Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Every time the New Year rolls around, I find that song by The Counting Crows rattling around in my mind.  There's a line that suggets it has been a "long December, and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last."  There have been years where my situation has been such that I have desperately hoped that indeed, the upcoming year would be an improvement over the one departing, but this year we've almost been too busy to even think about it.

I should have been furiously grading papers and writing lesson plans in preparation for getting back to work tomorrow, but I haven't done as much as I had planned.  My kids were so worried that Christmas wouldn't happen this year I stopped and made sure we got our tree up, and we got outdoor lights up (Chip wanted these so badly), and I am so glad we did.  In previous years, my family has gathered at mom's, and we've spent the day with her at her old house as she cooked an old fashioned Christmas dinner.  The kids knew that this year was going to be different, and it had shaken them more than I expected.  This year, we took covered dishes to her new apartment, and we had a smaller and less traditional gathering.  It worked out, though, although we were all tired from a late night at the Christmas Eve lovefeast at the Moravian Church the night before.  I had meant to get them to the 6 o'clock service, but the day got away from me so we hit the 8 o'clock.  Annalee and Chip enjoyed this tradition, and really loved being able to hold the lighted candles high for the last stanza of the last song of the night.  Chip even managed not to set his own hair on fire this year! 

We made it home, and Santa Claus came, although, as Annalee admits, the kids weren't always on their best behavior this year.  As I was driving home from the lovefeast, I was thinking what traditions I'd like our family to create for the years going forward.  I had visions of eventually having a nice warm little barn up at the farm where we could gather for a bit on Christmas Eve, and reflect on the wonderful peacefulness that can only be found in a night-time stable.  Anyone who has ever spent a cold, quiet evening in a snug horse barn knows what I'm talking about.  The background sounds of animals comfortably munching hay, shuffling gently in their stalls; the green aroma of hay combining with the fresh, woody, scent of pine shavings, and the warm animals... well, I can think of no more lovely setting to think about a newborn baby in a manger.

Our own Christmas found the first group of does kidding beginning with three does beginning on the 23rd, and then a doe kidding almost each day for the next few days.  The first kiddings were all reasonably uneventful, but the last one still has us scratching our heads.  Since Chuck has been working and I was off this week, I have been on farm duty.  I have hauled the kids up there with me (much to their dismay, although they usually have fun once they are there) and I had been watching one doe closely, expecting her to kid while I was there for a couple of days.  I left one afternoon to get the kids home, and Chuck had planned to come back up after dinner.  As often happens, fatigue trumps intention and it was about 3am before he made it back up to the farm.  It was well below freezing, and he found that 260 had kidded and was wandering around kidless and hollering.  She had some suspicious marks on one ear, but we don't know the sequence of events and the dogs have so far been improved over last year.  Chuck unfortunately found one buckling dead in the field (not easy to find a black buckling in the dark), and searched for another since 260 had been wider than a single would suggest, but found no other.  We were disgusted, but resigned to having lost a season with this doe. 

Aggie and the first kids of the season.  We almost lost this doe last year.

The following morning, I rushed the human kids to get ready because I was still troubled by that unaccounted for second kid.  I mean, she could have singled, in theory, or the kid could have been stillborn and the dogs ate it.  There were just so many possibilities.  When I arrived at the farm in the daylight, it was still cold and windy, but bright, so I took the opportunity to walk the pasture looking for any sign of dead kid.  I looked in every shed, under the hay feeder, down against the bottom fence where 260 had kidded the previous year, and found exactly nothing.  Oh well.  I had already cussed 260 out for wasting the year and promised her a quick trip to the terminal barn, but I did offer her my sympathies, and watching her look off across the pasture, still hollering vainly for her phantom kids, yanked pretty fiercely at my heartstrings.  I did what I needed to do and headed back to town with the intention of both Chuck and I driving back up after he got off work. 

I visited my mom, and then headed back up before Chuck got home from picking up some hay (which proved to be moldy, much to our dismay).  I got to the farm while the sun was still up, and looking down over the field, I saw a kid standing alone near the bottom fence.  It looked like Aggie's doe, and I wondered how she managed to get herself caught in the fence, and why Aggie wasn't down there with her (Aggie likes her kids pretty close).  As I got closer to the small tan and black form, I realized that the kid was not stuck in the fence but just standing alone, and not in great shape.  It stood hunched, and looked like it had a little bloody stuff on it.  Thoughts of murdering the dogs for attacking a kid started to form in my mind, but when I picked the kid up, I realized the red thing was part of its umbilical cord flipped up over its back and dried up glued in its hair.  It was also a little buckling, and seemed small, but maybe it was just dehydrated from the ordeal.  I ran around to be sure all the does had their kids, and they did.  Hmmm.  So this little guy was an extra.  Could this be 260's second kid? 

I made sure none of the other does had kidded, so by process of elimination, surmised that yes, this had to be her kid.   I tried to get her to come to him, but she walked right by him, all the while still hollering for a kid.  I called Chuck to step on it and bring down a bucket of feed so I could catch her.  I sent Chip to the barn in the interim to get a little feed, and when he took too long coming back, I loaded the kid up in the car with me and drove up to the barn to locate Chip.  I found that he had mistakenly thought he was supposed to bring down an entire 33lb goat block.  I doubt he weighs much more than that himself, but he had dragged it a good thirty feet away from the barn. 

We got a more appropriate measure of feed and drove back down and Chuck pulled up in the truck shortly after.  The plugs were still in 260's teats, so the kid could not have nursed from her.  Chuck worked the plugs loose as I held her head, and we tried to get the kid to nurse.  He bumped at her bag, but that was about it.  We milked some colostrum into a syringe, and Chuck had the kid suck on his pinky and slowly squirted the colostrum in the side of its mouth as it sucked.  He has found this technique works pretty well if a kid has any suckle reflex at all.  His pinky is approximately goat teat shaped, and it gets the dribbled in milk from the syringe going down the right pipe.  I don't know if colostrum does much good immunity wise after the kid is 12 hours old or so, but it couldn't hurt.  The gut can't close all at once, so if he gets any immunity from it maybe it will give him a better chance to survive. 
A cold day, but the does are out with their kids.  Old Marshmallow (10 yrs in 2013) proudly walks her twin bucklings in the distance.

I just can't figure how the kid survived the extreme cold for that long.  I also can't figure out where the heck he was all that time.  It is easy enough to miss a kid in the dark, but he was visible enough when I did find him that I spotted him all the way across the field.  I had actually been looking in the morning, and had not seen him anywhere.  The only thing Chuck could figure is that maybe he survived the night behind Marshmallow in her shed.  He had noticed Marshmallow and her kids in her small shed, and the dead kid had been down below the front of her shed.  Had the little guy somehow gotten in behind Marshmallow, or had 260 started kidding in the shed and Marshmallow put herself to bed somewhere in the middle of the process?  This still doesn't explain where he was in the morning when I searched, for I had looked in each shed.  I guess we'll never know. 

We sequestered 260 in a shed with the kid, and while she looked at him as if he were just some random kid and not her own, she has decided to treat him charitably.  He's still weak, but he is alive and he is nursing some and passing poop.  He may not live, but each day he makes it gives him a better chance.  Bringing one back from the dead is a considerably more challenging task.

All of this brings me back to our New Year's resolutions.  What are they for the year?  Well, I learned the hard way that during the teaching year, I can't get anything done farm-wise, so we will have to do our farm business during the summer months only until the situation changes.  I've also realized just how much I enjoy the work on the farm, so I am going to try to make sure I get up there more often than every few months.  A cold, wet, muddy, miserable day raking up old hay or feeding the goats is better than a climate controlled day almost anywhere else.  We resolve to get more fencing done (does this sound familiar?).  We resolve to work on the farm road some more as we sell some goats, and got our first load of gravel delivered yesterday towards that end.  As expensive as it is, it was absolutely necessary, although it didn't fill in many ruts.  It at least made one stretch safe for the car, that was beginning to be an impossible situation.

We resolve to take a load of "lesser" bucklings to the terminal barn as soon as Chuck can get a day off when there is a sale going.  We resolve to get the water situation handled by getting a solar pump, or using a generator to a holding tank, or SOMETHING.  Carrying water daily is a herculean task, and the fact that is requires the big truck means it burns a lot of diesel, and deisel is high high high.  We resolve to take the leap and learn to grow either cucumbers or tomatoes.  We've been offered some help getting started, and right now, even with both of us working full time, it seems the cost of living plus child care is more than we make (this always makes me think about the people who condemn those less fortunate than themselves, saying that if someone is but willing to work, of course they can make a living and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  I also hear folks saying that if people can't afford kids, they shoudn't have them.  Well, when we started having our kids, we could easily afford them.  If a six figure income is required to qualify to have kids, then most folks would be childless.  I don't plan on being at the bottom of the salary scale forever, but when you're starting over, you have to start somewhere). 

Most of all, I think, is that we resolve to be more available for our human kids.  Both Annalee and Chip have been suffering from our new jobs and how much physical and mental energy they have required.  Virginia hasn't suffered as much, because she is at an age that if we try to ignore her, she'll be on the kitchen counter pulling plates out of the cabinets and starting to fling them like frisbees.  And then, of course, there was the time she got in to the glitter.  We weren't actually sure whether or not she had eaten any until we picked her up from day care the next day.  As I walked in the door, they asked, "did Virginia get into any glitter?  She had the sparkliest blowout we've ever seen today."

I also resolve to retain my sense of humor.  I've had to do that with the teaching gig, as even when I think I am finally getting it with the kids and maybe helping them understand and connect with the literature, I get my tail handed to me on a platter by administration for one foible or another.  Life is short, and I'm beginning to realize that maybe we aren't supposed to be miserable all the time just so we can say we work hard.  There must be balance, and we must live productively and responsibly, but also choose paths where we can find joy
Louisianna and her twins, surrounded by cold puddles.  This is the time to think of renewal and possibilities.