My milking journey

When I decided I wanted milk goats, it was with confidence this would be a snap.  After all, I had milked the family milk cow.  I knew what I was doing.  Yeah, I did.  Well, there is a price to be paid for too much confidence – that price is humility.  It was no different for this.

Milking a goat is not remotely the same as milking a cow.  You can easily go from goat to cow but the same knowledge does not translate from cow to goat.  I was about to find that out!

First thing was my ignorance about the physical attributes of a goat.  In my case, I was buying a goat that had already kidded the year before and was due two weeks after I took her home.  If I had known what I was doing, I would have looked at her udder and seen she had tiny teats, but I didn’t.  In fact, it wasn’t until after I had been milking her that I finally realized how tiny they were as I started seeing photos of udders.  Now I was brought up to be a lady so didn’t spent time looking at udders – thankfully I wasn’t buying bucks!
When I took my baby and her mom to the vet for baby’s first shots and to be disbudded and tattooed, I asked the vet when I should start milking.  He suggested two months.  I now know that with a single kid, I should have started by two weeks or so, but we cannot re-write history.

So, at two months, I confidently went out to milk her.  The thing I had going for me is that she was a lady on the milk stand, for the most part until her patience wore thin with my ineptness.  She was sweet with it being her first time being milked and me not having a clue.  I am not going to kid you (pun intended), I was in for a huge surprise.  Just because I went through the motions it didn’t mean milk would magically appear.  It took a great deal of effort for a tiny bit of milk!

My first mistake was trying to milk her like a cow.  It just didn’t work.  Next step was to watch videos and try to learn how.  Fortunately, her baby was eating a lot so there was no risk of mastitis for her as baby kept the milk supply flowing.  The thing about videos is that they can look quite good and even easy.  Then, I get beside my goat and try and it just doesn’t happen like in the video!

As the weeks went by, I was able to get more milk and managed almost a pint for morning milking.  I was happy with that for the time – I would have probably been happy with half a cup the way things were going.  Usually, I have quite good beginner’s luck – but this was not one of those times.  I worked very hard to get a full pint but always fell at least an ounce short.  My biggest victory that first year was that I got foam one morning, just a little but it was foam. I was so proud that I posted it to our goat group even though it was just a little.

As I write this, I am in my third year of milking and just now feeling comfortable with milking.  I was blessed with my younger doe being a great milker – large teats, large orifices, good production, and good manners.  Getting the milk was so much easier than with her mom; it was two different worlds.

First a good milking stand is needed.  It need not be expensive; most people build their own.  A very nice one can be built out of scraps.  The important thing is that it be comfortable for your doe and that the stand holds her feed in a good position for her.

Having a relaxed, comfortable and happy doe is your most important part of all this.  You will need some sort of stool or chair to sit on if you want to sit while milking.  I have found that the forearms level with the bottom of the goat’s udder is what works best so adjust stool or stand height according to what is best for you.

You need two things to milk into, a strip cup and a milking container.  The strip cup is for that first few squirts of milk from each teat.  The initial strip is to ensure the teats are cleared of all milk that has been “sitting” there and to check the milk to ascertain there are no clots, blood or any other signs of problems.  The milking container can be a large cup or a bucket; currently mine is a 16-ounce stainless steel cup.  You need a container to put the milk in as you are milking.  If you don’t empty it part way through milking, you risk losing the entire milking if your goat puts her foot in the container.  After losing milk, I learned to empty it frequently.

This year, my third, I added a digital scale to the milking.  It is on my milkstand with my storage jar and milk filter.  As I milk, I pour the milk into the filter and jar and note the weight on the scale.  I have found I will milk that extra few minutes to get a certain amount of milk and do a better job of emptying both udders.

Before milking, I clean the lower udders and teats with a warm wash cloth then dry them.  I then milk the strip milk and check it.  Then to the main milking.  After milking is complete, again I wash and dry the teats.  Afterward, I dip the teats in iodine if there are no babies nursing.  I keep the doe on the milk stand for a few minutes to allow the teats to completely close to help prevent introduction of bacteria into the orifices.

The milk must be chilled immediately, both for safety and for flavor.  Some people put it in the freezer for half an hour or so.  I have found a better way.  At Goodwill, I bought an insulated stainless steel ice bucket that holds a quart canning jar very nicely with a good amount of space for water.  I keep it in the refrigerator with ice water in it for that day’s milk.  I leave the milk in overnight and remove it the next day when there is fresh milk again.  In my refrigerator, there will be ice in it still for a few days and then it needs to be cleaned and fresh ice water added.  The milk cools faster this way than in the freezer because of basic physics concerning the way liquids react to temperature changes.

The most important thing to know about the technique of milking is that there is no one size fits all.  Each goat udder is different as are her teats and orifices.  Then the person’s hands are different.  And each set of hands works differently on each goat so often one technique works great on one goat but not so well on another.  Basically, it amounts to trial and error.  Most importantly, feel free to change positions at any time.  Sometimes a slight shift of how you place your hand or finger or thumb can bring success or frustration.

I recommend one of the hand milkers to help you through. I bought a MaggieDan milker that first year and it was a god-send. The Henry milker is also good. Using it also helps you build the strength in your hands.Regarding the milking, I approached it like a cow. My doe had extremely small teats which made that even worse. Goats and does are not built alike.

When I realized my approach was not working, I watched a video and tried to do it like that. Well, those first weeks/months were frustrating because I tried to follow a formula, and it was someone else’s. By the end of the first season, I realized that putting my hand farther up into the bottom part of her udder allowed me to get more milk – but we must be careful to not go too far up to not cause damage. My problem was magnified because I have large hands and her teats are the size of the end of my little finger – and when the udder is full, not even that long! The first few squirts were nearly impossible but then as it softened, I was able to get my hand up farther. I place my hand up above the teat with the top of the teat in the crook of my hand, pushing the base of my thumb against my hand above the joint of the index finger. Then I roll the thumb down while tucking the end of the thumb in as it clears down to the teat. That lets me put a little more “squeeze” into it to clear out the teat.
One of my worst things I did was to release the teat too soon. Unlike pouring, the milk does not continue when you release. We need to keep squeezing until the milk is all the way out – just doing that cuts your time by 1/3. I am impatient and was wasting a lot of effort by not being that tiny bit more patient with each squeeze.
This is my third year milking and this year I finally feel like I am beginning to do it right. There are two things I have done entirely differently this year. I am milking from both sides and I have my scale at the milk stand. I find that weighing as I go helps me to get that little bit more milk out because I know there is as much as yesterday and some times more. I’ll spend that extra two or three minutes to get that extra ounce.
For the milking, I have been holding a 10-16 ounce cup in one hand and milking with the other (and pouring frequently into the storage jar on the scale, with filter in place). That way I can quickly move the cup if my doe moves. Once in a while I still lose some but not nearly what I did when I had a container setting under her!
I also bought the Segal milker last year. I like it but have found that the extra time cleaning it is not worth it for just one or two goats. I also decided to go to a different type of milking machine, a pulse milker.

I don’t know if anything I said is helpful, but remember that there is no book or video or set of instructions that are custom made for your hands on your goat – and it is even different from goat to goat. A little shift in hand position can seem miraculous. I remember the first year when I got a little bit of foam in the cup – I even posted on our goat group, I was so proud. I think nothing of it now because my younger doe is such a good milker, larger teats, larger orifices, and a perfect lady on the milk stand, I take the foam for granted.
The most important thing is to not give up. Try a different angle, a slightly different hand position, sit lower/higher; it doesn’t take much of a change to put you into that comfortable milking status. Trust me, there is no way I would have been able to even consider writing any of this two years ago. I worked very, very hard to never manage to get that tiny bit more for a pint. My doe had the milk; I just didn’t have the skill and especially so for such tiny teats and small orifices. Just keep plugging (or squeezing) away! You will get there, honest. It’s one of those – I finally did and you can too!!!

Forgot to add that this past couple of weeks, I have even milked a little bit with both hands! Never even considered it before; there just isn’t very much room under that little doe.
Also, I found out last fall that my breeder milked with one finger and thumb – she milked three or four goats like that! So . . . if we want to get the milk, we can do it. 🙂

I guess what I mostly what to say is there is no “proper way to milk” – it isn’t one size fits all. That basically works with cows, but not with goats. Goats udders and teats (and orifices) vary greatly and the shorter the teats are the less “wiggle room” there is. The proper way is whatever gets the milk from the goat to your kitchen while keeping you both comfortable.

See my post for “Procedure for milking” posted April 14, 2015, for milking procedure and supplies.

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