The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

A goat tradition

Goat grazing on rye

A club I once attended had a saying, "If we hold an event twice in a row, then it becomes a tradition." With a goat, this is even more true.

After tethering our girls after the human lunch for three days running, during which time we allowed the caprines to graze until Abigail could barely waddle home afterwards, our goats decided there was no point in eating morning hay. Why not just wait for afternoon rye and clover? So, on day four, when life got in the way and I didn't let the girls out until 4 pm, the moaning and bellyaching coming from the goat area was overwhelming. Abigail told me she was starving to death...even though she still had plenty of hay in the manger.

Grazing clover

Goat laundryUnfortunately, it's not quite the season for daily gorging yet. Over the course of three short days, our goat herd mowed down all of the high rye areas in our yard, and now there are just patches of newly growing grasses and clover for them to eat. I guess our girls will have to make do with half-full bellies for another week or two until the grass catches up with the overwintering grains. (Or they'll have to resort to eating hay. Horrors!)

Goat closeup

As a side note, I was considering starting to milk Abigail out in the evenings after our milk production nearly doubled one day this week to a pint during our morning milking. But when I got our doe on the milking stand that evening, I discovered that her udders were much emptier than I've ever seen them. In other words, I'm now confident that Abigail holds back about half of her morning milk for the little rascal, which means she's likely producing at least a quart a day (even though she only gives us a cup). Maybe that one high-production day she just forgot to hold back Lamb Chop's milk, or he hadn't drunk her quite as dry the night before? Either way, as I watch Abigail's kid eat a little more grass every day, I dream of the milk production once he's weaned.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I had no idea that goats could 'hold back' milk - I hope that once Lamb Chop is weaned, she decides it's OK to let YOU have the milk instead!
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Sat Apr 4 10:40:02 2015
Probably best to keep them in and not let them gorge on fresh greens untill 4pm or so, goats will bloat on too much rich food .
Comment by diogenese Sat Apr 4 16:43:13 2015

Going to an all green grass diet will change the flora in there rumen and then trying to switch back and forth may mess with there digestive system. The suggestion to not let them out on pasture until after 4 pm is a good one and then limiting it to an hour or less will help keep both sets of rumen bacteria working. As you know, when a goat don't get what they want, they discuss it loudly. Learn to turn a deaf ear!

Comment by Anonymous Sat Apr 4 19:19:22 2015
Diogenese and Anoymous --- You may have missed my earlier posts on the topic, but we've been easing our goats onto green grass for about two weeks now, letting them have a bit more greenery every day. They seem to be pretty well accustomed to it by now, which is why I've started letting them eat until they look pretty full. The goal with not taking them out until after lunch was that they would hopefully eat hay first, and the hay in the manger does go down a bit (even though Abigail seems to be doing her best to save as much room as possible for dessert....)
Comment by anna Sat Apr 4 20:03:01 2015
Is it really possible for a mammal to allot the quantity of milk at a milking? My experience is that the let-down reflex is just that - it's all or nothing. Also, the quantity of milk produced will align with the quantity removed. I imagine a soothing routine would promote the let-down.
Comment by Jackie Sat Apr 4 22:08:18 2015

Jackie --- Several people have told me that their goats withhold enough milk for the kids during milking, so it does seem to be a thing goats can do. For example: "When you milk the mom, she will hold back milk to save for her kids, so don't worry that they aren't getting enough. (We don't milk out completely for the first week, so mom learns she needs to hold back.). We do not mind if the mother holds back some of her milk for her kids because the kids come first and we are just sharing the milk with them. The kids stay on their mom all day and so they, in effect, take care of the evening milking." --- Fias Co Farm

Our doe lets the milk flow fast and heavy...then just stops, so I'm 99% sure she can stop giving milk when she wants to save some back for Lamb Chop. After all, it should be no different from stopping peeing mid flow if you need to --- not easy, but quite feasible if you've got a reason to do it. :-)

Comment by anna Sun Apr 5 08:11:23 2015

I dunno. Seems more comparable to a male ejaculating. Can you stop yourself mid-orgasm? The let-down reflex can be really explosive for a new mother (human) learning how to nurse; it moderates with experience, but still, there's no stopping it mid-flow, unless - speculatively - the infant were to stop suckling. Maybe there is a stronger response when the goat kid is suckling rather than a pump. Or the goat kid is more effective at extracting the milk than a pump. Hands might be better. Stripping etc. It may be that goat lore is full bunkum same as gardening lore. I wouldn't know till I get a goat!

Comment by Jackie Sun Apr 5 22:28:57 2015
My cow occasionally holds back milk. There will be some but only a fraction of what I should get. I am milking once a day so we still have the calf. When she doesn’t let down her milk I can let the calf on her for about 10 seconds or less. When I pull the calf off the cows udder will be full. She did this all the time when I first started milking her but not much now.
Comment by Ned Mon Apr 6 15:50:46 2015

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