My Journey Learning To Milk Goats
Four years ago when we first came to the homestead and began in earnest, after all the planning had been accomplished, after all the numbers had been run, and after all the garden maps had been drawn and put away, I never in my wildest dreams had thought I’d be milking goats. I guess I never really thought about it much. Oh sure, I knew that we’d wanted a source of fresh homemade cheese, butter, yogurt, and cream, but I suppose that I never really put two and two together to predict the future – that we’d have a future in goat ownership. We had been consuming wonderful artisan goat milk cheese and butter, and thought that with the right preparations we could produce wonderful goat milk products for our own use. After all, homesteading is doing for yourself, right?
Why goats, and why not cows? Cows sure are wonderful animals and produce ALOT of milk. Probably too much milk for our needs. Plus, they need lots (I mean, quite a bit) of pasture, which we do not yet have. Goats can forage on most weeds and are actually good at clearing an area of unwanted plants. They are smaller – ours weigh in at about 135 pounds, easy enough to handle – kind like a large dog. Plus, they have great personalities, and even know their own names.
Luckily for us, Danielle had become fascinated with the science and mystery of cheesemaking, and was chomping at the bit to try her hand at it. She’d purchase milk from a neighbor farm, raw goat milk that is, and began making chèvre. So, we knew that goats were in our future, and we even built the infrastructure to house said goats. We began with two animals, with the intention of expanding to no more than four does total. And even that many, in my mind, is pushing it in terms of practicality for our particular homestead.
We brought our two little darling goats, French Alpines they are, and had so much fun watching them frolic and play in their little pasture while growing up. I never really put two and two together and realized that one day in the future they’d have to be milked. Oh, they were so cute! (Still are, just…differently so, in a more mature kind of way.)
We learned to tell when they were in estrus, and lined up a buck to help us out for breeding purposes, and when the first doe was wagging her tail, we loaded her up into the car, and off we went for a goat date. The breeder suggested that they were a little small and that we might want to consider waiting a year. We took the advice and so this spring became when they both gave birth, each to a buckling and a doeling. We had planned from the start how we would manage our herd, and that we would only have a total of four goats, all does. Any ducklings would go to good homes. We subsequently found farms for the two little fellows. It was a little sad to see them go, they were so cute, but we are happy with sticking to our original plan.
So now we have two baby does, and two adult does who are providing us with almost a gallon per day of milk each. One problem we had from the start was that neither Danielle nor I had ever milked a goat before. Unless you want to count that time at the Common Ground Country Fair when Charles showed Danielle very briefly how to squeeze a few squirts out. I elected not to try.
I had built a milking stand out of wood during the winter and trained the goats to eat their grain on it. I even got them used to my hands down around the udder area, and they both were quite comfortable with that idea. When it came time to milk the first mother initially, she was okay with the idea as long as she had grain. But with no experience in milking an animal of any kind, getting the hang of the feel for milking came hard for me. It is difficult to describe how to do so. To learn I had read several books and watched several YouTube videos on the subject, and felt fairly confident that I could carry this out. I will tell you that it was much harder that I had thought, and it is something that is best learned hands-on. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to learn to milk, but it was very frustrating at first, for me anyway. I liken it somewhat to using my cello bow, and the most subtle of pressures and bow grips and make the difference between a great and not so great tone. The subtle pressures of your hand, and its shape can make a difference between success and no milk.
So, after about a month I began to get comfortable, finally, with milking. Initially I milked one-handed into a little cup, something I recommend to beginners. After awhile I learned to keep the goats dancing around on the milk stand to a minimum, and gradually got so that I could milk with two hands into a large milk pail, one with just a small opening.
I wanted to add that we do not pasteurize our milk, using it raw. Although pasteurization is beneficial to destroy dangerous pathogens, it does even more. It kills off harmless and useful germs alike, and by subjecting the milk to high temperatures it destroys some nutritious constituents. as for the prevention of souring, sour milk is very widely used. It is given to invalids, because it is easily digested, and is not unpleasant to consume. After pasteurization the lactic acid bacilli are killed, and the milk then cannot sour, and quickly decomposes.
So, that is our story about learning to milk by hand. Looking back now, it wasn’t so bad after all, and I am very happy that we took the plunge.