You seemed like such a good idea. We put out more money on you than we ever have on any animal. We went through milking-school in a trial by fire. We got the hang of it and visit you at least twice a day. You have all the fresh green browse you could possibly want. We buy you hay. We bring you grain and sometimes even bananas. (Bananas, goat! Bananas!)
The first week or so was pretty rough, I’ll admit it. I know we didn’t get much milk out of you then as we would have liked. I know we were clueless, clumsy milkers who squirted more on the floor than any place else.
But you bounced back! You were giving us a quart a day. That was just fine for a dwarf goat, and just fine for us too. We were learning to make cheese. We had goat’s milk yogurt whenever we wanted it. We were getting along just fine, my girl.
But then things changed.
So why do you build me up, buttercup baby, just to let me down? What is with the drop in milk supply? Why do you run from us so frequently? Why do you insist on giving us a morning work out through the field before finally giving up and coming to the barn?
And just when we are getting most frustrated, then you decide to stroll to the milk stand and munch sweetly while we get our measly cup of milk from you. Somehow you trick me into thinking that you’re not so bad, after all. And you’re cute and maybe we should keep you.
But then off you go again a week later, giving the same run-around shenanigans you were before.
Dear goat, please build me up, build me up, buttercup, don’t break my heart. Please come to the milk stand in the morning without a fight. Please give us a little more if you will. And maybe we can be friends again?
Your Doting Caretakers.
P.S. I still like you, I really do. I still like milking and I still like the idea of having a dairy goat. Maybe we can still make this work somehow, baby.
You may have noticed in some of my pictures that we have an inexpensive battery powered machine milker for our goat. We only have one goat in milk, so why did we bother buying a machine? It sort of seems like it’s against our usual frugal, make-do-with-what-you-have ideals.
We did learn to milk by hand at first, and we were all beginning to get used to it. We were starting to have more successes than losses in bringing home a pint of milk. But, we felt that a milker would help us to be more successful. There are several reasons why:
1) Our goat was used to it. Leslie came from a herd of over twenty goats, and the owner there used a machine milker to simplify her livestock tasks. Leslie is a bit older (about 5), was never kept on as a milk goat long term, and her only brief experiences with being milked were with a machine. So- she was a bit stuck in her ways when we got her. We decided to try to preserve continuity and familiarity for her by continuing with machine milking.
2) It was like milk insurance. Since Leslie was used to the machine, and our own learning curve was a bit steep, we decided the machine milker would serve as insurance to keep the milk flowing. We didn’t want to invest a few hundred dollars in a goat, only to have her dry up or get mastitis because we were too slow in learning how to hand milk effectively.
The machine milker also protected against bucket spillage, since the tubes direct the milk straight into a mason jar. Now we are able to keep more milk from each session- something that’s well worth it when you have a kicker.
3) It’s faster. Normally I don’t necessarily value speed for its own sake. But when I have one of the kids with me in the barn, or when I’ve got to get back to the kitchen to preserve some food, or when we’ve got to get on the road early in the morning, faster is better.
4) It frees my hands. You may have seen in previous posts how Tim would have to hold Leslie’s legs for me when she got fussy while hand-milking. I just didn’t have the reflexes or abilities to guard the milk bucket, stop the kicking, and continue milking at the same time. Perhaps this was our goat’s personality; perhaps it was our mutual lack of hand-milking experience. Regardless of the cause, the machine allows us to milk solo without needing extra hands around to help.
5) It’s more goat-sitter friendly. When you don’t have people around who have their own milk goats, it’s much easier to teach sitters to put tubes on the goat’s teats and press a button than it is to teach hand-milking if they’ve never done it before.
6) It’s cleaner. There’s less milk squirting on my shirt and outside of the bucket. There’s rarely hair and dirt in the milk to filter out. There’s no spillage since the milk goes straight down the tubes into a mason jar. I don’t mind dirt at all, but it does help with the sanitation factor and the clean-up time.
After having our machine milker for well over a month, I am glad that we made the investment. While it’s not nearly as romantic or satisfying as milking a goat by hand, it does the job well and makes life a little easier for us. I’d like to think that when my kids are a little older, I’ll switch back to hand milking, just because I enjoy the old-worldiness of it. And I may. But for now- a machine it is!
(UPDATE: I actually tried milking by hand again for a few days after drafting this post. It wasn’t nearly so rough as when we first bought the goat, and I think we could both get used to it again. But I’m still going to stick with the machine for now for the reasons listed above.)
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This post is a follow-up to my recent post, Learning to Milk a Goat. You can head over there if you want to commiserate with other folks who have ended up with many a hoof in the milk.
The lady who sold us our goat warned us that she hadn’t ever been milked much, and that she was older and stuck in her ways. She told us about her habit of trying to sit during milking. She told us sometimes she didn’t like to get up on the stand, but would do it with a little patience.
In my eagerness, however, I bought the goat at an extremely busy time in our lives and decided we would just figure out how to do it. Needless to say, by the end of the various milking disasters during week one, I was laughing a bit maniacally and asking why it was we wanted a goat again.
I kept likening it to when you’re learning to nurse a new baby: there’s just no way around it. You’ve got to figure out how to feed this kid or they’ll starve and you’ll end up with mastitis. Likewise, this dam’s kid had already been sold, so she was relying on us to get the milk out, and it just had to be done.
Sometimes it was a goat rodeo trying to get Leslie into the barn. Sometimes it took multiple tries to get her secured in the stand. Our milking sessions started out done as a family, with Tim holding Leslie’s hind legs while I tried my hardest to aim the milk into a bowl that I protected with life and limb.
To be fair, maybe we were the difficult ones and not her. In reality, we were both just new at milking and we each had our struggles.
Regardless, we’ve had Leslie almost a month now, and I’m happy to say that it’s gotten much better. With time and practice, milkings have become relatively peaceful times that can be done solo, with only minimal protests from the beast.
Keep in mind I’m still a very new goat owner. We’ve picked up some pointers that have helped us to be more successful with milking our goat, but we are by no means experts. Take my advice with a grain of salt, and find out what works best for you. 🙂
1) Develop a friendly relationship with your goat. Goats do not like to be picked up and carried, or chased after (not naming any preschoolers’ names), or frightened by your sudden dives while trying to catch them. Not speaking from experience here, mm-mmm, not me. They much prefer if you’re sweet and quiet and patient and gentle with them.
2) Become a goat whisperer. (Related to #1.) Find out what floats your goat’s boat. Our Leslie likes to be brushed, to be scratched behind the ears, and to have the gentle pressing of my head up against her side while milking. Maybe all those touches remind her of her kid- I’m not sure- but they seem to calm her down.
3) Create a calm milking environment & remove distractions. It doesn’t take a lot to freak our goat out. We have to make sure the neighbor’s goat is out of the stall during milking (she likes to compete for the grain ration), and that if our kids are with us that they’re being relatively calm and quiet. Taking multiple flash pictures like I did on this morning probably isn’t a good idea either.
5) Find a safe and gentle way to prevent kicking. The hobble: a gentle restraint that holds your goats legs together so she can’t kick. I heard about these amazing things through this helpful milking article, and tried to order one the same day. Surprisingly, it was difficult to source one that would fit a dwarf goat, and even if I was able to I would have to wait a while for it to be shipped. Not cool.
Then I read about making your own hobble out of household materials. I didn’t want to use rope for fear of rubbing on Leslie’s legs, but I thought a nice soft strip of old jersey t-shirt would do the trick. Here’s what ours looks like off the goat:
Her hooves would go through the little loops and they would be slid up over the “knees,” (because I don’t know technical terms yet), and the big loop would go around her back legs above the knees twice, making sure to thread it under itself in between loops so it stayed in place. Actually, we tied it on that way each time- we weren’t normally slipping it on pre-tied, but this is what it looked like after being tied. (If that makes any sense. Do you see why I don’t write crafting tutorials?)
After about a week of using our homemade hobble, we were able to begin weaning her off of it. Now I just keep a hand nearby to gently but firmly hold her leg above the knee if she tries kicking:
6) Give her rewards. Leslie loves a banana. We’ve also tried carrot and celery. Some goat owners give sunflower seeds regularly. (Here’s some more treat ideas.) As she’s learned to be more cooperative during milkings we’ve stopped giving her so many treats, but it was helpful for bribery in the beginning.
7) Be patient. Consider that your goat’s temperament has a lot to do with how your milkings will go. Don’t be a perfectionist. Realize that sometimes you’ll have to end the milking before you’ve gotten every last drop. Sometimes your milk will be spilled. But with patience and practice, things might just get a little better!
Experienced goat owners: What advice would you give a milking newbie to set him or her up for success?
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