Our Milking Story
Milking a goat can be a rewarding, relaxing, enjoyable experience...eventually! As with anything else, you have to get the hang of it and so does your goat before you become a great milking team. It takes a bit of skill to actually get the milk out of the udder. Once you do, you will get the ultimate reward-a natural, healthy wonderful product!
At our farm, we lead very busy lives, as most of us do these days. My husband and I both work outside the farm and of course there seems like there are a million things to shuttle the kids to. So for us, milking just once a day in the morning most of the year is what works. Your does will produce more milk if you milk approximately every twelve hours, but that's not always feasible. We are fortunate to have some great producing does who give us plenty of milk even when we milk just once daily. During the summer months, when life is a bit more laid back, I am able to milk twice daily.
We milk all of our does by hand all the way through the winter. Machines are noisy, very expensive, and overall will not save you any time unless your milking many goats. Milking out my six does, including set-up and clean-up, takes me roughly thirty minutes. Some people have to use a machine if they suffer from carpal-tunnel or something that does not allow them to do the repetitious nature of milking. If you do need a machine, make sure you learn how to use it correctly as improperly used, a machine can easily cause mastitis. Hand milking is still an important skill to learn, since even with a machine you will still on occasion need to hand milk.
My favorite time of day, yes, even in the winter, is being out in the barn sitting and milking, with my shoulder resting against one of my does, listening to her rhythmic crunching of grain. It's where I do most of my thinking and dreaming in life. Of course, my first year milking wasn't anything like that! It was messy, crazy, unorganized and anything but relaxed! Remember to be patient. You can do it and yes, your goat will stand there and let you!
How Should You begin?
First you will obviously need a goat in milk. You will either need to buy a goat that is already milking, a bred doe or purchase a younger doe and wait until she is bred and then freshens. I recommend starting our with a young or yearling doe and raising her yourself, especially if you are new to goats. Of course you will need two! Start out slow and give yourself plenty of time to learn everything you will need to know. It easy to get excited and want to jump right in, but by starting out with younger animals, raising them yourself, picking the buck to breed them to, delivering your first babies and milking that goat you will have a very rewarding experience. It's also less nerve racking because by then you will know your goat's behavior very well and will be able tell even when she is a little off which may signal a problem.
You've Got Your Goat!
Now you have a goat in milk and your ready to begin. Here are some basics: Remain calm! Have everything you need ready! Pretend you know what you're doing! (this is to fool the goat) Don't let anyone watch you! Read all you can! Even books describing milking large goats can be helpful. With Nigerians, you will be mainly using your thumb, index and middle fingers. Watch someone milk! We always welcome back people who have purchased does from us to do some observing and hands-on milking.
What You Will Need
Stainless Steel Milk Totes
Funnel & Filters
Glass jars for milk storage
Clorox & Dawn for udder wash
Udder Balm, Goat Brush & Teat Spray
Treats after milking
Got Goat's Milk? YES!
SUPPLIES & EQUIPMENT:
A clean place to milk, stanchion to secure goat, stainless steel milk tote (4 qt size for 1-2 goats, 6 qt for more), stainless steel bowl (low, not too wide, no cover), strip cup, paper towels (heavy duty ones with the half sheet perforations), bucket of udder wash, brush for goat, udder balm (petroleum jelly works fine, I like Bag Balm), teat spray, scale, milk record sheet, glass jars to store your milk, stainless steel funnel, milk filters, sanitizing solution for your milking equipment and treats for your good goats!
Where to milk-If you have access to a separate building or an enclosed room in your barn, that is ideal. However, I started out milking right in the aisle like most other goat owners I know and it works fine. In fact, it makes sense to give milking a go without investing too much money to make sure it's something you will enjoy doing. The main drawbacks are keeping barn odors out of your milk, keeping the dust down and keeping yourself warm in the winter. Keep the area clean and don't milk when someone is cleaning the barn and stirring up odors!
Stanchion-There are many types of stanchions to choose from. You can buy pre made ones made from steel, aluminum, PVC and wood. Or you may choose to build your own. I use a metal stanchion. I like the fact that it is hard to tip, but it is very heavy and cumbersome to move. Some of the lightweight models look great to bring to shows, but I don't know that I would like them during daily use. I would recommend a steel or wood one to start. For a wood stand, you can find plans in most goat books. The main feature is the head gate to secure the goats head. If you are buying a stand, make sure if accommodates Nigerians!
Milk Totes-Don't buy anything but stainless steel! Other metals pit and corrode. I bought a cheaper aluminum one to start and it was a waste of money. I like the 4 qt size. I have a few so that as I fill them up, I can put them in an ice bath to chill the milk fast.
Milk Bowl-Do not buy any type of milking bucket you see in goat catalogs. They do not fit under Nigerians! Forget the half-moon covers too. Your aim will not be good enough anyway to start. Collect up your small stainless steel milking bowls from your kitchen instead. You'll find a size that you like. I use several different size bowls depending on what stage of lactation the doe is in.
Strip Cup-Cheap is fine. The milk that goes into your strip cup isn't being consumed by you so any material is fine. If you buy an aluminum one like mine, it will just look lousy but do the job. Buy one with a solid cover, not a screen. It's easier to evaluate the milk.
Funnel & Filters-Again, the funnel should be made of stainless steel. Buy the right size milk filters for your funnel.
Glass storage jars-Half gallon canning jars are ideal. You can buy plastic screw on caps instead of using the metal lids & rings. The plastic caps are easy to write dates on too.
Scale-You can use just about any type of scale you want. The hanging style scales in goat catalogs are sometimes pricey. I found my scale at a kitchen store. I can set my tote on top and as I add each doe's milk, I record the weight.
Udder wash-My Udder Wash-2 TBSP Clorox (original), a drop of Dawn & 2 quarts of warm water in a plastic pail. There are many commercial udder washes sold but most are made for cows and may be harsh for goats so be careful what you choose.
Paper Towels-I like Viva, but any strong paper towel will do. The half sheet is perfect, one to wash with, one to dry with.
Udder Balm-Any type of balm that is petroleum based will work, even plain petroleum jelly. You need a little on your fingertips so your fingers glide on the teats. I personally use Bag Balm. I always have it around the barn since it's good first aid for cuts.
Brush-A small pony size brush with a medium bristle works well.
Teat Spray-After I'm done milking, I like to spray the teats with Fight-Bac. It "chills" the teat which helps the teat close and prevents bacteria from entering the teat between milkings. The does need to get used to this, but they do.
Milk Record Sheet-I think it's very important to track what your doe is producing. Decreased production can signal estrus (important if you need to breed her) or even health problems. It's also a great way to track which genetics in your herd produce more milk.
Sanitizing Solution-I have used many commercial solutions, but they are pricey and I find that most of them leave a residue. On a daily basis, I mix 1/2 cup Clorox original bleach in 4 gallons hot water to sanitize my milking equipment. Every so often I use a commercial cleaning agent which brings back the shine to the stainless steel.
Treats-After milking, I like to give my goats a treat for good behavior. I like Manna Pro licorice goat treats. They are small and the goats like them. You can also use many types of horse treats, just break them up into small pieces. You can also use an unsweetened cereal. Stay away from anything containing yeast.
STEP 1: Preparation
Sanitize all of the equipment that will come into contact with your milk: Milk Tote, Milk Bowl, Funnel & Ring, Storage Jar & Cap. Let them air dry before using. Either do this the night before, or early in the morning. You want to do this as close to milking time as you can while still allowing enough time for everything to air dry.
Before bringing your doe to your stand to milk, it's helpful to have everything ready. Place your milk tote on your scale, cover your milk bowl with a paper towel, set your udder wash, brush, udder balm, strip cup and teat spray within easy reach on the back of the stand.
STEP 2: Things To Do Before You Milk
My goats run to the milk room! They know breakfast is waiting! They even know which order they are milked. I simply call them and let them out of their stall and they run down the aisle and jump up on the stand.
Secure your goat in the stanchion. If she does not want to put her head in the gate, sprinkle some grain in her dish to entice her.
Bittersweet is ready!
Brush off your goat. Under her belly too. You don't want loose hair or hay stuck in her coat getting in your milk. In the warmer months, keep your goats clipped so she'll stay cleaner. (This picture was taken in January)
The white ones are always dirty!
Sweep off the stand. This removes any of the hair and dirt you brushed off your goat and anything she tracked up on the stand.
Little corn brooms are great.
Wet a towel in your udder wash. I use a full size sheet in the warmer months (I wet and wash the entire udder), and a half sheet in the winter (I only wash the teats and udder floor). I also wash my hands off in the bucket.
The warm water feels good!
Wash the udder and teats, then toss the towel. Each goat gets a fresh towel. This is just for basic sanitation. By not using the same towels, there is little possibility of contamination from one goat to the next. Washing also removes any teat spray you used the last milking.
Dry the udder completely. This again is a winter photo. In the warmer months the doe wouldn't have as much hair to work around! In winter, I use scissors to keep any long hairs trimmed and out of the way.
Drying the udder
Squirt the first stream of milk from each teat into the strip cup. You don't want the milk that's been sitting in the bottom of her teat since the last milking. I am usually holding the strip cup (I was holding a camera) up closer and squirt the milk from each teat separately and examine.
Using the strip cup
Evaluate your milk. Do you see any flakes, strings or clumps? If you do you, your doe probably has mastitis and the milk should not be consumed. Is the milk the right consistency? Is it watery, or thick? Does it look different than yesterday? This could signal a problem or upcoming problem. Is there blood in the milk or is it pink tinged? If it's just a little and she's just freshened then there's probably no reason to worry. Capillaries sometimes burst when the doe bags up. This should clear up on it's own in a day or so. MY barn cats love their "strip cup" milk every morning!
Is it normal?
STEP 3: Milking
There are all kinds of factors that will make your does udders easy or more challenging to milk. Teat size, orifice opening and udder texture are all very important. The doe’s body length and height also play a role in the milk room. Your doe can be an excellent milker without having a “Grand Champion” udder. I have a few does who out-milk their herd mates even though their udders could use some improvement.
Teat size: I like adequately sized, longer teats personally. They are both esthetically pleasing because they are in proportion to the doe’s size and they allow me to milk the doe out efficiently. I am not a fan of excessively plump teats you see on some does. I find it actually slows me down since my fingers can't empty the teat each squeeze and the teat moves around at odd angles when I’m expressing the milk. Of course, little tiny teats are difficult too since there isn't much to grasp and little milk is expressed each squeeze. If you have a first freshener with small teats, let the kids nurse! They will help elongate the teats for easier milking. I have had a few does that were difficult to milk out quickly the first freshening, but after raising some kids, were no problem.
Orifice opening: You can have great sized teats with orifices that are small and don't let much milk through. You want strong sphincter muscles to close the teat and keep bacteria from entering the udder, but you also want them to open enough to let enough milk through to make milking easy.
Udder texture: A soft udder with nice texture also makes milking easier. Usually does with nice dairy skin also have nice texture to their udder.
Doe's Body Length & Height: The size of the doe plays an important role in milk production. It is all relative really, a larger doe generally will produce more milk than a smaller doe. Of course, we raise dwarf goats so we don't actually want them "big", but we doe want them average size for their breed (average 19" at the withers) and we want their bodies long. The longer the body, the more room for internal organs. A well developed rumen and lots of room for lungs and heart help a doe produce more milk.
Genetics and Good Breeding: A well bred doe (one who's dam was bred to a buck who complements her good qualities and is strong in qualities she lacks) is likely to become a good dairy goat. Also if her dam and grand-dam were productive, she should be too.
Hand Milking: How To Do It!
STEP 1-Grasp the teat up high where the teat meets the udder with your thumb and index finger. Be careful not to actually grab part of the udder.
STEP 2- Holding your hands steady at that height (do not pull down with your hands), squeeze your thumb and index finger together trapping the milk in the teat, and then squeeze your middle finger to force the milk out of the teat. Your middle finger can travel slightly down the teat, but not far and not to the end.
STEP 3- You can alternate milking each teat or do both at the same time; whichever is more rhythmic for you.
STEP 4-Continue milking this way until the flow drops off quite a bit. Massage or “bump” the udder to encourage the doe to let down more milk and continue milking.
STEP 5-When the udder feels empty, you want to strip off the remaining milk. Now you can squeeze and travel your fingers to the end of the teat a few times to get the last drops.
A FEW THINGS NOT TO DO: You don’t want to squeeze and travel your fingers to the end of the teats when milking. This is uncomfortable for the doe and damages the teats when done excessively. Same thing with dragging your hands up and down when you milk; your doe will not like it!
STEP 4: Milk Handling
STEP 5: Clean-Up