Janus, a Two-Headed Goat

A Miracle Baby at Nueske Farms

Janus, a Two-Headed Goat

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On a brisk spring morning in Wittenburg, Wisconsin Jocelyn Nueske noticed a goat having some trouble giving birth. A seasoned mother, the goat had successfully pushed out one baby but was having difficulties with the next. When Jocelyn went in to feel if the kid needed to be turned or assisted out, what she felt confused her. At first, it felt like two more kids, but as she felt further, there was only one body. With the help of her mother, they were able to maneuver the baby goat out. To their surprise, the little buckling had two heads. Mama goat was sore, but fortunately, she had been a bit “stretched” by previous births and recovered just fine.

Nueske Farms LLC currently milks 286 goats and has between 600-700 babies in addition to a second barn that milks almost 200 and has about 400-500 babies. With that many goats, assisting in births is pretty commonplace. The family that owns Nueske farms does everything they can to save their animals, and they rarely lose a baby. Naturally, they chose to do everything they could to help this new baby goat. Isn’t it great that as a society we have the technology to help and save those who wouldn’t have been able to survive a couple of hundred years ago? Knowing that it could all be in vain, the Nueske family dried off the brand new baby goat and took him into the house for some colostrum.

With feedings every two to three hours, that little goat lived through the night, and then another. Every day his chances improved, so it was time to name him. With a little thought, he was named Janus after the mythological Roman god with two faces. The mythological Janus was the god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. It seemed to fit perfectly for the little goat born with two heads during a period of confusion and transition in the world.

When it was possible, the Nueske family took little Janus to a vet to be examined. Via X-ray, they were able to see that he did indeed have most of two fully formed skulls, fused along the side, and conjoining in the back. They could also see a cleft palate in one mouth, and while the other mouth wasn’t as readily visible in the X-rays, they could assume that it also had a cleft palate. The rest of his body was normal and healthy. Both of his mouths drink milk, and thankfully after a little time, Janus was able to stretch to a bottle every four to five hours instead of every two to three.

While most baby goats can stand very soon after birth, Janus had difficulty controlling his legs. His heads were also very heavy for his neck muscles to hold up. Even though he was given a soft bed in which to lie, he was still an energetic baby goat and wanted to move around. His family took an old baby walker and fashioned it to fit Janus, complete with foam bumpers around his head. Every day, with physical therapy to work on standing and walking mechanics, he got a little stronger and closer to walking on his own. His neck muscles gradually became stronger, and his head control increased visibly in the videos posted on the farm’s Facebook page.

Via this Facebook page, people cheered Janus on every day that he progressed and continued to live. They celebrated his birthday in one-week increments, and with each week that passed, it seemed that he would pull through and live. However, it was not meant to be. At one day shy of his one month birthday, Janus passed away. He woke up that morning happy as usual, but by his midmorning meal he wasn’t as hungry then his temperature dropped throughout the day. He became less active, and within a few hours, he was gone. The Nueske family as well as those on Facebook mourned. While they had prepared themselves for that possible outcome, every day caused more hope to grow that he would be able to survive. Janus had become part of the family.

“We will definitely never forget him or the experience,” says Jocelyn Nueske. “ It definitely feels strange with him gone. the first day after he died we would glance over to his bed and jumper sometimes expecting him to be there all excited for feeding time jumping around. We have also learned that many people loved to watch his progress which was very heartwarming.”

Janus brought many people together and helped display the good that is in people’s hearts. A T-shirt was designed with Janus’ face and the text “Dare to be Different.” While there were naysayers who did not think that he should be given a chance, human compassion won out and gave Janus a good life. May his memory live on and remind us to face challenges with faith and kindness.

Photo taken by Carrie Nueske

Originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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