Baby Transplants

I apparently have a rare and unusual little hen on my hands. Follow, the broody hen in the coop, hatched an egg last night! That’s not really all that unusual, though. The unusual part is that she accepted a “baby transplant” in broad daylight, without me being sneaky. You see, the accepted method of getting a broody hen to accept chicks she didn’t hatch herself is to wait until the dead of night (as in, when you and the hens are all so tired you wish you were dead), sneak into the coop with a flashlight covered by a washcloth, and stealthily remove as many eggs from under your hen as you are placing chicks under her.

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna fly with this crowd. First of all, there ain’t no sneakin’ up on Follow. I’m fairly certain she neither sleeps nor eats. Secondly, I don’t do “middle of the night” things unless there’s an emergency, and I don’t like chicks to be an emergency. They’re very breakable. However, there is a strong possibility that if the mama hen doesn’t accept the transplanted chicks, she will straight up kill them. That complicates matters.

So, I did what I do best: improvise. See, not only does the mama hen have a chance of killing the babies, the rest of the flock can become aggressive and kill them. I had to move Follow out of the coop and into the brooder. I accomplished this by filling the bottom of a three gallon bucket with pine shavings, yanking Follow off of her nest, and then hurriedly putting the eggs and chick from her nest into the bottom of the bucket. Follow wasn’t pleased. She fluffed up, growled, and then scrambled to get INTO the bucket, which worked out. I then transported three gallons of eggs, chick and pissed off chicken across the yard, into the shed, and into the brooder.

I put her, and the bucket, into the brooder, and tipped it on its side so it would function as a nest box. As soon as I did that, Follow saw the food and water I’d put out for her and the chicks, and went crazy eating and drinking. She was… distracted. Hmm.

I ran into the house, grabbed the little cardboard box with the two chicks inside (Casanova crosses, hatched out by a gal who wanted to try incubation for the first time!), and carefully ran back to the shed with a box full of terrified and peeping chicks. I had read that, rather than bonding by smell like mammals, chickens bond by sound – well, there was a lot of chicks shouting “Mama, help! Mama! Mama!” so we had the sound thing going.

In the ensuing distraction and mild chaos, I removed the rest of the eggs in the box (five, because Follow is a consummate egg thief) and put in the two new babies. Follow kept eating, and drinking, and more or less ignored the babies. I held my breath, waiting for some horrible nightmare of dead baby chicks to happen – but it never did. Experimentally, I put the babies on her back. She gave *me* the stinkeye, but ignored the babies. I reached in to mess with the babies some more, and received a growl. I could no longer tell which baby was hers. I don’t think she could, either.

The new babies weren’t entirely sure what to do with the big fluffy thing in the brooder with them, but when I put them on her back, they were quite pleased and snuggled in readily. I watched for probably 20 minutes, and Follow actually started to give all three babies some of the grubs I’d put in for a treat!

Transplant successful. Hot damn. Seriously, seriously unusual for a hen to just… accept chicks. Follow gets all the grubs she wants from now on, man! I can breathe easily for a while – well, until I realized that I now need to make an enclosure to reintroduce Follow and her babies to the flock when they get older. That can wait, though. That’s enough excitement for one day.

 

Lest We Forget

Star is getting all the attention right now for her brand new babies, but it’s important to remember that Abigail is still being a great mommy, and a tremendous milker! I had heard that the second freshening (lactation cycle) would be more productive than the first, but man, I had no idea. Last year, Abigail was producing a quart per milking, one in the morning and one at night. Now, with one milking in the morning, she’s producing two quarts easily – this morning, two and a half! Poor lady
was waddling her way to the milk stand as fast as she could.

She’s been my best milker this whole time, patient and productive. She lets anyone milk her as long as there’s grain in front of her, even two-year-olds! It’s rather impressive. She doesn’t even mind it when her babies are at the pen gate crying for her – she knows she’ll be back in there with them soon enough. I kind of suspect she prefers to be milked by human hands than nursed on by kids; I mean, hands don’t have teeth. And when she’s milked out and put back in the pen… well, she gets her exercise running away from the hungry babies! But don’t worry. They eat hay and grain just fine now, so they’re FAR from starving.

Lil’ Big Boy

Watching Cosmo playing with his cousin Peach makes one realize that he’s a *very* big boy. His cousins are a little better than a month old, and he’s… days old. He’s so much like his daddy, Buckbuck, too: he’s slow, steady, docile and kinda… well. Slow. Not much perturbs him. He sat in the Grumpy Farmhand’s lap for 10 minutes yesterday without so much as a peep. He’s gonna be a sweet, sweet pet for the family who’s taking him.

Cute Fluffy Babies!

After the excitement of Luna’s slow start (my heart is only just now starting to beat at a normal rhythm instead of going ninety to nothing), the babies are doing what they do best: be freakin’ adorable. Seriously. The two new babies are very distinct, even moreso than Zelda and Peach, and it’s really interesting.

Abigail’s girls were tightly bonded right from the start (you can see in the photo), hardly leaving each others’ sides except for brief sessions of running and jumping – but then you would find them laying together on the ground, sunbathing or just huddled together for warmth and comfort. Star’s kids, though, are not as tightly bonded. They routinely sleep in different little houses, and don’t need to maintain close proximity like their cousins. They still play together and follow mama around, but it’s clearly not the same kind of bond as their cousins.

Luna is the more active of the two, surprisingly. She is constantly hopping, jumping, kicking and “running” as much as a three day old can manage. Cosmo, on the other hand, is much slower and steadier, and isn’t as interested in the frolicking as his sister. He is HUGE, though. He’s almost the same size as his cousins. He tries to play with them, but they’re so much nimbler and faster than he is that it’s comical. They’re trying to figure out how to play with him, too, but it sort of comes off as bullying unless you understand how goats work. Peach tries to push him into running, but he… just sort of moves along as far as she pushes him, then stops and looks at her like “What was that about?”

Star is recovering, but as the subordinate female in the herd, she doesn’t have the same access to all the food resources like Abigail. I have been feeding Star a third time during the day to make sure she gets everything she needs – she doesn’t like to eat a lot in one go, since it keeps her away from her babies too long. She is much more protective of her kids than Abigail – Abigail’s like “thanks for babysitting, human, I’m gonna go take a nap” – and Star gets nervous if she loses sight of either baby for very long. Again, I think it’s a subordinate female thing.

I realize it might seem a little “crazy goat lady” to pay so much attention to all the critters’ personalities, but it’s hard not to notice when you’re out with them at least twice a day. I’ve helped them give birth, I’ve treated them while they’re sick, I’ve played with them, fed them, groomed them, milked them – it’s a surprisingly intimate relationship. I’m excited to have Zelda grow up with me, because she’ll be the first generation of milkers who I’ve raised from birth.

I read once that dogs must consider us gods, because we are there when they’re born and there when they die of old age. I don’t know about gods, but there is something deeply profound about being there for the entire lifetime of a creature.

Sheesh, sorry, this went from ‘omg fluffy!’ to philosophical. I can’t help it, though. My heart is so full when I think about these animals, whether they’re little fluffballs or cantankerous old farts. It’s a good life, if you can get it.

THEY’RE HERE!!

After all my bitching and moaning, the babies are finally here! I took a photo of Star’s lady bits this morning, and shared it with a couple of farmer friends – and another friend who didn’t believe I had photos of a goat’s vulva, lol – and noticed that hey, it sort of meets the description the gal from the Country Living Expo gave me.

And I did my chores and went inside, because that’s how it works.

Well, then I went back outside to check on everyone later, and realized that Star wasn’t out in the sunshine with everyone else – so I looked into the stall, and sure enough, she was lying down, straining. I ran back inside, grabbed the birthing kit (antiseptic, a knife, towels, gloves, etc) and stopped just long enough in the Farm Engineer’s office to inform him of the situation and that he should “call people.”

When I got back out, Star was in the thick of it, and I noticed… a nose! And hooves! Awesome! But upon further examination, the hooves weren’t pointing the right way. They did not, in fact, belong to the baby whose nose I could see. Both kids were trying to come out simultaneously. That’s not going to end well – and after much study and research on my part, plus a lot of instructional pictures, I knew what I had to do. Don’t read this next paragraph if what I’ve told you so far has made you uncomfortable.
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I stuck my hand into Star alongside the babies, and pushed the one to which the toes belonged to the “back of the line.” I actually managed to get in almost up to my elbow, because I had to figure out who belonged to what. Star howled, because duh. I mean, I have small hands, but come on. It was all about as gross as you can imagine, but at the same time… not too bad. I was wearing gloves, after all. And I was still wearing both gloves when I pulled my hand out!
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After that, the whole thing took ten lousy minutes. Ten! A little boy and a little girl both came out hollerin’ and covered in goo. The boy (on the right in the first photo) is significantly bigger than the little girl, much like with Zelda and Peach. I did end up having to take her inside to dry all the way off, since it was so cold that she couldn’t retain body heat enough to get moving to nurse. My friend Christina and I pretty much force fed her colostrum with a soft syringe, and once the baby’s tummy was full and her fur was dry, we gave her a jacket and gave her back to mama.

That would have been the end of it, but baby girl still wasn’t nursing – older brother was getting in the way too much. So, I did what any good farm mama would do, and got down on the ground to support the baby while she nursed. Here I am, covered in goaty effluence, laying on goat poop (pebble and myconium styles!), holding up the babe so she can successfully latch onto Star. After a few minutes of her nursing, I let go – and the baby managed to do it all by herself. The ulcer that had previously been planning to move into my stomach sadly packed its bags and left when I saw baby girl strong enough to nurse. That is to say, I was quite relieved.

While the baby was in the house, Ranger did his darndest to help clean her off, which didn’t seem to perturb the baby too much. Here is mama Star, who looks SIGNIFICANTLY more comfortable now, with little baby girl “Luna” and little boy “Cosmo.” Those won’t be their names forever, unless the wonderful family who’s going to take them home in a few months happens to like those names. In the meantime, though, the little stellar goat family seems to be doing quite well. GoatWatch 2017 can finally be called off. Thank God.