Life & Death: a Step-by-Step Guide for Smallholders

Dandelion & daffodil - Jelly's lambs

Dandelion & Daffodil - Jelly's lambs

Another whirlwind, another rollercoaster of a day.

It certainly has been busy.

Six of the goats decided to have their kids, today; starting with Rally at 6am & concluding with Aggie, late-afternoon. 

Meanwhile we also started lambing, with Jelly giving birth to twins – Dandelion & Daffodil, a ram & a ewe – just as I was seriously starting to salivate for a strong cup of tea & a bite of breakfast, at around 10.30am. 

But being a Friday, there were the usual end-of-week business ‘phone calls & emails to contend with; so all-in-all, by the end of the day,  now I finally have a few moments to sit down & catch my breath (along with a verrry-late supper) I can honestly admit that I’m feeling….absolutely whacked. 

And this day is far from over: because there are more night-time checks; more paperwork; plus scribbling up the daily Ffarm log books etc, to complete – phew.

However.  Let’s delve into a little more detail, regarding today’s *ahem* typically restful end to a busy week….

Rise-&-shine for first check of the goats at 05:30am; having completed my last, late-night visit, at 01:30am.  In the murky pre-dawn light the goats appear to be fine: mercifully – in my befuddled state – they are contentedly cudding, not kidding. 

However, between checking the Maternity Ward in the Dairy Complex & feeding the breakfast hay to the reprobates in the Kidding Shed & Stud Barn, it would appear that Rally had other ideas &  ‘pulled a fast one’….being  in the process of popping out her second baby by the time I’d unwittingly arrived to refill the feed barrow.  

Again, the firstborn was a boy (Ceidrych), followed by a daughter Cothi (named after a nearby valley).  So, goodness knows what was in the water over the Autumn; but Merson certainly seems to have produced a free-flowing run of “boy-girl-boy-girl” sets of twins!

I completed my initial rounds of checking & feeding caprines, ovines, ponies & poultry (not to mention cats & dogs of course); & was thoroughly looking forward to my much-needed, boiled-egg breakfast.  Mmmm, this has to be the best meal of the day: few pleasures can compare with dipping that first, crisp finger of toasted, home-baked bread into the deep-golden yolk of a big brown egg; laid by your own contented chickens.  Washed down with a sturdy mug of strong tea, this repast really sets me up for whatever gruelling day lies ahead. 

But this morning, such pleasure was to be indefinitely postponed…..because Aloe obviously had other ideas.

No sooner had I banged shut the lids on the metal feedbins than said One-Horned Wonder went into action. 

Ooerr,” she stuttered.  Then, “Aaargh!” she yelled…. Right.  No breakfast for me, then; but “Kids ‘R’ Us”, for Aloe….

Weeell – perhaps, not.  As it painfully, protractively transpired, make that kid=singular.  However, at least this year she gave birth to a bonny little girl – Celyn (as you’ve probably gathered, being our third breeding season, we’re on the letter “C”!).

Phew.  With no time for nosh, at least I had a moment to snatch that much-needed cuppa….? 

No chance.

Ninny’s turn.

Ninny (‘official’ name, Anenometwo) is one of the sweetest, loveliest ladies you could ever hope to meet in the caprine world….albeit, she admitedly does have a slightly strange personality quirk. 

In that she believes she is a cat.

Whenever I weave my way through my caprine chums in the capacious pens of the Dairy Complex, Ninny is invariably there; trotting alongside, tail aloft, mewing softly.  Whether she’s been taking lessons from her Uncle Mozzer, I have no idea; however suffice to say that the moment I pause for breath she sidles up, & wraps herself around my legs like a big (okay, VERRRY big) cat; almost knocking me off my feet in the process.

And today – with the labour pains starting to worry her – she was right on form; literally pushing me over in her efforts to elicit my assistance for her forthcoming births.  Little did I appreciate just then, quite how much she instinctively needed my help….

She began pacing.  And then, started straining…. although none of this was unusual for Ninny.  Last year her first-ever birth – twins – (boy & girl) were born with relative ease; although Ninny is a ‘loud’ Mum & definitely wants someone there to “hold her hand” whilst she curses & swears at them (meanwhile Merson – the absent father – was doubtless cowering beneath his hayrack in his Stud Stable, at this onslaught…!).

The delivery of today’s first baby, was uncomplicated & easy.  Apart from some loud amateur dramatics during the final seconds, Ninny was delivered of a big, bruising boy-kid, at around 09:00am.  She delightedly started licking him clean, & I delightedly anticipated the birth of the boy’s twin…..

And out she came.  Or should I say, out she silently slithered.

No trace of life.   Not a twitch.

No sodden flap of those all-too-big ears;  no spluttering gasp for that first lungful of precious, fresh air; no answering, tremulous cry to her mother’s soft, hopeful, encouraging nudges & calls.  Sick with horror, I hurried into the pen.  I was certain the kid was dead; but to my amazement when I went to gather her up I detected the fragile thump of a weak heartbeat in the pathetically tiny chest.  Clearing away the birth sac & drenched in amniotic fluid I hurried the apparently lifeless kid out of the pen whilst her mother studiously ignored me, devotedly attending to her robust boy who was already struggling to stand.

The poor little lass had eyes half-open, half closed & was horribly, ghoulishly floppy.  Long years of military training combined with my farming experience to do my utmost.  First I rubbed the prone body from head to tail with a clean towel, in a gentle but fairly vigorous manner; simulating the rough surface of the doe’s tongue & mouth in the hope that it might revive the kid.  It didn’t work. 

Then I gently held her upside-down by the hind legs; & carefully swung her from side-to-side in a pendulum motion, trying to drain any fluid from the tiny lungs & elicit respiration.  It didn’t work.

I then tried to stimulate a sneeze.  You do this by pushing a piece of straw up the kid’s nose to softly tickle the lining of the nasal passage.  The theory is that as the kid (or lamb) sneezes she draws air into her lungs, instigating breathing. 

It didn’t work.

So – whilst you really aren’t supposed to do this owing to the danger of catching an infection from a newborn kid; other than let her die, I frankly had no other choice than to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; albeit a little different administering it to a tiny goat rather than an adult human being, as I’ve had to do before & my only prior reference.  Thus I started breathing for her, watching the rise-&-fall of that tiny chest; despite the fact that the pulse seemed so weak & fluttering. 

But then, the little heartbeat started to become stronger….

Poor little thing: the sad truth of smallholding.

Poor little thing: the harsh reality of smallholding.

I carried out mouth-to-mouth on the tiny kid, for a full forty-five minutes.  Tragically, her will to live transpired to be weaker than her initially-determined heartbeat; she never came quite close enough, to gain consciousness.  So: no stirring of limbs, no fluttering of eyelashes; she never took that wonderful unassisted first breath, for herself.  Eventually her heart gave one last, apologetic little flutter; & stilled, forever.

Exhausted & broken, I stumbled out into the cruel sunshine of the spring morning. 

But there was no time to grieve. 

Up on the hill above the cottage, more new life was emerging into the world….this time, of the ovine variety.  Our favourite ewe – Jelly (short for Angelica, in case you were wondering) – was busy pushing out her lamb.  Ah, no; make that lamb+s; & in keeping with the rest of the clan, first a ram (Dandelion) & then a tiny ewe (Daffodil).  Little Daffodil looks so funny; she has a black line running diagonally across one eye – just as if she’s been playing with Mummy’s makeup & has made a mistake with the mascara!  So amidst the tragedy there is still some comedy; thankfully, always a reason to smile through the tears.

No sooner had I finished dealing with this little trio though – & was seriously contemplating a spot of lunch as by now my gastric juices were growling more ferociously than a hungry lion – than Vine (true to form) started going into labour.  Once again she had a boy followed almost immediately by a slightly smaller girl, Cristyn; after which it was time for me to hand-milk a few oversized udders to relieve the pressure of any excess milk being produced (I really must get the bucket milker up-&-running to ease my increasingly painful ‘tennis elbow’; & at least our full Carlos Fandango parlour will be back in action, early next week….).

So here we go: Vine’s Step-By-Step Textbook Kidding Demonstration….

A step-by-step guide to kidding: Vine shows How To Do It.  Labour begins....

A step-by-step guide to kidding: Vine shows How To Do It. Labour begins....


....she starts pushing....

....she starts pushing....


....& the water bag appears.

....& the water bag appears.Here's the head; & if you look closely, two front feet - thankfully, a normal presentation! Although the water bag has broken don't be tempted to intervene - the umbilical cord is still attached so all is well.


Sorry about the slight gap - but the Midwife had to abandon the camera.  But this little lad popped out, quickly & easily.

Sorry about the slight gap - but at this point the Midwife needed to abandon the camera...! And this little lad popped out, quickly & easily.Two minutes later, Cynderyn's sister arrives....well done, Vine! It's a messy business - but thankfully everything seems to be, as it is meant to be....gruesome it might appear to the uninitiated; but this is completely natural, & nothing to worry about. In fact I'd be much more concerned if Vine wasn't "cleansing" properly....

Ahhhh....those first, faltering steps - albeit immediately knocked flat, by an overenthusiastic Mum....!  Incidentally we are a full fifty minutes in, to the whole "ooerr I think I might be in labour" to the "Proud Parent" stage. Wonderful!

Ahhhh....those first, faltering steps - albeit almost immediately knocked flat, by an overenthusiastic Mum....! Incidentally we are a full thirty minutes in, to the whole "ooerr I think I might be in labour" to the "Proud Parent" stage. Wonderful!


Colostrum: that delicious, first meal.  The Vine Milk Bar is officially open....!

Colostrum: that delicious, first meal. The Vine Milk Bar is officially open....!

After managing to munch briefly on a packet of rather bizarrely-flavoured Cajun Squirrel crips (yeah, really) it was Angry Aggie’s turn to bawl at me for assistance as she too decided to take her turn & go into labour.  In spite of the pseudonym she’s actually a really amiable goat; but her rather thin face does give her a bit of a pinched, disapproving visage which when coupled with her abruptly loud, braying bleat really does offer the overwhelming impression of a real old battleaxe of a Matron.  This is her third kidding; & on the first occasion she gave us a little girl, Anghared; then last year, twin boys; & this year….at least without requiring assistance, another little lad.

As you can imagine, with babies being born so thick-&-fast today, I didn’t dare switch off.  Hanging around the Maternity Ward ‘just in case’ I treated poor Thistle to an evidently-appreciated back massage,  followed by a careful udder massage with Japanese Peppermint Oil; alongside her other necessary treatments.  Whilst thankfully the colour of her milk has gone from straw to white, the improvement is frustratingly small; & she still isn’t eating nearly as much as I’d like, although she does enjoy a few mouthfuls of her specially-made warm sugarbeet ‘porridge’ at regular intervals throughout the day.

So it’s been a very trying, but nevertheless rewarding, 24 hours.  On the positive side we’ve had nine healthy, bouncing babies successfully delivered; however that one tragic little lifeless body will inevitably haunt my darker hours for a long, long time to come.  Perhaps cold comfort; but being so close to the mythical Gateway to the Otherworld here in the Valley at least her little, lost soul doesn’t have too far to travel….

Rest In Peace, my tiny friend – I’m sorry there was nothing more I could do.

About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Anything Goes, Diary, Farming, Goats, Life, Livestock, Locality, March 2009, MindBodySpirit, Nature, Sheep, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Life & Death: a Step-by-Step Guide for Smallholders

  1. Sorry to hear about Ninny’s kid. It’s always so tragic and never gets any easier, does it? When I was a child, I thought my mother’s ewes all drew straws in some sort of ritual: one lamb would be sacrificed to ensure the safe delivery of the others. Well, I was six!

    • LittleFfarm Dairy says:

      “No, it doesn’t get any easier.

      I always feel such a failure if we lose one; even though I know it’s not my fault & there’s nothing I can do. It’s a harsh reality but as the old agricultural saying goes, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’….

      Hence the reason I wrote this post; & in particular, put up the photo of the poor little deceased kid. This is fact, this is what happens: not all of the kids are destined to skip in sun-soaked pastures: illness, accident, still-birth, are sad inevitabilities. I’m sure I’ll get castigated by those who only want to read about the happy, fluffy niceties of smallholding & would prefer not to be faced with such harsh reality; I’m sure I’ll be seen as ‘heartless’ & ‘cruel’ for posting such a photo by those who put their heads in the sand & think it’s OK to buy a shrink-wrapped chicken from the supermarket & then have a go at people like us for taking direct responsibility fo our food.

      But if it makes one potential smallholder who is subconsciously avoiding this issue, think more carefully about keeping livestock because they actually don’t really want to face such things, then this ‘warts & all’ approach will not have been in vain.”

      • It’s heart breaking but, as you so rightly say, that’s the reality and you have to harden your heart or accept that this is not the life for you.

        I would say something about not beating yourself up but ………… there’s no point is there? I do exactly the same thing and I find it helps, it gives me focus and makes me a better keeper of livestock. Better to care and learn than not to care at all.

  2. Oh: something seems to have gone a bit wonky with your blog and the sidebar. Last time that happened to me, the photos I posted were too wide.

  3. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    “Thanks for the top tip, Jo – sorted!”

  4. casalba says:

    “I’m sorry there was nothing more I could do.” Will someone give this girl a medal?! You won’t be “castigated” by me. Far from it. What else could you have done? The sneezing, the pendulum, the mouth to mouth…

    That little body would haunt me too, but isn’t it interesting that Ninny knew instictively she had to take care of her fittest. She won’t be mourning, just looking after the one that survived.

    It’s part of life and part of nature, and both can be incredibly cruel at times and amazingly beautiful at others.

    I take my “virtual” hat off to you. I really do.

    • LittleFfarm Dairy says:

      “Thanks, Sally –

      I appreciate your kind & sympathetic words. And you’re right; Ninny didn’t even notice, as you say she just got on with it. We’ve had other hard & cruel things happen, since (which I’ll write about ASAP); however there have also been the wonderful moments, which make all this so very worthwhile.

      After all, in this life – no matter what your vocation – you have to take the rough with the smooth. And the ‘rough’ makes that ‘smooth’, all the sweeter….”

  5. welshpurpletree says:

    That poor little kid, as you say you did everything you could. She looks at peace in the photo.

    How many kids have been born so far this year? I’ve lost count!

    • LittleFfarm Dairy says:

      “So far, we’ve had 19 little girls & 22 boys.

      Of those, the first male kid had to be put down immediately owing to the trauma he suffered during the birth; then the little girl (above) died; then one of Breezy’s triplets – born on Thursday) was just too tiny & underdeveloped, & he passed away quietly on Saturday morning. Wattie had a stillborn male on Friday (one of triplets; one of which is a boy with a very weak hind end, & so whose future is uncertain; & the other is a lovely little girl – so far, doing well).

      Therefore the tally running around & causing general mayhem thus far, is 18 girls & 19 boys – which isn’t bad, actually….37 so far, in total. All the first-kidders have had singles, & we’ve had 3 sets of triplets; which is pretty much to be expected.

      So as you can see it’s been a busy few weeks – thank goodness there are only five ladies left, to kid! But there are still some lambs to be born as well, of course….”

  6. paula says:

    Wow – you must have been feeling quite faint with hunger and exhaustion. What a marathon that was! I’m so sorry about Ninny’s little kid, I really am, it’s all that energy one pumps in for their survival – but wow, you’ve done so well overall.
    How long do you leave the kids with their dams? I’m just thinking of all the milk bar feeding too…

    Go get a big box of chocolate, or my maternity fav – Thornton’s toffee – bags of delicious energy!
    Take care of yourself. (great photos – love Toggs!)

    • LittleFfarm Dairy says:

      “Hi Paula –

      yes, I was feeling pretty exhausted by the end of it….& it doesn’t stop there of course! This year I’ve left the youngsters on their dams for longer than usual whilst everyone’s kidding; just to give myself something of a break. However, in the next couple of days (after today’s marathon disbudding session) I’ll take the older kids into their new Playpen & start the four-times-per-day bottlefeeding marathon, along with running the ladies through the parlour twice a day.

      So although kidding should soon be over (only five left to go…!) I’m still expecting a few more lambs; & with bottle feeding, milking & making the gelato soon to be in full swing (along with all the other work of course) there’s no time to pause.

      I am sorely tempted by the prospect of chocolate…alas we’re much too far away from a Thornton’s though, to allow me the toffee indulgence – mail order is definitely the way ahead. Mind you I did scoff down a pot of Rich Chocolate gelato, yesterday….deliciously, decadently scrummy! Mind you, after all I’d been through with Ninny-goat’s poor kid, I think that for once I deserved it….”

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