Okay, you’re sitting at the milking stand, staring at an udder: what next??? I have previously written about how I milk my goats using a small hand-powered milker. I love my milker, I do. But it does break occasionally. If you’re smart, you have two, so you can run and get the spare when you suddenly need it. Like a week ago when the spring broke in mine. And I do have a spare, but I swear to god, I couldn’t find that fucker! Anywhere! And I looked! A lot! So anyway, I had to hand milk my goats for a week while I alternately (1) waited for replacement parts, and (2) tore apart the yurt looking for my spare milker, that I know is here somewhere, dammit. (Still haven’t found it.) (Smacks palm to forehead.)
But, while that was going on, I found myself liking the milking I was doing by hand. Using the milker is faster, easier, and cleaner, but more…mechanical. Less friendly somehow. I can’t explain it, so here, have some pictures instead.
In order to milk, either by hand or milker, you need (and you’ll find this post overlaps somewhat with my previous post on milking):
….a milking stand, some teat dip, a dixie cup, a paper towel, a stool to sit on (mine is that five gallon bucket with the black lid), your hands and…
Oh, and a container to milk into.
You feed the goatie gal something nice, usually her grain ration, while you milk her, which distracts her from the business at hand and helps her associate milking and the milking stand with good things. And indeed, when it’s time, my goats hop up happily.
So here we have The Udder.
It’s a bit dirty.
So first thing, we wash it. Pour a couple of inches of teat dip into the cup and give each teat a dunk. For teat dip I use a quart of water, an ounce of so of clorox, and a drop of soap. Thank you Fiasco Farm for that recipe. It works wonderfully.
Next towel off with the paper towel. Sometimes I have to repeat this a few times if it has been raining and she’s been lying in the mud. Yuck.
That’s it for the prep. Next you take hold of the the top of the teat and kind of roll your pressure down to get the milk flowing.
If your gal is a good milker, chances are her udder will be tight with milk. The first few days after selling the kids, I often milk three or four or even five times a day just to relieve her—it’s a big difference for her udder to go from nursing a dozen times a day to milking twice a day. I breastfed my babies—I remember. If I had had to make such a change in one day, I’d have gone mad with the pain and probably gotten mastitis. Perhaps it is my relatively recent experiences being a milker myself that cause me to have extra compassion for my goatie friends.
So you come at this semi-hard, tight udder and you start with the teat. The picture above is more like that, really—the first squeeze I might be even lower, depending on how tight the udder is. You might be surprised at how much pressure it takes to get that first squirt of milk out. The teats seem to have a natural plug that you have to release. Once that’s out, the milk comes out much easier. You take hold of just the top of the teat and roll and squeeze and pop!
Out comes some milk!
Gradually the hardness in the teat itself eases up and you move to a slightly higher position. That that section softens and you move even higher. More about that in a minute.
Now, even though you may be squeezing at first with quite a lot of pressure, don’t hurt your goat! She’ll let you know if it hurts by moving away, tossing her head, etc. I’m not talking about nervous milkers, where they just get all fussy about being handled. It’s different when it hurts—her response will be sudden and quick, a clear “Don’t do that!” So don’t. I’m all about happy goats.
Another note about these pictures: I have miniature goats. So they have small teats. I can’t hold on with my whole hand, wrapping all four fingers around the teat and rolling the pressure down the way you can with a full sized goat, or a cow. This is another reason I like my milker. But for hand milking, I’ve found that I can use my thumb on one side and my first two fingers on the other side, rolling the pressure down onto the base of my ring finger and pinkie on the other side, tucked in against my palm. So again, the teat is passing between my middle and ring fingers. See if you can see it in this picture.
Wait a minute, look who has poked her nose into the shot! Mochi loves fresh goat milk, and usually gets a saucer full when I milk. She’s gotten downright pushy about it, actually. “Is my milk ready yet? Can I drink it right from the teat?” No, Mochi, you can’t. Be patient.
Let me finish up with Fancy here and I’ll try to show you what I mean with the whole rolling thing on my other goat, Lucy.
So, I’m re-dipping with the teat dip—only this time I’ll let her air dry. The teats stay open (remember that plug we released?) for a while after milking and I don’t want any stray bacteria climbing up in there. Gross. This redipping helps prevent such nastiness from occurring and turning into mastitis. And mabye it’s working because so far, knock wood, none of my goats have ever had it.
One more thing before Lucy gets up on that stand. Milking is a conversation, spoken in body language, between you and your goat. When you milk a girl twice a day, you really get to know her sounds and movements, as she does with you. When her eating is slowing down, when she shifts her weight, when her breathing changes—she tells me she’s finishing up, so hurry along, that’s uncomfortable, oh, that’s better, etc. Even the sound of the milk, the speed that it is flowing, etc, starts to be part of the conversation. These things are subtle and so they are hard to explain, but you get it, with practice. And you can add things to the conversation on purpose. For example, when I’m all done, I give her a nice tummy scratch.
It lets her know that I’m moving on. She appreciates this. She doesn’t kick any more once I’ve given the scratch, and just waits for me to tidy up and get ready for the next goat.
“Can you hurry up? I’m ready for my hay now.”
Okay, so I let Fancy out, open the gate, and as she trots into the goat-half of the barn, Lucy runs out and takes her place. It’s a little dance they’ve worked out.
She says, “Don’t bother me. I’m eating.”
Okay! Teat dip,
and we’re good to go.
Another note: I would be holding the milking container with my left hand, ready to snatch it away when one of the girls decides to kick, which they do occasionally. If I’m holding the container I can just pull it back out of range, preserving my precious milk from being fouled by her muddy hoof. But for these pictures, I’m holding the camera with my left hand, so the container is kind of abandoned on the milking stand, far enough away not to be kicked, maybe, I hope, but close enough to squirt the milk into. Just thought I would explain the odd placement there, and why I am shooting the milk from the teat such a distance.
Anyway, back to the roll and squeeze. I wanted to point out how high up on Lucy’s udder I am with my hand. I did this on Fancy, too, but didn’t get such a good shot of it. it isn’t just the teat you milk from. Like I said, you start with the teat, and roll out that plug and the first squirt of milk, but if you stay on the teat, you’ll get milk, yes, but a teaspoon at a time. Be prepared to milk for, oh, maybe an hour. Instead, you keep moving up the udder as each section gets soft, until you are quite high up. In fact, until you practically have the whole side of the udder (goats have two teats and the udder is divided into halves) in your hand, squeeze-rolling the whole thing.
With experience, your hand will start to be able to feel where the milk is, just as if you have a thick-walled water balloon and you are squeezing the milk out of a pin-hole in its bottom. You don’t want to squeeze too hard, because the milk will come out FAST and I think it hurts the goat—mine always toss if I push too hard. But it’s a surprisingly firm pressure. When you’ve got it right, the milk comes out in a long stream that lasts for several seconds and makes a loud sound against the bucket. I wouldn’t be surprised is there are a couple of tablespoons of milk per squeeze when it’s going well.
Look, in that shot I missed the container and it ran everywhere. I kept clicking the shutter on the camera when I meant to squeeze, or squeezing the teat when I meant to click the shutter. Talk about mixed brain/hand signals. But it was fine, Mochi was on hand to help with the clean up.
Here’s one more shot to show how high up I’m going, maybe three inches higher than the teat itself.
And see how soft and floppy her udder has become?
At this point the milk flow slows, until finally, the stream is too small to bother with, and you can feel with your hand there are no more pockets of liquid in that inner container for pushing out. I know some places say to strip the udder, meaning get every last drop out, but I’ve never done that. It doesn’t make sense to me, because she’s always making more milk—there will always be a little bit more in there if you give it a minute.
That’s how you milk a goat by hand.
Don’t forget to filter your milk though. You may not have to wash a milker, doing it by hand, but you do have to filter the milk because look:
Goat hairs! Ewwww! It’s no big deal, you just pour it through a cotton cloth or a specially made filter. It’s an advantage of my milker, which is a closed system that lets no goat hair in. Pros and cons, baby, there’s some of each, no matter which way you decide to go.
Milking goats is pleasant, meditative, frustrating, friendly, fun, delicious, in more or less that order, every day.
Enjoy your goats!