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

Learning to milk, part two

Goat hide and seek

I've been wanting to write about my milking adventures for a while, but I never seem to manage to bring the camera during my morning chores. Plus, it's dim up in the starplate coop on cloudy mornings (which seems to be most of them lately), and our milking routine doesn't go as smoothly when a cameraman is present. So you'll have to settle for these shots of our little herd grazing in the woods while I write about milking.

Goats in the woods

As I've mentioned before, I opted to buy an electric milking machine because my carpal tunnel syndrome can barely handle the amount of garden weeding I do --- adding milking on top of that sounded like a recipe for disaster. Of course, it was an added benefit that the milking machine does the work for me, making it less problematic that I don't know how to milk a goat.

I say less problematic, because you really need to know how to milk even if you own a machine to do the job for you. Never mind the fact that your goat isn't going to wait for a new machine to come in the mail if the equipment ever breaks. What's important here and now is that most of the bacteria in milk are found in the first squirt, which has been sitting in the teat since the kid took his last sip twelve hours ago. By milking out and discarding that first squirt by hand, you keep bacterial counts much lower in the final product.

Goat balancing on a log

I'd had one lesson years ago about how to milk a goat and had read books on the subject, but I'll be honest --- it's taken me about a month to finally feel proficient with the process. Since I'd read that it's actually more hygienic not to wash the udder, I instead massage that area to stimulate milk letdown, and I've recently begun to be able to tell by feel whether or not there's any milk in the teat to squirt out. This is what gave me a tough time at first --- I was trying to squeeze out milk that wasn't there! Plus, I was being a little too gentle, imagining what it would feel like if someone squeezed that sensitive part of my anatomy. Watching Lamb Chop head butt his mother in the udder, though, reminded me that goats are more rough and tumble than humans, and Abigail responded well to my firm but gentle touch.

This weekend, I finally got to the point where Abigail and I were working enough in sync that I was able to leave her head out of the stanchion, easily discard the first squirts, and then hook up the machine to harvest the human share. The entire process takes about ten minutes or less (plus about the same amount of time inside preparing the goat ration and then washing out the milking lines). As I'd read elsewhere, milking really isn't the most onerous part of keeping goats --- I spend much more time tethering them around the yard since we're always short of fenced pasture.

Goat eating multiflora rose

Six weeks into Abigail's lactation, we're still only getting about 8 to 10 ounces of milk per day. This is up a little bit since I started tricking Abigail by milking out one teat, then the other, then returning to the first for another round, but Abigail is clearly holding back milk Dwarf doelingfor her kid. I'm guessing that Lamb Chop is consuming maybe a quart of milk per day, although he's finally eating a lot more solid food as well and should be old enough to wean (if Abigail feels like it) in two more weeks.

So we're not getting much milk yet, but what we are consuming is absolutely delicious. I can hardly wait until Artemesia (with her supreme millking genetics) joins the productive portion of our herd. For now, our little doeling only produces smiles and laughter --- not a bad harvest from a goat who costs very little to feed.

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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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What I do with the first lactioners is fasten the kids away overnight and take the morning milk then let them" free range " all day , plus I let the kids suckle on the milking stansion for a week or so before I start milking , gets the doe used to the idea of letting her milk down while tied up .
Comment by diogenese Sun Apr 19 19:44:54 2015
You might buy a bale of alfalfa and dole it out to her, she may be short on protein, since milk takes a lot of energy and protein to make. Alfalfa is the magic fixall to help raise milk production. I know it make a world of difference when we had a milk cow.
Comment by wewally Sun Apr 19 21:09:19 2015

Hi guys,

I saw that you said the goat's milk was delicious. Wow! How does it compare to cow's milk? I've tried goat's milk in the past but thought it tasted like burnt hair. This was from a commercial operation too. Glad you like it but how would you describe it, using cow's milk as the base to compare. Thanks kindly.

Comment by Heather W. Mon Apr 20 03:00:11 2015

diogenese --- We emulated your method without meaning to from the beginning because Abigail didn't want to let her kid nurse and we had to shut her in the stanchion to make it happen. We've been shutting the kid away at night now for about a month, which, interestingly, didn't increase Abigail's extra milk production at all, just made the excess easy to harvest in one fell swoop.

wewally --- We've been giving our goats alfalfa cubes ever since the honeysuckle gave out this winter. But we don't feed grain, which does keep production much lower. We'd rather have healthy goats and healthful milk than higher production though, and Abigail seems to be thriving on her ration of kelp, hay, grass, carrots, alfalfa cubes, and sunflower seeds.

Heather --- Honestly, I've never bought goat milk from the store, so I can't say what's going on with the stuff you tasted. Our goat's milk tastes just like cow's milk but a little sweeter and richer. Of course, the flavor of milk is very dependent on what the goats eat, and I feed a very non-conventional diet (see my note to wewally above), so I wouldn't be surprised if my goat's milk tastes very different from other people's.

Comment by anna Mon Apr 20 09:14:33 2015

Plus, I was being a little too gentle, imagining what it would feel like if someone squeezed that sensitive part of my anatomy. Watching Lamb Chop head butt his mother in the udder, though, reminded me that goats are more rough and tumble than humans

Probably true, although human babies aren't always easy on their mothers' nipples either. :^p

Comment by irilyth Mon Apr 20 11:54:36 2015

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