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

Learning to milk a goat

Milking a goat

Interested goatI learned to milk a goat Friday --- a huge thank you to Megan and Erek, who took time out of their hectic harvest-time schedule to give us personalized attention!  Thank you to the duo of Saanen does, too, who waited an extra hour with full udders so that Mark and I didn't have to get up quite so far before dawn.  (And thank you to Mark, who continues to humor my goat obsession, hoping I'll grow out of it.)

Milking a goat is harder than it looks, but I can tell that the knack is quite learnable.  Megan milked at the speed of light, and I managed to get some good squirts after a while.  Those goats were far more patient than I deserve, due to a cup of sweet feed...and a head lock that kept them from taking their noses out of the feed bowl.

One doe had slightly smaller teats than the other, which made her much harder to milk for the novice.  Erek (Megan's husband) said that he wouldn't dream of trying to milk a miniature goat since the problem would be exacerbated by the goat's diminutive size --- probably the reason many miniature dairy goat owners use automatic milkers that you can buy for a bit less than $200 apiece.

Megan estimates that it takes her fifteen minutes to milk two full-size goats once a day (turning in the kids after the morning milking so that they drink up the other half of the daily milk.)  That starts to answer one of my questions --- whether keeping goats would take significantly more time than just weedwhacking our chicken pastures a few times a year.  (More number-crunching to come before I can really answer that, though.)

Saanen goatMegan clued me in that the dream of feeding a dairy goat little or nothing even if you only milk during the peak pasture season is just that...a dream.  If I'm remembering right, I believe that Megan said the rule of thumb is a pound of grain per doe plus another pound per gallon of milk produced.  Otherwise, your poor goat will milk off all of her fat and get skinny.

Next, Megan let me taste some of the milk, which was a two-tiered test --- taste and ease on my stomach.  The taste test wasn't entirely fair because Megan had left the milk out to come to room temperature so she could make cheese, but I still thought it was quite tasty --- the slight aftertaste wasn't enough to turn me off.  That answers another question --- whether the fancy dairy goat keepers who recommend you keep your goats off pasture so that the browse doesn't impact the flavor of the milk are right.  They probably are if you have a highly advanced palate, but we'll eat old chickens and we'll also drink milk from a browsing goat.

Family milkingOver the last couple of years, I stopped being able to drink grocery store cow's milk because it began to make me queasy.  I assumed I'd developed lactose intolerance, but a bit more research turned up the factoid that what most people of European descent call "lactose intolerance" is probably a problem digesting certain proteins in the milk.  Actual lactose intolerance is more common among other ethnic groups.  The distinction is important because if you can't digest lactose, there's no reason to try goat milk, but if you're having trouble with the proteins in cow milk, you might not have a problem with the different proteins in goat milk.  Sure enough, Megan's milk sat lightly on my stomach.

I had lots of fun, but we made absolutely no decisions.  Still lots more research to come before we decide if goats are right for the farm.

Our chicken waterer kept our flock happy while we were away visiting our friends' farm.

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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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