Monday, 7 May 2018

Kidding Countdown

Its been a busy year so far as time has flown by and it seems only yesterday that Luxor the stud goat came to Stay. But now there’s only 5 days to go before Saffies kids are due and just enough time to start my kidding countdown.
As ever Saffies benign and stoic nature means that I am much more anxious and excited at the prospect of her kidding than she is. Although she is still taking her daily excursion into the pasture to browse and trotting back home for her tea, as the big day draws closer the burden of her enormous tummy is taking its toll on her tiny legs and making her a little tired and subdued.

Saffies little legs are getting tired

Pygmy goats gestate for between 150 to 155 days so the week before kidding is spent watching for signs that her babies are on their way. As Saffie is likely to be carrying twins there is a chance that they may come early so to cover all bases I have been busy preparing the kidding shed with a fresh communal bed just in case she catches me out and separate kidding pen which is kept clean ready for the big day.

Keeping the birthing pen clean until kidding reduces

 the chances of joint ill.

Goats are sensitive, social animals who form strong and lasting bonds and Saffie and her sons are no exception. As a result, they are all kept together until Saffie goes into labour when she will be moved into the kidding pen to ensure that the babies don’t absorb bacteria from dirty bedding through their navel. 

An over the door feeder is a safe and convenient 

place to keep kidding meds

Applying iodine to the navels of new born sheep and lambs also prevents this absorption and dries the navel quickly. So a bottle of iodine forms part of my kidding meds along with hand steriliser, gloves, lubricant, anti-biotic and pain relief just in case I need to assist.

The cctv camera has been set up a few days in advance so that I can keep an eye on her and spot the onset of pregnancy.  Cameras offer a great way to observe the goats natural behaviours without the disruption of continually popping in and out to check on progress.

 Saffie loves being brushed and in the last week of pregnancy, brushing and stroking is a great way to build up a bond with your doe prior to kidding as well as relaxing her and creating an opportunity to check for signs of impending birth. So I use this time to check on the development of her udders and feel for any movement in her tummy. Although Saffies tummy looks equally rounded on both sides, only one side, the right holds the babies. The bulge on the left side is her rumen. 
Around 24 hours prior to kidding the does rump changes profile from its usual soft, rounded shape to a more triangular one as the ligaments relax and appear to drop away in anticipation of delivery.    As the contractions begin the nest building behaviour starts and signs of discomfort and agitation are apparent. Brushing can be really appreciated at this stage along with a few soothing words. 

Goats often make a sound in late pregnancy known as humming and in the absence of a reply from their unborn kids, well-handled goats can appreciate a response from their keeper in the form of a few gentle words of kindness or encouragement.   

Over feeding in the second half of pregnancy can lead to the development of kids that are too large to deliver. So Saffie remains on her usual ration until the kids are born.  

As labour advances the cervical plug dissolves and a sting of mucus appears as an indication that birth is imminent. The pressure on the cervix gradually causes it to dilate as the contractions increase in frequency and intensity. During this time does show signs of pain and agitation by pacing around the pen, pawing the ground, lying down briefly, straining and getting up again. 

This behaviour can start several hours before delivery, but once the sack of fluid appears then the babies are arriving. I like to allow my livestock the chance to have their babies in as calm and natural way as possible by keeping a watching brief from a comfortable distance and the comfort of a camping chair. Only stepping in the pen to assist the pregnancy if I feel they are struggling. 
Saffie has kidded once before as a first timer and successfully delivered twins so I am not anticipating any problems for her this time. I have kept her feed ration consistent to avoid overly large kids and have used the same billy for the same reason. I expect her to deliver twins this time too which makes the babies smaller and easier to deliver. Unless they both present at the same time!

Despite all my plans and preparations however, things can occasionally go wrong. So the phone number of my vet is programmed in to my mobile phone and clean towels and a kettle of hot water will be on standby in the shed. Hopefully the vet wont be required but the kettle will come in handy for the most essential kidding tool of all….the cup of tea.    

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Buffy the eggs layer - what's in a name?

I buried my oldest hen today. She was the first hen I ever owned and lived to the ripe old age of 10.

Her name was Buffy the eggs layer, though she was rarely given her full title. She was known mostly as Buffy or Buf-Buf, often Buffalo and sometimes Buffle coat.
Although her beautiful buff feathers had mellowed with age to a soft wheaten shade from the fiery ginger biscuit tone of her youth, the contrast of her deep red comb against her plumage was always striking. 

Buffy - you were always such a smart little hen.

She was a confident, intelligent and low maintenance little hen who knew her own mind.  A strong but gentle leader who maintained her status in the flock despite her advancing years with nothing more than a low pwork, a fixed gaze and very, very rarely, a measured but well timed peck.

Buffy - a strong but gentle leader

I loved her and deeply admired her. And I am grateful for all the years that I shared with her. She taught me so much and was the inspiration for me to write a book about chickens in the hope that others could learn from all that she had taught me.

Her name reflected the fact that she was a prolific egg layer. Never interested in being treaded by a cock and never going broody.   Calm, capable and dignified, she never squawked or screeched her objections when her preferred nest box was occupied, but simply selected another or quietly waited her turn to lay her egg.

She refused to perch at roosting time. Preferring instead to nestle in the straw of her favourite nest box which she secured by going to bed a good 40 mins earlier than anyone else.

Buffy - so excited at your first experience of straw, you never lost your love of it.

A robust little hen she never ailed for anything. When occasionally some of my other birds developed respiratory infections brought in by the visiting wild birds she never ever succumbed.

Buffy - My special little hen

Towards the end of her laying life as her tiny muscles grew weaker she developed egg peritonitis as a result of egg impaction. I loaded her into the car and we drove for hours on a sweltering hot day to get to the poultry specialist. The vet wasn’t hopeful as most hens fail to survive this condition, but Buffy wasn't ready to let go just then and neither was I. So although she never laid eggs again she bounced back within a day or two and continued to live an active and happy life until it was time for her to say farewell.
I loved her and I miss her, and all that she represents. A chapter in my life that we shared. A journey of innocence, adventure and discovery that leads to experience, knowledge and wisdom but that only ever takes us forward. In our excitement to learn and explore we open so many doors but fail to notice that they close behind us, barring our way back.

Goodbye Buffy you were such an exceptional hen.

Perhaps one day we may meet again my little feathered friend.

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