It’s hard to decide if and when you are going to discuss loss on your farm. It’s hard to want to record yourself sobbing, while you embrace a beloved 9 year old doe that was standing, just hours ago, and is now crashing. At the peak of sadness, I kept thinking the world of social media thinks you are bouncing around with baby goats on the curves of rainbows. This desire inside to show the world what kidding season looks like. It’s not just fun videos of sextuplets. I wasn’t ready to prove a point a couple months ago, and I knew a day would come that I let people learn what the sorrow of kidding season looks like. Today, is that day.
Four seasons of delivering baby goats and milking does. Looking out into the doe yard from the milk room, finding tears rolling down my cheeks, as I turn out Scarlet’s daughter, Dahlia. This is the reality of raising goats, unexpected tears that arrive when I have one more goat to milk and suddenly I’m shaking. The vision of Sunflower’s giant, twisted twins dead kids that took two hours to retrieve. A yearling doe, that I carried to the house for a warm bath and blow-dry. She proceeded to let me milk her and all of the trust I have earned is rewarded.
Time to focus on the task at hand. Call in the last doe to milk. 8 babies left in the barn, that are way past 8 weeks old and no longer need the one bottle of day but I can’t resist providing it. The babies bring a degree of joy to the work. Beautiful, productive udders forming and maturing does reassure me that I’m on the right track. I keep seeing visions from a couple months ago, and wonder if it hurts less when you’ve been doing it longer. Wondering if I want to get to the point where it hurts less and I fear going numb from being too accustomed to loss. Knowing if that happens, it’s time to quit.
I was prepared for getting hooked. I was prepared for kids arriving DOA. A little surprised when bagging up dead kids became effortless. I wasn’t prepared for the guilt that lingers months after a rough kidding with Sunflower. See, I had this gut feeling I should have terminated the pregnancy back in November when a large kid appeared on the ultrasound. I also knew she was built to deliver large kids, and if she wasn’t, my breeding program shouldn’t include her. I wasn’t prepared to sob with Scarlet in my arms or having to leave her for a couple hours so I could milk the others and bottle feed the babies. I pulled out every possible treatment and she showed no signs of improvement. By morning, I looked over from my couch in the barn and hoped she had passed. She hadn’t. Corneal reflexes were gone. I made the decision to take her to be euthanized, administer more pain reliever, quickly do chores and proceed back to the barn to get her.
My commute doesn’t consist of bumper to bumper traffic. There’s no Waze to prepare me for what’s in store or how long anything is going to take, ever. Farming consists of carrying a lifeless, suffering, 85 pound doe. Sweet, sweet Scarlet, from the barn to the truck. Alone. Slipping in the mud, and mustering the strength to get up and keep going. Mentally pausing and being thankful for adrenaline that provides that physical strength, precisely when I needed it most. Farming consists of a 90 minute drive, with a carpooler in your front seat that can’t be saved and fearing that I will learn, that I did something wrong.
I arrive at CAHFS (necropsy lab). A cart is brought to my truck and I carry her one last time. The young employee begins to wheel her away and says they’ll be in touch. For a moment I was hurt because he didn’t offer to bring me back with her. I quickly ask if I can stay with her and he’s completely caught off guard. Reminded that I’m at a livestock lab, not a small animal clinic where pets are treated differently. I am greeted by a sweet soul, with a hug and a sincere apology for my loss, as the other employees prepare to pull blood samples and the final injections to end her suffering. Even here, in a lab, where death and disease fill their work schedule, compassion exists. This gives me hope, that I will not go numb, as I continue to experience loss at the farm.
Necropsy results were inconclusive, but it appears I have done nothing blatantly wrong. The course of treatment was exactly as they would have done and I remove myself from being at fault for her demise. Nine years old, strong and showing no signs of slowing down, is gone within 18 hours of not acting like herself. A moment of thankfulness, as she didn’t get old and suffer. It was relatively swift and pain relief was provided. But it still hurts. I wasn’t ready to see her go.
Kidding season consists of people asking you, how many babies did you have this season. I’m getting better at being honest. Telling them, well we had 29 nearly viable or born alive. 23 are alive a few months later. 5 were bucks, and only 1 doe didn’t make it.
- One stopped developing about 1 week before it was born, 3 siblings developed normally.
- Two died before I could get them out (separate deliveries), but one was water logged and wouldn’t have survived long. Just speaking those words reminds me this was the first time I started with live kids and couldn’t get their front legs out fast enough, and they originally started out head back with too many legs trying to come out at once.
- Another two were huge, tangled and DOA.
- One was premature, compared to her two brothers, and she died in my arms, in the night, in my sleeping bag. She was unable to regulate her body temperature and I spent the first 3 days keeping her warm enough so she could eat. A tiny, black, keeper doe with gorgeous width between the hocks, and a level topline that deserved the extra effort.
It’s not that I am bitter about having a farm. There are still more good days than bad. I’m not ready to trade it back in, to spend my day on the computer, getting lost in excel or commuting each and every day. I just need people to know that for every selfie with a baby goat, every sweet video that is shared, are images like these, that don’t get easier to process.
This is kidding season.