“Hmmmm, let me see…”
I scribbled thoughtfully with a much-chewed blunt pencil stub in the dog-eared, hardback notebook in which I record all the goats’ activities. “What’s the tally, so far…..?”
This is the time of year when farmers & smallholders everywhere, seem to be obsessed with one particular thing – sex. Or, to be more precise (now that I’ve got your attention, ha ha) the thorny issue of GENDER. For the majority of us, ewe lambs; heifer calves; gilts; female kids, cria or poultry are everyone’s desire – although interestingly I gather from Southdown sheep breeder Richard, with that particular variety it’s the ram lambs which are most sought after. And whilst we hadn’t yet started lambing, the odds seemed stacked against us regarding the goats thus far: with five boys & only two girls, our growing dairy herd was suffering.
We had a busy Sunday planned; it’s our day for all those miscellaneous ‘catch-up’ jobs, & on observing the ‘Countryfile’ weather forecast we noted we’d also have to batten down any loose hatches in preparation for the onslaught of an impending storm, brooding dangerously in a great sweeping curl of dark menacing cloud just off the Altantic coast.
So after doing the household/domestic animal chores (the daily duties of checking all the livestock, walking the dog, feeding dog & cats, washing clothes, washing dishes, tidying the living areas, raking the grate etc) I turfed Tony out of bed to help me for a busy day, on the farmyard: I especially wanted to get stuck into the greenhouse with sowing seeds, chitting potatoes, cleaning algae from the glass & mending tools. But first there were goats to milk, & mastitic udders to be treated; although by the way Booty was muttering to herself, her firstborn wouldn’t be far off. On milking her affected udder I found the hardness had dissipated; & the milk was – well, milky; no longer stringy & clotted, at least. Tony milked Ninny & I administered her treatment but again the mastitis seems to have subsided already, much to our relief. Next we milked & moved Eek & her bold, bouncing lad Baeddan, into Maternity Unit One; where all the recently-kidded mums are spending some time with their little ‘uns before joining the illustrious ranks of the Milkforce.
By now Booty was definitely having serious thoughts about kidding; as it appeared was Aloe, who was looking thoughtful & anxious to say the least. So we popped in for a ‘brunch’ of egg, bacon, sausage, tomato & toast whilst the girls decided what they were doing: & sure enough, no sooner had we picked up our knives & forks, than we heard the characteristic “OOOOERRR…..!!” erupt from the Baby Monitor. Tony dragged on his overshirt & trotted out to the Kidding Shed whilst I poured two tin mugs of hot tea, suspecting that as breakfast had been served but not eaten, we were inevitably in for the long haul. However by the time I’d joined him only moments later, he was already presenting the first bemused, bleating little kid to her mother – after a labour of only around five minutes! And it was a lovely little girl, whom we’ve named Blodeuwedd, after a character in Welsh mythology’s ‘Mabinogion‘; the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, she was said to have been crafted from flowers; & with our delight at having another female kid at last, she may as well have been.
Whilst she licked her confused baby in warm, enthusiastic welcome we leaned on the gate in satisfaction, happily nursing our mugs of steaming tea. Lick, lick; lick; then there was a sneeze, & a slosh. I assumed it must be the afterbirth (hence the easy kidding) but on investigation discovered a second little snorting baby had already made quite an entrance – not even a contraction to push her out into the big wide world, & less than five minutes after her sister! We even had to present her to her Booty-ful Mum, as said lady evidently hadn’t even ‘clocked’ giving birth a second time.
So who is the next illustrious Milkforce recruit…? Well, we’ve dubbed her ‘Brengwain‘; mainly in honour of my wonderful Mum, Brenda (ohh, imagine the luxury being able to justifiably scold your wickedly errant mother – even if only in namesake!) – but also as an historical & literary nod to the hand-maiden of Esyllt in the medieval tale of ‘Trystan & Esyllt’; & guess what, it’s the cheeky ‘Bren’ who gives them that fateful Love Potion.
Once we were satisfied that all was otherwise well, we returned to the cottage to finish our belated brunch; after which I tackled the dirty dishes & Tony went outside to check on Aloe’s agonising progress & to resume work on our second Maternity Unit. However, Alchemilla – one of our pair of snowy-white ewes, was evidently jealous at all this caprine attention; as Tony’s abrupt shout into the nearest Baby Monitor, confirmed. No; we weren’t expecting any lambs, yet….ah.
I slithered down the slippery, rain-sodden hill in Parc Mawr to find ‘Camilla’ fussing over a reasonably-sized newborn ram lamb, who was bleating & already struggling to get up in spite of the biting chill of the wind; although the steepness of the slope sent the poor little chap tumbling down the hill with every tremulous attempt at standing. I was flabbergasted; we’d only been in the house for fifteen minutes & as ever I’d conscientiously checked on the ewes, just before going in – she was just grazing with the rest of the flock….there again, this time last year I’d checked the occupants of the lambing shed & this particular ewe was apparently enjoying a leisurely breakfast with her pals; twenty minutes later when I went in to give the recently-lambed, penned ewes a water top-up I found her sadly nudging her enormous but stillborn, ram lamb. Whilst she hadn’t been any the worse for wear, this year I was utterly determined said little chap would survive come Hell or high water (& with the impending storm, dare I say watch this space….).
To my dismay however, it was evident she wouldn’t be going anywhere, quite yet; as another water bag appeared, signalling another impending lamb. Tony returned to tend to the increasingly-anxious Aloe, who’d now definitely decided she was in labour; whilst I stayed with the new little family, taking off my shirt & vigorously rubbing the lamb with it to keep him warm & moving. To my further dismay however, on checking the ewe’s udder I discovered why I hadn’t fathomed she was about to lamb: there was no milk in her udders, whatsover. Try as I might, the ‘keg’ was dry. What to do…..? We had some lamb colostrum powder; but we also had some very-recently-kidded goats who were producing colostrum for their own young. As soon as the second lamb was born, I determined to try a concoction of both, if necessary.
But meanwhile there was more new life to discover…..
Sheep seem to take far longer between lambs to give birth, than do goats; & we’ve noticed that goat kids seem to be up on their feet & feeding far more quickly than our lambs have been over the last couple of years (average for a kid being five minutes whereas a lamb will take at least 15-20 minutes).
So while poor little Comfrey, as we’ve named Camilla’s first (live) lamb was struggling to find his feet she was pushing out his brother. Corncockle is a feisty little second son with an endearingly incorrect black splodge on the side of his face, who demonstrated an awesomely ear-splitting pair of lungs within only moments of his birth. So as soon as Mum appeared sufficiently comfortable, I scooped up the two lambs & Tony occupied himself with the twin challenge of guiding the ewe & deflecting the rest of the highly interested flock family unit; & between us we managed to get the happy little family into their snug new pen. But there was still the question of Camilla’s lack of milk….
With a combination of powdered colostrum & pure goats’ milk, I managed to persuade Camilla’s little lads to feed; although not without the odd, halfhearted headbutt from their understandably protective Mum! I’m delighted to report that both boys were bouncing by bedtime in spite of their fragile start; although I’m still very worried about Camilla’s woeful lack of milk, despite a sluggishly reluctant trickle of thick, butter-yellow colostrum from one udder.
So there we go: two girls, two boys….whilst the ovine scales have plonked thus far decidedly on the unfortunate fate of the boys, at least we’d had the pleasure of welcoming two more girls to their illustrious future as paid-up members of the LittleFfarm Dairy Milkforce. The pencil stub came out; & I scribbled with glee on the grubby pages.
And then, Aloe – the One-Horned Wonder, began to groan….
as did our hopes & aspirations for any further new Milkforce recruits. Unlike Booty, Aloe decided she’d have to prove her eternally prima-donna qualities with a decidely awkward birth experience; during which her labour was so excruciatingly – well, belaboured, pushing out both waterbags but thankfully not both babies, at once – we almost intervened. To her credit, the exhausted maiden Mum successfully pushed out two almost wraith-like but exquisitely silver-chocolate, beautiful little bonny boy babies; Blaen (a warrior who took part in the battle of Catraeth – & he certainly wasn’t coming out without a fight! – praised in ‘Y Gododdin’ because of his generosity in peace & courage in battle); & Bowi (named after a local river, whose tumbling, tumultous cataracts are foaming white this winter). And although delighted that Aloe had delivered two healthy babies without too much drama, my grim scrawl in the Goat Notes matched my ever-dwindling optimism that our herd size will increase as anticipated & needed. C’mon Merson, sow a different seed please: we want GIRLS, not boys!
Alas, despite the distractions there was still much to do; we didn’t finish working on the the yard until well past 10pm. Having next patrolled the environs of the ffarm & secured things as best we could, we stocked up the firewood & I served up a steaming, hearty chicken & autumn bean casserole I’d hastily cobbled together earlier, in a spare moment amidst the frenzy.
The wind sighed in apology for the sleepless night it was about to inflict upon me. As dusk had fallen the Ffarm had seemed ominously silent, as if holding its’ breath; the windmill silhouetted on the far hill against the thin sliver of the new moon completely still, touched by not even the lightest breeze…..but by midnight the angry storm was roaring around the farm in a fury of rattling rooves & clattering branches. Tony snored peacefully beside me; the goats slept quietly in their snug barns; & the new lambs cuddled close to their mother as I lay awake in the darkness, listening to the chaos & wondering whether there’d be anything left of the Ffarm, by morning….& whether the next goat to give birth, would be adding to the Milkforce or adding to our woes…..
Ah, well – I suppose Nature has decided that boys will be boys, after all.