What a day we had today!!  And it’s only 2 in the afternoon! 

For several days now, Shiloh the donkey has been showing signs of impending labor.  She was a rescue that we adopted, and she was already bred.  We just didn’t have a clue when she was due.  I have been studying up as best I can, but I have never seen a horse or other member of the equine species foal, so I wasn’t sure what to look for.  As it turns out, there wasn’t much on line at all about donkey labor.  (Here’s a tip for other donkey owners) I finally figured I’d research horses in the hopes they were similiar.  Thankfully,  donkeys pretty much follow the same signs as horses–though I learned there are a few differences. 

For about a week now, Shiloh’s tail head had been raised, hip muscles and ligaments obviously softened and depressed (“caved-in” on both sides).  Here is her rump shot back in November (remember the infamous pregnancy test?) :

Here is her rump yesterday:

I have also been watching her udder expand.  Many resources I have read swear by a visual “milk test” to predict labor, while others say NEVER milk them.  I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything, so I did the milk test.  Here is a great website about a horse milk test to predict a mare going into labor:  http://yellowhouseranch.com/foaling.htm   This website was really what I started following in the last few days.  HOWEVER, I have now learned that the donkey (at least mine) does not produce the amber color described here.  The udder builds similiarly, then, about a week ago, I was able to squirt a VERY sticky clear water.  3 days ago, it was still clear, but more of it and less sticky.  2 days ago, it squirted in a very nice stream, but still clear.  Yesterday morning, it took on a cloudy appearance.  By the afternoon, she had wax on the end of both teats.  Sorry, I didn’t get a pic of the milk, just the full udder and wax yesterday.

In addition to the other physical signs she was showing, I knew it was getting close.  As of yesterday–24 hours prior to delivery, the baby had definitely dropped so she looked like a bell shape. 

Again, though, she never took on the “pointy-belly” described by all the things I read.  Rather, she remained nice and round until the very end.

I found her stall bedding dug up a few mornings this week, but never saw her actually doing the nesting.  Then, yesterday, after I did the milk test in the morning (for which she was fine), I went out to check on her in the afternoon, and it was clear her temperament had changed.  She is usually very docile and I can handle her anywhere.  Yesterday afternoon, though, she threatened to kick at me when I touched her udder, and then when I petted her side, she turned around and attempted to nip me.  That was way out of character for her, so I didn’t let the kiddos in the pen after that.  I penned her last night and checked on her a couple times (really hoping to see the birth).  She seemed only slightly more agitated than usual–not hanging out beside me nuzzling like she usually does, swishing her tail, and shaking her head as if being bothered by flies (only there are no flies this time of year), and so forth.  I also saw her roll once, which I heard was a sign.  Nothing happened last night, to my surprise.  According to my research, the vast majority of donkeys foal between midnight and 5 am in the dark hours for safety.  It is apparently quite rare to catch a foaling without sleeping in the stall. 

To ensure I could keep an eye on her this morning, I put her out to pasture near the house.  Around 10:00, a wildlife officer showed up to inspect our bee fence (that is, a fence to keep bears out–not keep bees in!).  As we walked out, I noticed Shiloh out in her favorite semi-grassy and sunny area of the field, but with her tail cocked–as though she had to poop, but she didn’t.  I told JR to run check on her.  He ran about half way, and came back and clarified that she was indeed positioned with her tail up in a strange way.  I kept my peripherial vision on her as the officer and I discussed the fence around our hives.  Suddenly, Shiloh pawed the ground a few times, turned a circle, laid down on her side, and gave an obvious, HUGE contraction!  It was time!!!!  I apologized to the officer, asked her if she would mind if I went and checked on things since we had been waiting so long.  Thankfully, she was as excited at the unplanned event as we were.  JR ran into the house to collect everyone else, and we gathered along the tree line, ensuring plenty of safety and distance for Shiloh.  I moved around a little so I could take pictures, and Shiloh never seemed to concerned about us there.  Thank goodness for zoom cameras though!

She pushed and pushed and pushed some more.  First, a white bag appeared. 

Shiloh got up and down a few times, and finally, a set of front legs appeared. 

Shortly after, the nose and tongue appeared.  I breathed a sigh of relief that, for the first time, we were about to witness a totally natural, unassisted birth–something we have been praying for for some time now.  As we watched, Shiloh took a couple breaks, then resumed pushing.  Suddenly, after about 30 minutes since we had first seen her lay down, the foal popped out.  Within another minute, the foal broke free from its sack, and began to try to right itself.

Over the next 30 minutes or so, it began to try to stand.

I managed to get some video of this part as well:  http://youtu.be/wmd5CqaZteM

Finally, after the main show was over, the very kind and understanding officer took her leave.  But not before showing the children a bear head in her truck, and giving them a lesson on poaching investigations.  I was eventually forced to drag myself away to tend to other things.  Eventually, I took Shiloh a treat of molasses-water to drink, loved on her a bit, then, when she seemed comfortable with my presence, I worked my way over to the foal to do some imprint training and to check on the sex.  Now THAT was fun!  And, as if we hadn’t been blessed enough with a live, healthy foal and a natural birth, we even got a little jenny!  (For you city slickers, that means it’s a girl!)

Oh, but as usual, the day didn’t stop there.  Our beef got delivered about an hour after the birth.  As I’m standing there paying the rancher, he looks out at the pasture, and asks, “What is that?” I looked in the direction he was pointing (which was NOT toward the donkeys), and realize one of our bee hives had just split, swarmed, and gathered on a tree branch.  He left, and I frantically set to work to try to save our bees.  Now mind you, the bees are my hubby’s thing and they tend to make me quite nervous.  But, I couldn’t wait, or the swarm would leave.   Thinking we might have an empty hive out there I could put them in, I made a few calls.  Don’t you love the way God just puts people in your path when you need them most?  It just “happens” some neighbors came over to admire the new foal right before this swarm was spotted, and they were telling me how the “grandpa” of the bunch used to raise bees.  I quickly called him and asked him if he’d help.  He had never caught a swarm, and it had been many years, plus he wasn’t keen on climbing my rickety ladder, so I suited up, and feeding off his confidence, found my courage.  The bees were collected on the tip of a tree branch, about 12 feet up.  This isn’t them–no time for a camera right then–but it’s an internet photo that shows basically what they looked like.

I climbed the ladder and held a 5-gallon bucket under the swarm, praying the weight of them landing (about 7 lbs) in the bucket wouldn’t tip my ladder.  My neighbor-helper meanwhile used his pole-saw to reach up and cut the branch just past the swarm.  It couldn’t have been more perfect!  The swarm landed with a thud in my bucket, and I quickly snapped a lid on top and climbed down from the ladder.  Once I got them into the garage, I replaced the sealed lid with a ventilated screen I found.  Here they are, patiently waiting on S to get home:

Boy, what better homeschool day could we ask for?!  Nonetheless, mean mother that I am, once everything calmed down, I still made the kiddos do their normal lesson before going back out to play.  I cleaned up all the stuff used today, put all the beef into the freezer, and came in here to rest and type.  For the record, of all days to be on a day-trip, S had a work trip today that put him up in the mountains with no phone or reception or way to contact him.  I can’t wait for him to get home tonight and share in our excitement. I’ve also decided that he owes me a dinner and movie date for overcoming my fears and catching his swarm for him!  Furthermore, for once in my life, I kind of felt like a real “super-mom” today!

In closing, today was a great day, and we are reminded once again just how blessed we truly are.  Now, though, I need your help.  We need a name for this new little jenny.  We prefer our names to have meaning, and some sort of Biblical meaning or something giving praise and thanks to God is even better.  “Shiloh,” for example, is of Hebrew origin and means “His gift”–appropriate because she was given to us in a time of need.  So, let me know your thoughts for this new cutie.  The winner will receive…..ummmm…..a really big “Thank YOU!” and the joy of seeing your chosen name printed on my blog!  How’s that for a mega-prize?!