The dawn chorus has changed.
Presently, it’s not the sweet burst of birdsong we’re used to, the ambrosial notes floating on the fresh morning air in proclamation of another new day; but rather a high little squeak, followed by a series of ungainly thuds as Little Miss wakes up & demands her breakfast. My goodness, she’s learning fast.
Her confidence has improved hugely; although whilst she received regular feeds during the night she objected each time I returned to bed; toddling after me on her stilt-like legs with little bleats of protest, then carefully folding herself onto my pile of discarded clothes close to the bed, from which vantage point I don’t think she took her eyes off me for the rest of the night; I was aware of the slender ears continually turned in my direction, like a fawn hidden in long grass.
Thankfully her ‘alarm call’ was much needed, as we had to hurry through the chores in order to take some of the other kids to the vet, for disbudding. The procedure – which basically involves cauterising the horn buds at the root to arrest horn growth, is carried out under general anaesthetic & is very delicate in goats as their skulls are extremely thin in this region; thus if the cauterising is too deep it can cause meningitis. But today’s disbudding was uneventful & the kids knew nothing about it, looking very peaceful as they were gently placed, one by one, underneath a warm blanket after being treated. There’s no pain for the animals; as soon as they’ve recovered from the grogginess of the anaesthetic they’re all up & playing again.
And whilst I’m sure many people might object to the idea of disbudding, it’s for ours’ & the animals’ safety; one young male was left too late to be disbudded last year & almost took my eye out with one inadvertent sweep of his sharp, backward-curving horns. And as our foundation herd arrived without horns, it would now upset the balance if goats born into the herd were subsquently left to grow them & would prove dangerous to the resident animals. Take Aloe, the ‘One-Horned Wonder’; not all disbuddings are completely successful & she has a single, blunt horn stub growing straight upwards to a length of about four inches: the other goats avoid her as even though it’s blunt she still uses it against them as a weapon & can be quite a bully. And of course, she’s always getting it stuck in fences, trees & whatever; which could be quite dangerous for her. Unfortunately though, apart from trimming it regularly, there’s nothing else we can do.
But it’s a bit like the arguments surrounding castration of lambs, & docking of tails. Yes, we do both; there is no sense in keeping ram lambs entire, if their ultimate fate is to go for meat; the hormones whizzing around inside them don’t help increase their body weight & they could impregnate their siblings (bad for the gene pool), or injure or even kill each other through fighting – last year a neighbour lost a ram which broke his neck whilst challenging a rival male. And I’d rather humanely take a modest amount from a lamb’s tail than see the poor creature suffer flystrike; where they’re literally eaten alive.
Just before we left home we’d noted that one of the two remaining goats from the Phase One matings left to kid, had some telltale discharge; so we hurried back immediately we’d finished at the surgery in order to check up on her progress – & of course, to give Bechan her next feed. The little goat was unfailingly delighted to see me & has definitely increased in speed – although she did get herself stuck under the bed, which I can see being a problem. Also she’s taken to lying against the bedroom door as the place through which we enter & exit the room; making an all-too-effective doorstop! Meanwhile Agrostema (Agro to her friends) wasn’t showing any further signs of being in labour just yet so we set to work preparing to move groups of the animals around, ready to put the milking parlour back in action.
Firstly, because the main, largest pen was almost empty (now containing only Virginia, Apricot & her kid, the latter pair being penned in the corner for the kid’s safety) we decided to move the Phase Two pregnant females, which are due in mid-April – into the largely empty pen. This passed without incident although unfortunately Virginia – who has proved to be barren & has only been kept as a companion for Merson when he’s not serving his ladies – immediately started picking fights with the newly-resident goats. Being barren she put all her efforts into growing muscles rather than developing her reproductive organs – & is subsequently very big; & occasionally with the other goats, very belligerent, literally throwing her weight around. And as the girls are pregnant, this was not a happy situation. I couldn’t think of any other obvious place in which to put her, however; as the Visitors are aso pregnant; & last year’s female kids are too small to cope with such a dominant personality (plus it would put poor, simple Froggie, who is acting as matriarch for the youngsters, into a flat spin).
So whilst Tony set to work cleaning out the newly-vacated pen, I Devised A Plan: trotting across the yard to the ponies’ indoor stables in the Long Barn, I opened the doors & started furiously shovelling shavings from one into the other, until one stable was completely cleared of its’ snowy contents. I scattered a light base of shavings over the floor (this acts as an antiseptic & being additionally absorbent, cuts down on the amount of bedding required) & then spent the next fair while collecting armfuls of loose straw from the adjacent haybarn, which I heaped onto the shavings base until I’d created a soft, thick, deep bed. I then collected a hayrack & filled it with hay; & enlisted Tony’s help to make a water bucket holder. So now we had extra accommodation, which had always been the plan: the two stables had been earmarked for housing our Stud Males over the summer months anyway.
First we extricated Virginia from amongst the pregnant goats; she already had blood on her head, where she’d been fighting & the others’ hackles were up. I put her in the stable then went to collect Merson, our Stud Male, who has lived with Ginny before & so they’re comfortable in each others’ presence. The final member of the party to be moved was Brian, one of the visitors who is a wether male & family pet of his owners. Unfortunately he’s recently taken to fighting with Zuschneria (the goat who so tragically aborted last month), who’d been acommodated with the visitors in the hope that Merson might cover her. We decided we couldn’t risk any more accidents; so Brian had to be rehomed. As he knows Merson, & Merson knows Virginia, it was my hope that they’d all get on well together – which thankfully, they did. And with plenty of space for the trio, all was well.
It was at this juncture, that Agro eventually decided to go into labour; & with much characteristic moaning & groaning, gave birth to – yes, you guessed it – Two More Boys. This gloomily puts the ratio at even further odds: one third girls to two-thirds, boys: not ideal in any sense as we now have ten male kids but only five girls. Frankly, I’m beginning to think the 50:50 average, is a myth – although last year the balance readjusted with the summer births being mostly females. So fingers crossed for the next lot….!
However Agro has prodced two really lovely kids; the first is milk chocolate in colour & has been named Bergam, after a fourteenth-century Welsh poet; with the second, a very sturdy, stocky, close-coupled lad who is pale silver in colour, named Barddu after a local river which at this time of year flashes silver with foaming cataracts dancing down the hills.
The excitement over, I set to work finishing the chores whilst Tony struggled on with cleaning out the pen; & I cooked him one of his favourites for supper – haggis & mash – not only as a treat but also to conjure up something quick, easy & filling. And so came the end of another long & busy, tiring day; over in terms of work perhaps but as ever with no rest for the wicked as Atilla the Hun here, had another night’s worth of bottle-feeding Madam to do……& she certainly lets me know when she’s hungry – especially now she’s happily just about reached the ‘all four feet off the floor’ stage – never a dull moment!