In the words of Butterfly McQueen, I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies, so I accepted the invitation. Sunday morning chores ran a little long, so I called MB at a little after 8:00 on Sunday, asking if arriving at 9:30 would mean missing the show. I was reassured that I probably wouldn’t miss a thing, since the goat, Madeline, showed no signs of starting labor.
I arrived at MB’s farm, and found MB trying to convince Madeline to get started. The very knowledgeable vet was adamant that "deximethisone + 36 hours = birth," but
Madeline apparently was not buying it. However, she should have been. She was huge and uncomfortable, the kids inside her stretching her to over twice her normal width. (Nigerian Dwarf goats, when gravid, are about as wide as they are long. They wheeze and snore because their lungs are compressed, they waddle and creak because their cartilage is softening, they urp and burp at a higher than normal rate because their rumens are squoze. No uncomfortable waddle matches that of a doe great with four kids. To pregnant humans they give the dubious consolation that it could be worse.)
As the day wore on, MB and I spent hours watching Madeline. The tendons in her tail softened and practically disappeared. “That’s a sign,” said MB, that labor is imminent. What does imminent mean? An hour, maybe two, or maybe a couple of days. Madeline sat like a dog, her enormous belly making her look like a Buddha. “That’s a sign,” said MB, and she’d give something that looked like a contraction—and then produce a cud. She’d grind her teeth in pain—“Sometimes that’s a sign”—and yawn—“that’s a sign too”—and her abdomen would heave…and she’d produce another cud. I stayed until 5:00, when I had to go home and feed my critters.
I returned later that evening; I had nothing else to do, and I needed to stay up late to meet the Real Doctor at the airport. Besides, Madeline had started whimpering, and was making a nest—“those are signs, usually”. As of 1:00 AM, nothing had happened. MB checked on her every couple of hours through the night.
The following day, the Real Doctor and I got to MB’s farm around noon. Nothing had happened overnight, and while the morning had not been quiet (a barn full of massively pregnant goats is loud, with all the wheezing, whining, and complaining), no signs of labor had been noted. However, by early afternoon, Madeline had firmly settled into a nest and had started real, non-cud-producing contractions. However many kids were inside her massive belly, they had realigned themselves. She was no longer as wide, but so distended that if she walked, her belly practically dragged on the straw.
Real, productive labor started mid-afternoon. I won’t go into the details of the process, other than it involved a little intervention from MB, and a deal of justifiably loud complaining from Madeline. Over the course of about two hours, three does and one buck came into the world and started suckling, complaining, sleeping, and being cute.
I still need to know more (and fortunately, MB has a bunch more gravid does), but MB pointed out one clear lesson from the 72-hour vigil for Madeline: goats haven’t read the textbooks, and they will do what they do when they do it.