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Are They or Aren’t They – Goat Pregnancy Riddles

January 12, 2010

March 20, 2009

It’s hard to get sidelong to a goat. They are always looking for some kind of treat, and at their first sense of your approach, they will turn to face you head on, as if to say, “Here’s my mouth; I’m first.” Maybe, too, there is a territorial instinct that compels them to greet a visitor with their hard heads front and center. That is the tool they most often employ to settle issues of seniority and rank, after all.

When searching for signs of pregnancy, a look at the side is tempting. Experts in the caprine world will attest that you can’t tell if a goat is pregnant, sometimes right up until they drop. Those folks didn’t get a gander at my last two pregnant does, who looked as though they were packing extra-large high top sneakers port and starboard. I like to look down at a doe from above and look for a tell-tale roundness on either side of the spine. The large rumen they possess makes most well-developed goats, both male and female, look rather preggers, but it usually doesn’t rise up to the backbone.

With their compunction for urinating in full view of anyone and everyone, a pregnancy test would be ideal, as they don’t show much until they are quite far along. Short of that test-stick or an ultrasound, I spend many moments feeling the side for movement, wondering if the sudden shift I detect is a head, or a backside, or just gas moving around in the active rumen.

I think one doe is pregnant. The other two are questionable, but they seem to still be going into heat, so I think they may have missed the party bus. The funny thing is, this doe kidded last year and she proved to be a hard milker. I was spoiled by milking the tough, dominant doe the summer before. I expected fireworks when I approached the queen of the herd, but her focus was always squarely on monopolizing grain, so she stood rock solid, out of the milking stand, and let me pull quarts of gorgeous, rich milk from her twice a day. Chevre turned from a wistful dream to a necessary reality. Containers piled up in the farm fridge and I even froze some for emergency use with piglets.

The scrawny goat was another story. She took to the milking stand with some coaxing, but what happened when the milking commenced was puzzling and unexpected. Let me just get this out there first; she had sausage teats. I know, it sounds gross, but that’s what they are called. Instead of a big bag of milk (the udder) with nice, average sized teats projecting off at two angles, she had a skimpy udder with big, long teats hanging down which sort of merged with the udder, filling with milk when she hadn’t been drained. I could see that when she first bagged up, and I didn’t mind. Of course, one teat was bigger and longer than the other, but you know, these things happen.

The problem was that as soon as we started to milk her, she started to sink. Her back knees just went. Was it the ecstasy of being milked? Whatever it was, it didn’t stop until her udder, with my hands trying to hang on to it, was resting on the stand. I tried a cobble, following the advice that pressure on the tendon under the knee would keep the feet on the ground and the goat standing up. With that technique she just sank down with her feet closer together. Then I had my tall, strong milking partner hold her legs. As she sank, he held on, until he was holding her up in the air. She didn’t seem to mind, but a two-person milking team is hard to keep up twice a day with a young baby in the house.

We settled on letting the big guy do the milking. He got behind her, somehow holding up her back end and milking all the while. Hanging around the back end of a goat is not the most sophisticated way to spend your morning or cocktail hour; tails get frisky, other things happen. The milk came in, the goat got fatter on grain and the job got harder as she grew heavier, until we dried her off at the end of the season and hoped she’d never kid again.

It looks like we may be in for more of the same this summer. And as much as ‘we’ dread the task, we are desperate for more of that smooth, delicious milk and tart cheese. I wish our silly goat the best and pray that she’ll kid sometime in the coming months. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the other does join the party.

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