Greenpoint: An awful lot to ‘sort out,’ but trust in the goats

Three of the newcomers relax with some new friends. (Margaret Hartley)

Three of the newcomers relax with some new friends. (Margaret Hartley)

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January, aka goat dropping season, started out quiet enough. On the first of the year, Melon gave birth to twins.

We have the kinds of goats that go into heat in summer and give birth at the coldest time of year. We ask them to explain their logic, but they refuse.

Over the years we’ve tried to interrupt the cycle, separate them in July and mindfully breed them in December, but we rarely get a spring baby. No, they drop them in a flurry in the dead of winter.

They are also the kinds of goats that don’t mind winter. They like to sleep outside — as long as it’s not much below 15 degrees — under the stars or in a light snow. Rain, though, will send them running for their shelter.

Melon had only given birth once before and never figured out nursing. She didn’t do much better this time, wandering off every time one of her kids tried to latch. It took a few days in sickbay and a lot of hands-on training, but by the third day her little black goat was nursing. The red one is taking a bottle.

We had a week before the deluge: a dozen babies born in four days. We figured we were lucky that the weather was so mild, lucky that most of the moms nursed their babies with no problems, lucky that most had single births.

Then Bunny had triplets. Outside, on a 20-degree night.

We picked up her babies, two black and one blond, and moved them into the shed, onto some fresh straw. That’s when I noticed Moon had given birth, another black goat. Bunny, who was attending to her three, also noticed, and went over to check. She gave Moon’s baby a few licks, and Moon trotted out of the shed. I moved Bunny back to her kids and she worked a bit on drying them off, then went back to Moon’s kid, who started nursing.

I looked at my husband. “She can’t take four kids.”

“They’ll just have to sort it out,” he said. So we left them to sort it out. Bunny has had triplets before, has adopted orphans and nursed kids of inexperienced moms when she deemed they needed supplemental nourishment.

Still, four? Goats are designed for two kids, so why do they even have triplets?

I went back out an hour later with a bottle of colostrum we’d frozen last year. Goats need that first milk within the first four hours of life. I found Bunny in the corner where Moon’s baby had last been seen, with three goats, two black and one blond. Cow’s two black babies were snuggled up with Hazel’s redhead, and there was one lone black kid where Bunny’s had been the last time I was there.

Had Bunny accidentally taken Moon’s baby and forgotten one of her own? I gave the lone kid the bottle and it took a few ounces, enough that I figured it wouldn’t die. “You’ll have to sort this out,” I told Bunny.

Around 4 a.m. I went out again to check. Almost all the grown goats were out in the yard, chewing cud in the sub-freezing air. Bunny was lying in the shed like a huge orange furnace, with five or six babies sleeping around her. All were dry and healthy looking, and I figured they could sort out whose mom was whose in the morning.

In the morning there was another blond baby in Bunny’s gang, and that one’s mom, Puff, was in the yard with the big goats. “She can’t nurse five,” I told my husband.

“They’ll just have to sort it out,” he said.

We are bottle feeding just two of the 14 newbies right now, and if I have to step in, like Bunny, and offer a few supplemental feedings to some of the others, I’m prepared for that. But so far everyone’s doing their job as best they can, and everyone’s healthy.
Goats are herd animals. I guess they do sort it out.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Jan. 29. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hartley_Maggie. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are not necessarily those of the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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