GREEN RIVER, Wyo. — It was the middle of the night in the dead of winter.
Samuel Walker had been sleeping for less than four hours, but the 10-year-old Green River boy didn’t have a problem with climbing out of his warm bed at 3 a.m. to face the bitter weather outside.
He and mom Crystal Walker bundled up and headed out. They weren’t exactly sure what was awaiting them at the large metal building near the horse corrals, but Samuel knew that two brand-new lives were counting on him.
The previous day, his 4-H goat Minnie had shown signs that the time was coming for her to go into labor. It was the family’s first experience with goat kidding, and they were concerned about the cold weather and a forecast storm. As 4-H livestock, the goat kids needed to be born during winter so they would have time to gain enough weight to be entered in the fair.
Throughout the day on Jan. 19, family members returned to check on Minnie.
At the 7 p.m. visit, Samuel, his mom and younger brother Colten decided to stay for several hours to see if Minnie was having contractions. At 11 p.m., though, the Nubian goat had still not made a lot of progress. Samuel didn’t want to leave her, but was finally convinced by his mom that they should go sleep for a few hours and then come back.
In the stillness of the early morning, Samuel and his mom quietly donned several layers of clothing and grabbed blankets, hand warmers and the bucket full of items that served as a birthing kit. Making their way in the cold blackness from the vehicle to the barn, they turned on the dim lights. There, lying in the hay, were two newborns: one brown and one black.
Nothing stirred without, but in the faint corner of that cavernous barn, busy hands labored through the rise of the dawn to ensure that those two tiny creatures had the best start possible in life.
Crystal’s former concerns about how her son would react to the birthing process melted away as she watched him take charge. In the past, the sight of blood could make Samuel queasy or even lightheaded.
His first venture as a member of the Project Hope 4-H club had been a turkey. After selling it at auction during the 2017 fair, the family discovered that it was up to them to slaughter the animal before giving it to the buyer. When butchering time came, Samuel had been bothered by the process, especially when it came time for gutting the poultry.
There was none of that now.
Other than mentioning how gross it was when the placenta was delivered, nothing fazed him. He had no problem coating the umbilical cords with iodine ointment to prevent infection.
Out came the old towels and the blow dryer. Mom and son each grabbed a baby and started the rub down. Minnie did her part, too.
“You have to let the mom help dry them off, so they get attached and make a good connection,” Samuel said.
Black Lydia was already partly dry, but little Charlie Brown, whose name matched his color, was still very wet. It was important to act fast. Once babies get a chill, they have trouble warming up, and it can put their young lives in danger.
From 3 to 7 a.m., Samuel stepped it up. He worked diligently to make sure the babies were dry, fluffy and warm and could nurse on their own. Charlie Brown had trouble getting his feet under him and had to be hand fed using his mom’s milk in a syringe. The little goat eventually started perking up and nursing on his own. His struggles to walk continued until the following day, but after that no one would suspect he’d had a bumpy start in life.
Once the babies were properly dried, it was time to dress them up. Thermal socks borrowed from Samuel’s dad became blue/gray sweaters for the kids.
At 7 a.m. Saturday, dad Stephen arrived to check on everyone. Samuel and his mom headed home for some well-deserved rest.
They weren’t done yet, though. Stella was still pregnant and was expected to go into labor any day.
Stella was a first-time mom, so the signs showing that labor and delivery were imminent were much harder to detect. The day after Minnie gave birth, Stella stared exhibiting some of the signs that she might be getting going into labor. Family members checked on her several times that day, but there was less concern this time around since temperatures had warmed up even though it had snowed.
On Monday at 7 a.m., Samuel arrived at the pig barn to find two new babies, Charlotte and Benny, both doing well and mostly dry. The process of tending newborns was repeated. Samuel’s education about labor, delivery and the care of newborn kids came from watching computer videos in addition to his 4-H instruction.
Stella made a great mother, but that wasn’t originally going to be her fate. She was purchased in March 2018 as a 4-H market goat, which meant that she was supposed to be sold for meat at the fair the following summer.
The Boer breed doe soon started tugging on Samuel’s heartstrings, though.
A mischievous youngster, Stella kept jumping into a wheelbarrow and trying to get the lid off the big metal garbage can in order to gain access to the rations inside. Once, when the family van door was left open, Stella jumped up to check out the child in the car seat. Anytime the pen gate was left closed but not locked, she would manage to open it and get out. The young nanny was curious and explorative, and many of her exploits were an attempt to get more feed.
A new plan
As time went on, Stella became less of a 4-H project and more of a pet. Samuel loved her and didn’t want to sell her. While the family was trying to decide what to do about it, a 4-H leader mentioned the fact that Samuel could use Stella as a breeding goat rather than a market goat. That became the new plan.
Goats are social animals and don’t do well alone, so Minnie the dairy goat was purchased and became Stella’s companion in June. Samuel had the task of milking her morning and night. He used the milk to make caramels, which he sold to raise money to buy supplies for the babies expected if all went well.
Shortly after Minnie arrived, it was time to make plans for breeding.
“Before we brought them to their boyfriend, we had to decrease the milk we took from her (Minnie’s) udder so she would stop producing milk,” Samuel explained.
Breeding was successful, as was both goats’ experience at the 2018 Sweetwater County Fair. Minnie had been purchased after the 4-H deadline, so she had to be entered in open class. Minnie took overall dairy doe honors in open class, and Stella won overall breeding doe in 4-H.
Since then, Samuel has stayed as busy as ever. He takes care of six goats every day in addition to the chickens in his backyard. The four kids are doing well and provide entertainment as well as work as they prance around. Soon, they will be taking walks on leashes.
“I like playing with them and seeing how the babies thrive and grow up,” Samuel said.
Samuel wants to continue raising and breeding goats and will be even better prepared for his next opportunity to welcome newborn kids into the world. His only hope is that when that chance comes again, he will arrive in time to witness the actual birth.