Our youngest cat, Edgar, didn’t come in with the others. So I left the porch light on and decided to stay up and keep an eye out for him while continuing to re-read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” late into the night.
In the house with my book, I kept hearing a persistent rustling outside my window. Potent stuff when you’ve recently read Stoker’s account of poor unconscious Lucy: wreathed in garlic, a bat flapping at her window, her would-be-heroes helplessly wondering what the heck is going on.
On the second floor, and certain it wasn’t Edgar at the window, I assumed it was a moth attracted to my lamplight that was flapping at the screen. In any event, I didn’t invite whom/whatever it was inside.
Around 2 a.m. I went out to see if Edgar had come home.
But I heard noises coming from the stall where Forsythia, our one pregnant goat, was sequestered. I grabbed the flashlight and found a newborn kid: wet and messy, with his mother licking him all over and gently grunting. And him grunting in return.
The grunting is a thing goats do with their newborns. They’re saying their first “hello”; and also learning the idiosyncrasies of each other’s voices. Eventually the two will be able to communicate exclusively, even from great distances – no matter how many other mothers and kids may be in their herd.
After about 10 minutes of this grunting ritual, the kid struggled to stand and then took his first wobbly steps. It’s amazing how quickly they can get on their feet and get on with business. And the first business of a newborn kid is to eat.
The colostrum in a mother goat’s first milk is rich with all sorts of proteins and antibodies that a newborn kid desperately needs in order to kick-start his immune system. So a good goatherd will make sure the kid nurses soon after birth. It’s usually an easy job, since the kids are hardwired to get up and find the food. And that’s exactly what little Adolfo did.
His name being “Adolfo” was a forgone conclusion, by the way. Some friends and I had recently spent a lovely afternoon at El Farol, a restaurant in Santa Fe, N.M. It was the day before Thanksgiving, so there wasn’t a crowd, and we’d all relaxed into delightful conversation with our excellent bartender, Adolfo. When the topic shifted to goats we promised that our next male kid would be named in his honor.
Now little newborn goat Adolfo was wobbling over to his mother and attempting to nurse. Again, newborn goat kids are pre-programmed as to how all this works. He knew he had to get something in his mouth and he knew that thing was somewhere on his mother. He nuzzled around her front legs, then her belly, before finally finding where he needed to be.
To my horror Forsythia then knocked him away. She’d always been an excellent mother in the past, so I had no idea what was going on. Maybe she was confused or spooked; or her maternal programming had gone awry. But she couldn’t seem to tolerate having him near her udders – and the life-giving, colostrum-laden milk for which he hungered.
No matter how often and eagerly he tried, she was resolute. Adolfo wouldn’t be allowed to drink tonight.
I tried gently holding Forsythia in place, but she would twist and gyrate every time Adolfo got anywhere close to nursing. Something just wasn’t right. Maybe they needed some time and space. So I decided to turn off the light and step out of the stall.
It was dark. Really dark.
A few fireflies flashed their erratic signals high in the trees. And several steadfast stars shone in the much further distance.
A sudden breeze awoke the wind chimes for just one haunted instant.
An owl hooted, very loud and very close. I looked for him in the branches above, but saw only unfathomable shadows.
I heard the flap of large wings flying away. Then the yelp of a fox.
Our dog Tobey, in the paddock with the other goats, responded with a few warning barks. And the now-distant owl hooted again in the ensuing silence.
By now it was well after 4 a.m.
A flick of the flashlight and a look into the stall revealed a still-hungry kid and his obstinate mother. So I stepped back in.
It wasn’t a pretty picture. I contorted myself into a position which allowed me to hold Forsythia’s head, while pinning her body against the wall and holding her legs to keep her from kicking.
Finally, after much maneuvering and several failed attempts, Adolfo had what I deemed to be a satisfactory first meal.
As I walked back toward the house I sensed a dark shape moving in the underbrush beside me. Then Edgar sprang forward and ran to wait for me by the front door.
Back in the house again and unable to sleep, I went back to my book.
The vampire was on the run and the flapping at my window had subsided as the sun began to rise. And I finally drifted into sleep.
For the next two days, I repeatedly had to force Forsythia to nurse her son.
On the third day Forsythia relented.
And happy Adolfo now drinks his fill.
Derrick Ivey is an actor, directer, designer, and gentleman farmer who lives in Chatham County.