For weeks I’ve gone to the goat shed to feed, and I’ve had my eye on a couple of goats that were pregnant. My mind was made up that I was going to make a documentary of them having the babies if I was home when they were delivered. I even looked up all the pictures that I could find on the Internet to see if I could handle what I was actually going to witness when a goat gave birth. How was I going to create something that did not have the feel of either Paranormal Activity or The Office? As it turns out, I missed all three deliveries. Yep, three. I was not prepared for the aftermath.
I had used my pregnant goats as a lure to teach my kids how great research could be. One student asked me how I knew a goat was pregnant. My reply was that it looked like a chair was sideways in its stomach. It was “just a feeling.” At the end of the lesson I showed them all a picture of the suspect. They agreed that I was probably right. For two weeks every day my students asked me if my kids had arrived. They hadn’t. The momentum was dying down and I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen. It was about then that I realized there were three pregnant females on the premises. My students were so excited. I even got emails from parents inquiring about the event!
One Saturday I took off for an evening with some friends and left Greg at home to feed. Not thirty-five minutes after I left home, he called me to say that one of the goats had just given birth to twins. I’d missed it! This was compounded by the fact that the other one looked like she would give birth within twenty-four hours. A few hours later I called to make sure Greg had set up the heat lamps at the shed, and he informed me that we already had another set of twins!
The next morning I bundled up to head out into the below freezing weather to check on our new additions. Even though I’d missed the birth, I was armed with my camera. I was also carrying some compost pile material, so I separated from my husband to head in that direction first. I was not expecting the sound of distress that came out of his mouth, but when I looked in his direction, I understood. Maybe three feet from a heat lamp lay one of new baby’s lifeless little bodies. It was small and deflated as if Life had spent little time there. I could barely even see it. He hurried past it to the next pen where he found the same haunting image: one of the twins from the other doe, just a few feet away from warmth, was also dead.
I hung my camera on the fence and rushed over there like people do to a roadside accident. I didn’t want to see, but I needed to see for myself. In the years that I have been at the ranch, my father-in-law did very little to help the goats with their newborns. He always insisted that nature was just going to take its course. I didn’t like his approach, so now that we were left as their caretakers, I insisted on doing things differently. I’m not sure how I think I could have prevented this from happening unless I had been home to spend the night down there with them. Sometimes new mothers have a hard time trying to take care of two babies, but this did not ease my sadness. My husband carried off the tiny newborns and I shoveled up the afterbirth while tears froze on my face.
I sucked it up, got my camera, and made a little movie with the two surviving babies as the stars. It was a sunny day on the ranch, but I saw nothing but gloom. This was not what I had in mind for my first goat movie, but it was an important “Circle of Life” lesson for my students…and for me.