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May 29, 2004: Adventures in goat obstetrics

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Good friends help you move. Real friends help you move your pregnant, laboring goat, which is leaking bodily fluids everywhere, into the shed where the vet has set up an emergency surgery center on a bale of straw. Even better friends hold your goat's head and front legs while the vet slices open your goat mere inches away from their face to pull out the too-large (and sadly, dead) baby who was the cause of all the trauma in the first place, and then help load your groggy goat into a wheelbarrow and cart her down the road to the neighbor's barn where there is a stall where she will have to convalesce.

This was not actually the reason we were there, I should point out. The actual reason for going over to our friends' ranch this afternoon was for a barbeque. It was a gathering of our little social group from the church, and we got the tour of the ranch, where we all decided that someday we, too, are going to move onto a huge chunk of land with its own pond big enough to have its own little secret island and chock full of little fish, and its own orchard of every type of fruit and nuts imaginable. We also pretended that we were completely prepared for the phenomenal amount of work owning and maintaining such a property would be a situation our host graciously accepted with laughter.

The trouble started when she mentioned that her tiny little Angora goat was in labor. Naturally as the afternoon progressed we would all linger around the goat pen, watching her to see if she'd made any progress. I'm not sure who it was who thought to see just how dilated she was, but that was when we discovered she wasn't dilated at all, even though she was in heavy, straining labor. Discussion followed, considering that none of us really had a clue about livestock birthing, but we finally decided that a phone call to a large animal veterinarian was in order. The vet arrived, took one look at her nether regions, and stated that if the poor little thing didn't have a c-section right away, she was not going to survive, because there was just no way she would ever be able to deliver that baby.

Goats, apparently, cannot be put completely under due to something about their lungs and their rumen and other sensitive areas. So the vet gave her some narcotics to make her dopey, and stuffed her side full of local anesthetics so she wouldn't feel any pain, and between the small crowd of us we fetched the straw bale/operating table, and we carried the poor little goat over, and while one woman (who keeps sheep so was at least familiar with what to do in the birthing process) stood in waiting with a towel to deal with the baby, I crouched beside the goat's head, keeping her calm and steady so she wouldn't move around and also making sure to keep her head elevated so she wouldn't have any problems. And the vet did not seem to mind at all that she had a small audience, fascinated with the little lesson in goat anatomy that was unfolding right in front of us.

The baby was far too big for momma to handle, which was really the problem. When she pulled it out, it was limp and pale; the vet thought it had already been dead perhaps a day, but luckily not long enough to start sickening the mom. I brushed flies away from the goat's nose and ears and held her front legs in my hands to keep her from shifting and did my best to ignore the umpteen million pieces of straw that were digging their way into my wrist and arm underneath her head, and had an incredible view of the whole procedure. And then the vet sewed her up, first the uterus and then several other layers of membranes and skin, and we all held our breath as we gently lowered her from the straw bale onto her feet and she staggered for a bit, but ultimately was able to stand for a minute or two before sitting down in an exhausted heap.

Once the momma goat was settled into a clean stall and we'd all washed up and changed clothes as needed, we got back to the original reason we were there. Luckily there were enough of the group who were a little too squeamish for observing surgery who were perfectly willing to stay behind and keep all the little kids distracted, so there was a minimum of fuss from the younger contingent. We ate chicken and orzo salad and fruit and garlic cheese bread and followed that with brownies and ice cream and sat around together, and once it seemed that momma goat was going to be okay and we could all breathe a huge sigh of relief, and also, before it had really quite sunk in what just happened, we asked our hostess, for her next hosted gathering, just how she was ever going to be able to find entertainment to top what happened today.

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