Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How (not) To Milk A Goat

If I've said it once, I'll say it again... I can add nothing to the expert advice from Molly over at fiascofarm.com. So when people ask me for instructions on how to milk goats that's where I send them. But if you want to hear about my experience.. just pull up a chair and picture this...

First, I am not an expert in any sense of the word, but I think I caught on pretty fast with the whole milking thing. If I were to give you advice in bullet points it would like kinda like this:

1.  Get a good bucket – it must be stainless and it must have be seamless. http://www.lehmans.com/ has got a great one – and they have excellent customer service. If you have small goats I've heard people use stainless steel dog food bowls.
2. Take the time to build a milk stand...or buy one. We built the one from plans off the fiascofarm.com site and it took an afternoon and materials on hand. The only thing we bought was the feed holder and a carriage bolt.
3. Be The Boss Goat.

Vita on the stand and ready for action

I had never milked anything the first time I sat down beside our Saanan, Vita, outside the barn on one fair spring day.  I was in a cold sweat when I put the bucket under her and grabbed ahold of her...well... wanglies. To be honest I'm too immature.. I mean.... too modest.. to call them “teats” so I just made up my own word. But I digress.

The pressure was on and I desperately tried to remember all of the 'how to' steps as I gave my first squeeze and....nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Oh gosh. I broke the goat!

She just nickered and looked back, irritated (or maybe accusingly), at me. The dogs looked on with glee from the deck, above. They were very excited about the big hunk of walking meat that we brought home and were dying to sniff her.  I took a deep breath and gave another squeeze and miraculously.... milk came out! I whooped, Vita stomped, and the dogs whined and wagged around.

It reminded me of the first time I saw a chicken actually lay and egg. I was so scared I literally ran out of the hen house and slammed the door.

But I couldn't run away here. I had to milk that goat if it killed me. All of the warnings about making sure you 'milked twice a day at exactly 12 hours apart, and if you didn't milk her all the way out you'd dry her up in three days' crashed down on me. I had to get thru this. It was an ordeal. I sprayed milk everywhere BUT the bucket - all over the side of the barn, down my boot, all over her. Finally it was over.  Exhausted I walked her back to the goat yard. I think I heard Vita mutter something about why was she 'sold to this circus.'

In 'udder' defeat I moped back to the house carrying my cup of milk. Actually, she was very understanding... but I cried. There wasn't much milk and I was very nervous that I was hurting her.

So I re-read Molly's instructions 5 or 6 times until it made sense to me.  After that it got better and I think it took about a week for me to get the hang of it. We endured. When she got too fussy I would give her a little cracked corn and that seemed to settle her down.

But as spring when on, Vita started stomping and fussing around more and more. And then one day she stepped in the milk bucket. There was more crying (by me) and snickering (by the barn cats).

At that point I had no idea who's stupid idea it was to buy a goat and MILK it. I must have been completely out of my mind. My arms hurt. There didn't seem to be enough milk. And no one was happy, except for the barn cats who thought all the spilled milk was great. Until that point I had never really failed at anything but this was starting to be an “F-” on all counts.

So I asked an experienced milker what to do and she told me that the secret was to “be the boss goat.”  Boss goat? What? She assured me to meditate on those words and get out there and milk that goat.

So I did. And it worked!

Apparently you aren't supposed to take any shenanigans from goats. Now, I don't take any sass from the dogs and in truth, I could probably make just about any dog cry. But who knew this was true for goats? And that goat was intentionally testing me? Well now. That's a different story and if that sassy goat wanted to push me around, she had another thing coming. The next morning I assumed my best “I'm the boss of you” stance and walked with intention to get that goat.

Once she was up on the milk stand I said out loud... “I am the Boss Goat....I AM the Boss Goat.”  Vita just laid her ears flat and stomped her foot. “I AM the Boss Goat.”

And then... she knocked it off and quietly started eating. Maybe there was something to this.....

From then on things went much better. I realized that she was training me (by stomping and being sassy) to give her more snacks (which I did to make her stop). But when I took control of the situation by having more confidence and being calmer...it went very smoothly. In fact, I kinda liked it. She kinda liked it. We fell into a routine. So much so that when our La Mancha, Debbie, showed up, we had a great system down.

Goats have a hierarchy so our 'herd queen', Vita always went to be milked first. Then Debbie. They would run to the gate and wait for me to walk them, in turn, up to the garage where we had our milking stand. Then they would hop up, stick their heads thru the holder, and get all the grain they could eat while being milked. Then they'd trot back to the goat yard for a day of lazing about until we'd repeat the process in the evening.

At first, I was so nervous and the goats were so nervous that I'd just close the doors and we'd be alone...except for the snickering barn cats who sauced around waiting for some spare milk. Vita had never seen cats before and seemed to be wary of “that huge puma who was trying to kill her.” I assured her that Shiney, King of All Barncats, was harmless. But I learned it was just easier to scoot him out while I was milking.

But by the end of summer we had a swarm of hens and geese hanging around the milk stand, my favorite chick in my lap, and those little goaties didn't even bat an eye. It totally worked to be The Boss Goat and we were one big happy barnyard.

Here's a few extra pointers:

Its OK if your arms hurt. The best way to prepare for milking is by doing carpentry projects all winter. Using power tools all day help build up your muscles. Otherwise, good luck and expect pain. If you can keep it up for three days you'll be home free. Don't start milking for the first time the day after you load out 2 tons of gravel. I know this for a fact.

It takes “as long as it takes” to milk a goat.  It depends on you, the goat, and your system. By the end of the summer the Saanan took about 15 minutes to milk, the La Mancha took about 3 minutes.  You'll get faster as you improve your technique. Sometimes faster isn't really better tho and longer, slower squeezes gets better results than faster ones.

A sense of humor is required!

Its OK to cry. Really.

If you goat gets 'kicky' you can either buy or make holders for her back hocks. There is nothing more frustrating then getting a big, beautiful, frothy, bucket of milk.. and then having that stupid goat step it it. And yes, she is doing it on purpose. When Debbie got all kicky I'd restrain her back legs until she realized (quickly) that standing there quietly was a better strategy. Goats are smart, I have to give them credit, so they will learn. Be the Boss Goat!

A couple times my hubby came around the corner of the barn only to be narrowly missed by a hurled then-empty milk bucket and me having a 'total milking break down.' These things happen. Hence the sense of humor.

If either of the gals got really fussy we'd implement a number of distraction techniques. For instance, The Big Man would stand in front of her and sing her a little song or tap her on the head or feed her shelled corn one kernel at a time....whatever will keep her attention away from me.

Make sure you don't squish the milk back up into her udder -- keep your thumb and forefinger closed. I taught someone to milk by saying... “squeeze...and play the piano.” Meaning,  squeeze thumb+forefinger together....then use middle, ring, and pinky like you are playing a scale on the piano.

Everyone does things differently. But we found that baby wipes were a great way to wash her udder and such before milking. Cleanliness is an absolute in dairy. Bleach will become your friend, and you can never have enough paper towels.

Make sure your hands are insanely clean, your bucket has been bleached, and you cover the milk and walk it into the house to be strained and cooled immediately. Spend the extra money  and buy the bigger strainer (to hold all the milk at one time). We used wide mouth quart jars to strain the milk into and the put them into the freezer to cool.

We never let the goats alone on the stand. It worked for me to take the milk inside while The Big Man finished up in the barn, always within her line of sight so she wouldn't panic.

Hay is wildly important. Fresh, green alfalfa hay gave us the most amount of the best quality of milk. Bad hay = bad milk.

An old timer explained to me that for best results, milk at 12 hours apart at the exact same time, everyday. But we milked twice a day at about 8am and 7pm and this worked out fine for us. However, I know reputable breeders with award winning show herds who milked on no schedule, whatsoever as long as it was twice a day. 

For home use an exact schedule probably isn't necessary. We were always within about 30 - 45 minutes of our schedule and gradually changed it as the seasons changed. We dried our our gals in late September/October by gradually milking them less and less. But with all the warnings about how easy it is to dry out your goat with bad milking techniques, it took almost six weeks to dry out Debbie!

And now we are just standing around waiting for our gals to 'freshen' or have their babies so we can start milking again. Ah.. fresh goat milk.... I can't wait to be the Boss Goat again!


Chai Chai said...

Great post, very informative. I can't help but read this and try to picture in my mind all the chaos going on around you (smartalec goats, mean chickens, crazed geese, wayward ducks, evil pigs, cats and dogs living together!) and wonder what I'm getting myself into.

The small goats are so cute and 1 quart a milk a day sounds like so much. I am already practicing my double dog dares for the first slugs of goat milk.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hi Chai Chai!

quick! before I forget - have you seen this post on BYC about Icelandic chickens?

And yes, there is nothing but ridiculousness as far as the eye can see. I laugh when my 'city-fried' friends talk about what an easy and relaxing life I must have!

Stay tuned for more on goaties coming soon!

Mama Mess said...

Such a funny post and oh so true! I can't tell you how many tears and curses I endured trying to break my Tulip to the milk stand! I did a blog post about my milking if you'd like to read it http://www.goodwifefarm.com/2009/08/how-to-milk-goator-goat-milking-101.html
:) Have a great day!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hi Goodwife! and welcome! I'm popping over to check out your story..goats are something, aren't they!? wow!

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