How to Milk a Goat
Since "How to milk a goat" is not a topic that's likely to make you the hit of your next party, I assume you're reading this either because you're contemplating purchasing dairy goats, or you already have some new additions in your barn that are about to kid.
To that, I say, congratulations!
I remember being in the same position many years ago. Since I had planned to bottle-raise the expected kids on a CAE prevention program of heat-treated colostrum and pasteurized milk, I had fears of not being able to obtain the colostrum or milk from the does, resulting in the kids starving to death.
Add to my misgivings about learning how to milk a goat the irreconcilable advice to both feed a newborn kid within half an hour of birth, and heat-treat the colostrum first--which would take a little over an hour--and it was more stressful than giving birth to my own children!
As you probably guessed, though, it all worked out. Though crude at first, my efforts successfully drew out the colostrum and later the milk, and none of the kids starved to death--or even came close. I laughed at my initial fears of never learning how to milk a goat!
In fact, only a few short months later, I had become proficient enough to milk seven does (the most I ever had in milk at one time) in only 35 minutes!
I can tell you the equipment you'll need, how to prepare the doe, and, yes, technically how to milk a goat. But, until you do it, it will be about as meaningful as someone telling you that the Grand Canyon is "breathtaking," when you've never seen it for yourself.
And, before we begin--relax! You will be able to do it. The kids won't starve, and the does won't die from mastitis resulting from your inability to learn how to milk a goat. I promise.
So, let's get started! In this article, we'll cover
To have the very best tasting milk, as well as keeping your does healthy, cleanliness is vital. Begin with the milking area
. It should be separate from the animals' living quarters, and should be easy to clean. A concrete floor that can be regularly hosed and washed is great for this. Walls that can also be washed, such as block or tile, are also nice to have.
Of course, "reality" and "ideal" seldom meet. Many small-time goat farmers have to use what they have available.
That's ok, but whatever you do have, keep it as clean as possible. If you have less than optimal conditions (maybe you have to use an empty stall for milking), try to minimize dirt and debris that could get in the milk.
For example, you might could throw a piece or two of plywood on the ground to keep from stirring up dust when walking around. Also, keep the milk covered with a lid every second that you're not actually milking. Finally, plan on removing the milk from the barn as soon as you are finished.
Next, the doe herself. You will need to restrain her in some way. Hopefully, you have a milkstand with a locking headgate. If not, you will need to tether her with a short rope.
It's always easier to learn how to milk a goat that is already accustomed to it. Don't worry too much if she's also new to the process, though. Goats adapt very quickly, and once she understands that she gets fed and feels better afterward (relief from that full udder!), she will cooperate.
If she's never been milked before, though, it is usually a good idea to hobble her back legs for the first few times until she gets used to the process. Special goat hobbles are sold for this, but you can also just use a short piece of soft rope.
And, don't worry-you shouldn't need the hobbles for very long. My most resistant doe--a big-time milk pail kicker--was a perfect angel in about a week. For most, it only takes two or three days.
Brush her all over with a large, soft-bristle brush. Soft bristles will remove dust and loose hairs better than coarse ones, preventing them from falling into the milk pail during milking. It's also a good idea to keep a metal comb, such as used on horses, for scraping off any caked-on mud. Be sure to brush her legs and belly as well as her back and sides.
I also prefer to clip the udder shortly after the doe kids. This makes it much easier to keep clean, and it prevents you from accidentally pulling her hairs while you're milking. A small beard and moustache trimmer is the perfect tool for the job.
Note: An all-over body clip when the weather is warm is also a tremendous help in keeping the doe, and therefore the milk, clean.
Next, clean the udder with a special disinfectant. Farm and dairy supply stores sell one just for this purpose, but some people use their own homemade solutions, and even baby wipes. I prefer to purchase the disinfectant and put it in a large spray bottle. Spray the entire udder and teats thoroughly, and then dry with a strong, disposable paper towel.
Shop towels--the blue ones that are sold in hardware and auto parts departments are perfect for this. They are super strong, soft, and don't tear up or leave "pills" behind. You don't want to use the same towel on more than one doe, as this could spread infection.
As you dry, you're also massaging the udder to encourage the milk to come down, so don't rush through this part too fast.
At his point, I give the doe her grain for the day. If you give it to her when you first restrain her, she will likely be finished by now, just when you want her to be distracted!
With the doe happily eating and the milk bucket ready, I always finish up with a quick squirt of the disinfectant on my hands, drying them with another towel.
When you're ready to milk, always direct the first few squirts of milk from each teat into a strip cup to be discarded. A strip cup is a small cup with a mesh screen top. The screen allows you to check for irregularities in the milk, such as clumps or tinges of blood, that may alert you to possible infections. The first squirts of milk will also capture any bacteria from the teat openings.
Finally--you're really ready to learn how to milk a goat!
If you're using a milkstand, it probably has a built-in seat. If not, grab a bucket, block, stool or anything you can sit comfortably on beside the doe and reach her teats. Now, get ready to learn how to milk a goat!
Sitting alongside the doe, and facing her back, place the pail directly under the teats. Take the doe's left teat with your right hand, and her right teat with your left hand. Now, with one hand, use your thumb and forefinger to constrict the top of the teat. This is to prevent the milk from flowing upward into the udder, instead of downward into the pail. The teat should bulge slightly with the captured milk.
Maintain this pressure while using the remaining three fingers in sequence from top to bottom, to squeeze the milk out of the teat and into the pail. (Think of pushing the milk along a flexible tube, always keeping it in front of the last finger.) As each finger closes around the teat, it should maintain pressure to prevent the milk from "backing up" as the next finger closes.
Do not pull downward on the teat when milking--you'll damage it. Squeezing is the only action you need. It will be awkward and slow at first, but you'll be milking like a pro in no time!
When the milk in the teat has been emptied (remember to aim for the pail!), release the pressure from all fingers, and, pushing upward into the udder slightly with your open thumb and forefinger, watch as a new supply of milk fills the teat. With the teat now bulging again, constrict the top, and repeat the process.
When you're comfortable with the actions for one hand, try the other. When both hands have "learned" the technique, you can alternate squeezing and releasing, and your doe will be milked very quickly.
Congratulations! You just learned how to milk a goat!
The biggest first-timer mistakes made when learning how to milk a goat are:
- not keeping the thumb and forefinger tightly closed, allowing the milk to be pushed upward, instead of downward
- trying to pull the teats, instead of simply squeezing them
When the teats no longer fill with milk upon releasing, and are pliable instead of firm, it's time to stop. Don't try to wring every drop of milk from the doe--you'll damage the teats.
When the doe has been emptied, remove the milk pail to a safe spot and cover it with a lid. Now, return to the doe and use a commercial teat dip
to seal the teats and prevent infection.
Using a special teat dip cup, or small, disposable paper cups, immerse the end of each teat. Again, as with the towels, don't share remaining dip from one doe to the next to prevent the spread of infection.
My preferred method of application is with a spray bottle. It is less hassle, less messy and uses less dip. If you decide to try this, be sure to spray the ends of the teats--not just the sides.
Release the doe, and begin with the next one!
Really learning how to milk a goat takes practice, but just a few days of on-the-job training should have you quite proficient at it.
You should only use a seamless, stainless milk bucket
for milking. A pail with a seam will never be thoroughly sanitized. If you have more than a couple of does to milk, it's wise to use a smaller pail for milking each doe, then pour the collected milk into a larger container.
That way, if your last doe manages to kick over your bucket, you don't lose the entire morning's work! And, because the milk spends less open time under the does, it should remain cleaner.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of keeping the milk as clean as possible from beginning to end. Always cover the milk with a lid whenever you are not actually milking a doe, and keep all milk containers and equipment cleaned and sanitized with either a dairy sanitizer or bleach solution. A scrub brush is a better choice for cleaning milking equipment than cloths or sponges.
Rinse milk containers with cool water before using hot water. Hot water will cause the milk protein to "set," resulting in a semi-permanent film called milk stone. Special acid cleaners are sold by dairy supply companies for removing milk stone.
For the best tasting milk, process it as soon as possible! If you plan to use raw milk, this means cooling it to 40° Fahrenheit or lower within the hour. Otherwise, follow the recommendations for Home Milk Pasteurization immediately, and then cool it quickly.
When you start getting more milk than you can drink, you may want to try your hand at Goat Cheese Making or making other delicious goat milk products!
When you're teaching others how to milk a goat soon, and laughing at your initial fears and misgivings, just remember, I told you so!
Articles are updated frequently, so check back here for any new information related to how to milk a goat!
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