I think I may have mentioned this already- oh, just maybe once or twice ;)- but we got a goat about a week and a half ago to go live in our neighbor’s barn and be a buddy for their one remaining goat. (I know, I know, I need to update my “about” page now…)
We had talked about and researched goats for a while, but I think that there’s just really no way to be properly prepared until you have one. It’s kind of like adding another child to your family in that way. Now that Leslie is home with us, we’ve been navigating the goat learning curve.
Overall, goat care has been fairly straightforward so far, and largely relegated to morning and evening tasks: a bit of grain during milking, fresh hay in the stall, lots of green browse to choose from, and fresh water to drink. That’s not so hard. But milking is really where the rub comes in.
There’s LOTS of “how to milk a goat” videos and tutorials online. But nobody really goes over what it’s like when the goat doesn’t just jump up and hold still for you while you do the deed.
You see, in order to milk the goat, I have to get her to the milk stand. Some days she makes this really easy by sitting there waiting for us at milking time. Other days she prefers to go to the far end of her paddock and wait for us to come get her. And on her particularly moody days, she digs her hooves in and refuses to walk. Tim is generally better than I am at getting her where we need her to go, but she’s fickle- so you just never know how she’ll react to either one of us.
The first day she got “mule syndrome,” as I call it, I gave up after a while and went to get my husband to coax her into the stall. The next day, I tried playing mental games with her. Maybe if I walk behind her, she’ll think walking into the stall is her idea, not mine, and she’ll like that better. It kind of worked. Another morning, J walked behind her with a stick (don’t worry, he didn’t whack her), and directed her towards the stall. That was even more effective. I think I’ve got a young goatherd on my hands. (Which is ironic, because our last name means “goat herder!”)
Once we get her into the stall, we’ve got to get her on the milk stand. When she would refuse to jump up, we’d have to do periodic “resets” by walking her around the stall once or twice before convincing her that it was now a new day and it was, in fact, okay to jump up on the milk stand now. And of course, there was some bribery with goat treats like carrots and bananas. She’s finally getting better at getting on herself, because she’s learned that she gets to eat her grain ration while being milked. (And who doesn’t want her grain ration?)
Then, there’s the milking part. This doe had kidded several times before, but had never really been kept on as a milk goat. When she was milked briefly, she was machine milked. Since we didn’t have a machine when we bought her, I learned how to hand milk.
We eventually got into the swing of it, but she still had little patience for my still-slow-milking pattern. She liked to demonstrate her lack of patience by sitting in the milk. Or stomping in it. Or kicking it over. Or kicking me or my husband. And complaining loudly.
Sigh. Our first several rounds of milk ended up on the floor of the stall instead of in our fridge.
We found some tricks that helped to calm her while milking. First, we try to create a quiet, soothing space so she feels at ease and lets down more easily. Secondly, her previous owner suggested “hugging” her middle while milking- and that did help to steady her a bit. When she resisted that, my hubby would gently but firmly hold her back legs while I milked. (I think I need one of them there hobble-thingers that Homestead Lady talks about in this post.)
(The real goat-milking hero in our household is my hubby. Tim is holding Leslie’s legs firmly while I attach the milker. And he’s wearing V. And he’s good looking, too.)(J helping out with brushing Les during milking- another calming technique we’ve learned.)
We ended up buying this battery powered goat milker (affiliate link) from Dansha Farms, because it’s what she’s used to being milked with. While I like hand milking better (the same way I prefer hand kneading to machine mixing for bread), it IS faster and more efficient. Plus, we figure this will make it easier for our potential goat sitters to do the milking while we’re away.
Our last learning curve has been scheduling milking time. Generally, about 6:30 a.m. & p.m. have been working well for us for milking. But with both of us involved in music and teaching activities in the evening, we’ve had to fudge it a few nights. A late milking makes for a full, unhappy goat- and as a mom who’s nursed both of her (human) kids, I can definitely relate to her sentiments. We’re trying to find the best consistent time for all of us.
So the goat learning curve has been steep- but not impossible. We’ve still got a lot to learn! I’m trying to talk to other goat owners and read goat articles. I joined a “goat health and care” Facebook forum. I’ve started a goat Pinterest board. And please, kind readers, if you have words of wisdom for these goat newbies, DO share them with us! We’ll take all the help we can get. 😉
But when I open up my fridge to find jars of fresh, sweet, creamy whole milk- even with a bit of cream on top- it makes the learning curve totally worth it. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction I get from participating in getting my food as close to the source as possible- and milking your own goat is about as close as you can get for dairy products.
Dear Leslie, we will learn together. We will get to be friends. We’ll make this thing work. Right? Right!!!
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It looks like I’ve got some explaining to do. Let me try to make a long story short.
Last October, one of our neighbor’s two goats was killed- we think by a visiting mountain lion. I never posted an update about it on the blog- mostly because it was our neighbor’s goat, not ours. (Haha! Get it? Not our goat!! Okay, okay…) And I felt that why we named this blog what we did still held true, regardless of the fact it should have then been “It’s Not Our Goat” instead.
In the meantime, the neighbor’s goat was getting progressively more lonely and anxious. She kept coming over to our property, looking for friends, and she even came onto our porch and into our kitchen, if you remember.
Coincidentally, my daughter was also becoming a serious milk drinker during this time. This was the girl who used to turn her nose at cow’s milk- but no longer. I found myself having to limit her intake for the sake of not spending $12/week on organic whole milk.
And then we started joking about it. Maybe we really should get a goat. We could use the milk, that’s for sure, and in theory, she would pay herself off in a year or less- provided everything went smoothly, of course.
And the more we joked, the more we became serious about the idea. Raw milk, when handled properly, has fabulous health benefits. Goat milk in particular is supposed to be more digestible than cow’s milk. We could make a lot of our own dairy products and save money- especially compared to the cost of buying local raw milk.
We had mentioned to our neighbors in the past that we were interested in one day owning a goat. So when they offered their barn and paddock space to us if we ever wanted to get one for real, it was pretty tempting.
It was a win/win. We have enough space for a goat, but not really designated pasture or a shelter. They had the pasture and barn, but a lonely goat who needed a friend. We could share chores like water duty and barn clean up. We could maybe even trade goat-sitting for when we wanted to go on vacation.
So really, when would be a more perfect time to think about purchasing a milk goat?
I began searching local ads for goats and goat farms. And that’s when I knew we were serious. I looked at lots pictures of cute goats for sale. I started preparing myself for the chores that come with a goat. We priced out goat supplies, just to see if it was all feasible. Then, I just happened to pay a visit to a particular local goat farm with good rapport that just happened to have a mama goat in milk whose kid was just sold a couple of days ago who just happened to be for sale.
I bought her and brought her home a couple days later- Memorial Day afternoon.
This is sweet-tempered Leslie, our brand new addition to the homestead. She’s a Nigerian dwarf goat- a breed known for being good with kids and producing milk with high butterfat content. They’re smaller than a full-size, which means a bit less milk- but it also means they’re less expensive to feed and easier to handle.
We’re getting to know Leslie and she’s getting to be at home with us. She and the neighbor’s goat are getting to be friends, and they “talk” to each other all day long. The kids love to see her and want to walk to the barn to visit her frequently. And, perhaps most exciting to me, we are getting more successful with milking and managed to get her first round of fresh milk safely home for sampling tonight.
The verdict? Mmm, mmm, good.
So now I only have one problem.
What do I do with my blog name?