilled to see these newest members of the herd. Usually a very aggressive animal lover, he sensed the tenderness necessary for these new lives. He was eager, but gentle.
My husband and I took the boys caroling with our Hawks Family, an annual tradition dating back 46 years that fills my Christmas with joy. I had a very hard time leaving the babies as I was loving the experience. I quickly changed sweatshirts – in the driveway. Used my aunt’s bathroom and cleaned my coat as much as I could with a baby wipe from my diaper bag. We enjoyed caroling and I talked about my experience a lot. I was amongst other livestock farmers and curious what they thought of my first experience.
When we returned to the farm, Clarice and Connor were both doing well. My boys gave them some attention and fought their way to bed – who could blame them with newborns in the house.
Sheba, the herding dog, showed a keen interest in the babies and soon began mothering them. She licked them clean and checked anyone going near them. She tried to climb in the bin with them, but was much too big. She would have to love her babies from a distance.
The twin kids stayed in the house that night as a winter storm raged outside dumping a layer of ice followed by six inches of snow. Dad stayed up at least part of the night, partially to report the snowfall at midnight, but partially to care for his youngest animals. I awoke the next morning and began the tender care again, helping our toddler sit with the babies – and cleaning the sticky poo off my pajama pants. Then my family continued on our way for our next stop on our Christmas trip.
This type of occurrence is not that rare or surprising for my father and stepmom (with the exception of bringing them in the house). It was all new and exhilarating for me though. To hold newborn goats, moments old, and feel their soft, quick heartbeat. To be just the second person to touch them and serve as their nurse. My inexperience showed, but I learned a vast amount, not least of all the capability of my sons to care for such precious gifts. It was an honor. One I hope to repeat. These were just the first kids born for the 2014 kidding season and I will never forget the privilege of participating in their birth care.
Clarice, one week old.