The proud mother, Miss Janet, cracks a smile over her two new bucks, Kastor on the left, and Pollux on the right.
Well, life never turns out like you plan and that is why improv was invented! We had our day all planned out: Composting the tomato bed, clearing the east garden out for our cuccurbids, irrigating onions, clearing out the chard from our circle garden to make room for roses. All meticulously planned over cold cereal, almond milk and bananas. As I went outside to get our day going I made one more check on Janet, who first thing in the morning was just chewing cud and munching alfalfa quietly. Then . . . Badaboom!
She was pushing, and she was bleating. Loudly. No, LOUDLY. And she was pushing some more. She was about to give birth, at last. The day before I had fallen over some poultry netting, landing on my spine and injuring my wrists that I used to break my fall. I literally hobbled back to the house screaming and limping, and caught Nancy as she was about to go into the shower and Lori as she was about to try to reach a client by phone for a third time. The day was sent into a tailspin. We all went running out to the barn to find two hooves protruding from Janet’s vulva. She was screaming and it seemed the hills were echoing with her birth pangs. Her labor went on for quite some time, and the first birth was long and arduous since this was her first time: she cried the whole time, and it was so bad that I went to work in the garden for a spell.
I am a coward when it comes to pain, no better than the Greeks who abandoned Philoctetes on Lemnos. I thinned spinach. I made sure the greenhouse was warm and the plants vigorous. I sprayed insecticidal soap on the chard that is being besieged by leaf miners. In the midst of this, Nancy and Lori stood vigil, and it came. A nine pound baby goat named Kastor. For what seemed like hours she pushed and for what seemed like hours his hooves peaked out of her vulva and for what seemed like hours we resisted the human temptation to intervene. Nature knows, and that is why I, at least, walked away. Janet could take care of this, as her ancestors had for centuries. He finally popped out. And about a half hour later, maybe less, his twin brother emerged into the light – another beautiful buck named Pollux. The Gemini Twins. Each weighing in at 9 pounds – the Dioscuri come to light on our farm on a glorious Spring day in a heave of amniotic fluid and straw. It is a trite but wonderful observation that birth and life are messy. Such was the case today.
Neighbors came and admired. Neighbors came with experience and helped. Birth at home, human or animal, depends on community. It was wonderful. We got some very important and essential advice that we would otherwise not have had: who knew that you need to break the plug on teats by squeezing them first so that the kids can feed on mother’s milk?
Janet cleans Pollux while Nancy cleans up the stall and adds more straw. How will we tell them apart? Simple. Kastor has wattles and Pollux does not.
The mother cleaned the kids; we dipped the umbilical cords in iodine; we fed the mother oats and gave her warm water with molasses; we injected the kids with boosters of Bovi Sera and BoSe – and the mother as well; we helped the two little brothers find the teats, amidst the blood and amniotic fluid and afterbirth, to nurse on colostrum; we mucked out the stall of the foul matter that attends birth; we got covered in the thick black poops that kids emit; I buried the placenta in one of our raised beds; we will eat it in the fennel, or kale, or quinoa that we grow in the beds this summer – there is no such thing as waste; we heaped towels stained red and yellow with blood and amniotic fluid and afterbirth in plastic tubs; we stood in amazement, exhaustion, and delight, at the end of what seemed a long journey, from our first encounter with goats at a farm in Yachats that was only three and a half years ago but seems eons.
Nancy holds Pollux as she prepares to clean yellow amniotic fluid off of his white fur. Both bucks are a cross between a Toggenburg buck and their Saanen doe mother.
Lori and Nancy were wonderful as midwives: they attended both the mother and newborns with extraordinary aplomb – a good thing, since I doubt I could. We have been full of adrenaline all day as we watch this. Can you know life without goats? Yes. But then, why?
A favorite professor once told me that going through life without reading Plato’s Symposium would be like going through life without swimming in the ocean, drinking wine, or falling in love. He was right – but I would add one more thing: or without birthing and raising Pan’s most beloved animal.