Polka always had to do things her way. She was the goat that started it all nearly 10 years ago. She was the only ‘in milk’ doe to be found when we decided to take our lives in a new direction, embracing self-sufficiency. I was warned by her then-owner that she was a ‘one person goat,’ and to be keenly aware that she knew how to utilize the 2’ long, pointed horns atop her head.
It was with great trepidation that the fumbling hands of a novice milker reached under her for the first time, fully expecting some painful repercussions for the inappropriate touching. Instead, she looked at me with disdain, but patiently allowed me to learn on her all about milking and then how to tend goats, eventually becoming ‘gotherd’ to a herd of 10.
She was the Queen Bee or rather, Queen B. She ruled the roost with iron horns, with what often seemed to be cruelly calculated placement of said horns to vulnerable areas on her underlings, as she considered them. After all, someone has to be in charge. Someone older and wiser and who has been around the block a time or two. And since we made sure that future generations were not equipped with the head-topping weapons Polka had, she was the only one with ‘clout’ and she took full advantage.
Each and every year Polka produced outstanding offspring. Several of her daughters and granddaughters have become my best milkers. Each year her kids were the biggest, strongest and healthiest of the bunch, and they stayed that way because Big Mama made sure her children were first in line at mealtimes.
In the early years, Polka would regularly escape her confines and come to the house, standing at the full-length glass door on the side porch, and delicately turning her head to tap-tap-tap with a horn tip, peering in to see what it was the humanoids were up to in their large, mysterious “stall.” She never explored further than the house, but if we were not quick to notice her presence she would begin leisurely eating her way around the yard, partaking of the landscaping in delicate nibbles.
For the first two seasons of kidding, Polka refused the help of mere humans at birthing time, making sure to cover any signs of labor until we the people had retreated to our mysterious stall and then proceeding to quickly spit out tiny Mini Me replicas of herself. Once she determined that I was to be trusted, she began to kid right in front of me, and let me know when my assistance would be tolerated. She began to look forward to treats, and scratchings between her horns—itches that could never be reached except by human fingers.
But as they have tendency to do, the years took their toll. We didn’t know her exact age, for the lady from who she was purchased couldn’t remember at that time—was she three or was she four? So last year, at the ripe old age of at least 12 and maybe 13, she had a very difficult time producing two large, bouncing baby boys who were quite intertwined as each fought to be the first one out into the big wide world. I keep my imminent does close by and under close scrutiny at kidding time. On a busy day with B&B guests present, I looked out the window to see that Polka had gotten herself into quite a fix. It was obvious that she knew of the internal baby tangle, and in seeking to right it had tumbled down a slight hill and lodged her pointy rack in soft ground.
After unearthing her horns and using them to re-position her body facing downhill, I began the task of untangling the snarled legs of her kids. Once accomplished, I pushed one back and the other immediately shot out like a cork from a bottle of champagne, so great were her contractions. I helped number 2 into the world to save Polka some effort, and she began to clean up her children, dismissing me with a glare that let me know my services were no longer needed.
Two months later at weaning time, Polka had not bounced back despite the great amounts of feed she was receiving to make up for the copious amount of milk being consumed by her boys, who at that point towered over the other kids. The decision was made to retire the Grand Dame, allowing her live out her remaining years as Queen B, ruling over her minions unmolested by small sucking hoovers. She was sequestered for the breeding season in a paddock of her own and not allowed to mingle with McDreamy…aka Daddy Goat. That was our plan. Apparently hers was different.
A week ago, as I was feeding the herd and taking note of the goat ladies’ developing udders, I was shocked to see that Polka’s was developing, too. What the heck? How could this be? Is she experiencing one of those phantom pregnancies, so predisposed to motherhood was she? Um, no. Whatever happened, happened through a wire fence. My heart sank as I realized Polka would need to be watched like a hawk when her due date arrived.
Fast forward to last night: The goat ladies are called for their evening meal, and the usual pandemonium ensues. The gate is opened and a swarm of does descend upon the feed trough. I close the gate behind them to keep the sheep where they belong and do a head count, coming up one short. Noting the absence of a giant set of horns, I look up on the hill to see Polka ever-so-slowly making her way toward the barn. As I open the gate and she steps through, I see a long string of mucus emanating from her hind parts. Barely glancing at the feed (uh oh) she makes her way into the barn and straight to a stall where she begins pawing and straining. This is sooo not good, I mentally note, given that even if she had her encounter with McDreamy on the very first day he was brought over from the other side of the farm, she would still be 10 days early—not a long enough gestation to produce viable babies.
I gave her water and headed to the house for dinner, allowing her time to settle in. She knows the drill, and this certainly ain’t her first rodeo. Half and hour later I headed back to the barn, where I find her in much the same state, except for the “I need your help” look now in her eyes. Upon assessing the situation, I determine that things are not progressing normally. No big, bulbous water bag or baby appendages protruding; just a thin trickle of blood-tinged fluid with each strain. Time to go in for a feel-around. The intrusion of my hand produces an involuntary contraction—a BIG one—on Polka’s part. And what I feel makes my heart drop. No tiny front feet and nose (what you hope to feel!) or even bottoms-up back feet (a situation that must be quickly dealt with) but rather a pointy little butt. I know it’s a butt because I can feel a tail. Or is it an ear? No, it can’t be an ear because I don’t feel any eye sockets. Crap! The absolute worst mal-presentation one can face. There is no possible way a doe can pass a baby in this position through the birth canal, which means it must be pushed back down until there is enough room to re-position it. All of this was complicated by a second body making it difficult for me to tell which pieces and parts belonged to whom.
I texted Jerry I NEED HELP! and in 60 seconds he appeared at the stall door. We got Polka up on her feet and Jerry held her upright while I attempted to turn a kid. After what seemed like an hour but in truth was about 10 minutes, I located and straightened back legs and got them in the birth canal. A few pushes later, a weak, not-quite –finished-baking doeling came out of the oven. Dangling the baby upside down and swinging her side to side (to drain fluid from her lungs) Jerry managed to get the newborn to take a breath. He wrapped her in a warm towel and rubbed briskly, eventually eliciting from her a tiny muted bleat.
With one baby out of the way, I reasoned, I should be able to get the second one out quickly. But upon re-entry, I found kid number two was substantially larger, to the extent that I thought we must be dealing with triplets. But no, there didn’t seem to be enough legs present for that to be the case. But just like baby number one, this one was in the same backward, butt-first confounding position. And, judging by the difficulty I was having, my mind flashed back to what a vet had told me regarding difficult dystocias: A live baby will help itself be born, as if by instinct trying to align with the birth canal. A dead baby will not. It is almost like a rag doll—you get its head and front feet aligned and all of a sudden it’s head and neck flops sideways and backward and you’re back to square one. I was getting no help at all from the gargantuan kid. I resigned myself to the thought that what we were trying to do now was save Polka, but she was fading fast. There was too much blood for birthing it seemed to me; perhaps she was bleeding out. Significant time had passed, as had the doeling whose lungs weren’t yet fully developed.
“What do you want to do?” Jerry kept asking, every bit as upset as I was about Polka’s painful bleats coming further apart and weaker by the minute. “I don’t know!” I sobbed, feeling helpless and lost as I looked down at my blood and fluid stained clothes.
Jerry always tells people that after a tough birthing, I look like I was the first critter to come out, but right now thinking about that joke brought not a smile but a pang of guilt. Why couldn’t I fix this for Polka? And damn you anyway, bi-otch, WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST FREAKIN’ ENJOY RETIREMENT? But my anger passed quickly as I remembered how much this doe had contributed to my personal development. She didn’t want to be put on the shelf…that was not how she rolled. This would be one more reminder from God just how little I have control over.
In my heart I knew that all signs pointed to the end of the line for Polka, my foundation dairy doe and the bane of Jerry’s existence. The one to whom the herd looked to for guidance, and who has taught every last one of them that humans exist solely to provide food and comic relief for the caprine species. The one who taught me that the wrong milking technique would ALWAYS result in the milk pail being kicked into next week, and that each and every fenceline would be regularly tested for breach-able spots. The tough-as-nails she-devil that let the cows and horses know just who ruled the roost, and the one of whom Jerry always said when I was being contrary, “You know, you and that goat are a lot alike.”
A quick calculation of how long it would take the vet to make it to our place at 10 p.m. on a rainy night told me that that plan was unacceptable, so I asked my dear, sweet husband to do what I can never bring myself to do. While he went to the house to fetch the gun, I sat with Polka and cradled her head. She licked my hand and for once acted as if my stroking her face didn’t irritate her to bits. She looked confused by my tears, as if to say “What’s the big deal? This is what goats do, right up until they can’t.”
Goodbye, best girl. Damn you.