Goat milk is incredibly healthy for baby goats and for people. It is digested more easily than cow’s milk and has been used to treat stomach issues for centuries. Our youngest son’s stomach troubles was what started us on the path to goat tending. I purchased my first milk goat, “Olive,” from a good friend that I teach with. Olive was in milk when we got her; she had lost her kids but still had good milk. I had done some research on milking goats and had milked cows many years ago so of course…I was “competent.” My husband built a milk stand out of an old coffee table, we picked up Olive and brought her home, and I proceeded to milk her. If only there had been a way to have captured the look of pure disgust on her face as I utterly, or I should say udderly, failed to express more than a few drops of milk. After a few YouTube videos and much fumbling around underneath my new milk goat we figured out how to milk. Goats are a continual learning process. Much of the information that I acquired has come from the blogs and videos of other goat farmers. I hope to add to that wealth of knowledge. Goats are among the first animals domesticated for food; so the process for milking that follows is by no means the only way to successfully milk a goat.
Getting a Goat
The first thing you need is a female goat. Every goat’s milk tastes unique so even within specific breeds you will get a variety of tastes. Milk breed goats tend to have a larger milk supply, making them attractive to people who want milk for more than just drinking. For example it takes roughly one gallon of goat milk to make one pound of cheddar cheese; that is a lot of milk for a goat. The more popular milk breeds are Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Saanen, Toggenburg, Oberhasli, and Nigerian Dwarf. I personally only have experience with Alpine and Saanen; however, I also have a Boer meat goat that has some of the best tasting milk we have ever had. So your goat does not necessarily have to be bred for milk depending on how much milk you need. I would strongly urge doing some research on each of the breeds to see which type of goat will suit your needs. Once you have chosen the type of goats you want, you need to consider how you will manage and keep them.
Goats need good fence and shelter. If you decide on smaller breeds such as the Nubian Dwarf you will need a tight fence to hold them. If there is one thing that goats love best it is being where they are not supposed to be. Also you should choose whether you want a horned or de-horned herd from the beginning. It is dangerous and clearly unfair to put de-horned goats in with horned goats. Your goats will fight and play in a rough manner no matter how much you cringe. We prefer horned goats as the horns act as natural handles whenever I need to get a hold of them and it is a natural defense system against predators. We do not put collars on our goats unless they are being moved because they will hook their horns under each other’s collars. If you have ever tended to the needs and safety of a small human child all of this will make perfect sense to you because goats behave very much like small children.
Depending on where in the breeding cycle you come into your new goats, will determine how much you need to know. If you are breeding your new goat you will want to do as much research as possible on how to care and tend pregnant and birthing does. Each doe will need her own space for at least a couple of weeks after the birthing. Other than that it is fine to keep all of your goats together with the exception of bucks that are ready to breed. First of all you don’t want your bucks to breed the wrong doe or breed at the wrong time. And if you keep bucks with your milk goats the milk will taste like the billy goat smells. We usually get a buck when we need to breed the does and then sell him when the job is done. Frankly billy goats are just an excessive amount of trouble, and the barn is so much more peaceful without them.
The Milk Stand
A milk stand is not a necessary tool for milking goats. People have milked goats in fields for thousands of years. However, a milk stand will make life easier on your knees and back and it is easier to milk an immobilized goat. There are numerous styles of milk stands. We converted an old coffee table and have had great success with it. Your stand needs to be low enough for the goat to hop up on it with a full udder. It needs to have a head catcher on it that will adjust for neck size if you plan on having more than one milk goat. And your stand must have a small food box so you can convince your doe that she should get on your milk stand in the first place.
If you have a goat that has never used a milk stand you may need to coax her up on the stand with the food or if she is in particularly stubborn you may need to pull her up onto it the first few times. Once your goat realizes that there is grain on the stand she will jump up with no encouragement. Goats are creatures of habit. You will notice over time that if you change the routine your goats will resist. Something as simple as moving your goat stand a few inches will sometimes be enough to distress a milk goat. Again, they behave like small children.
Once her head is in the catcher you can begin milking. If you have a goat that is new to milking or is a habitual milk pail kicker I recommend using a pair of goat hobbles; they immobilize the goats rear legs to keep them from kicking. Goat hobbling can also be accomplished by tying one leg back so the goat cannot lift its leg to kick. I have found that a pair of goat hobbles seems more comfortable for the goat because she can have both feet on the stand. Once a goat is trained to the stand it is rare that you should need to hobble; they typically are excited about eating and getting the relief that milking provides.
Goat teats are different than cow teats. Milking a cow is much easier; it just takes longer. Before you begin milking you need to treat the teats with an antibacterial agent. There are sprays for goats teats that you can purchase commercially or you can make your own. We practice organic farming so I choose not use commercial sprays. I make a spray out of water, vinegar, and tea tree oil. Spray the teats before you begin and squeeze a small amount of milk out before you milk in the pail. The first bit of milk that comes out has a larger amount of bacteria in it. Place your pail under the goat.
A small stainless steel milk pail is well worth the expense. They are shaped to catch milk more effectively, are weighted for stability, and are easier to clean than other materials. Goat teats are shaped almost like a rounded triangle. You have to gently feel around for the milk sacks that are at the top to make sure you are not squeezing the sacks. If you rupture the milk sacks it damages the teats and causes blood to appear in your milk.
Once you have found the sacks place your index finger and thumb around the teat just below them. The goal is to trap the milk in the teat by pinching that part and squeezing it out with your other fingers. Depending on the size on the teat this may be done with half of your fingers or most of your hand. It is my personal opinion that women and children are more successful at milking goats because of their hand size in relation to goat teats. On the rare occasion that I am gone and my husband milks this is an issue and my goats are always pleased to see me return.
Keep pinching and squeezing until the milk is gone. To get the last bit out you can gently punch up on the bag once or twice to simulate what her kids would do to get as much milk as they can. She will produce more if you keep her milked out. Goats need to be milked two times a day and it is best to keep within one to two hours of your milk schedule. You will get more milk if you space milking times evenly throughout the day cycle. For example I milk at six in the morning and at six in the evening.
When you are finished milking it is best to treat the teats. I use a mixture of organic essential oils. My mix has a coconut oil base, tea tree and lavender oil for bacteria, and a small amount of peppermint oil to encourage blood flow for the prevention of mastitis. Mastitis is a blockage of a milk gland and is pretty rare.
Below is a short video of me going through the milking process. When I first started milking I found videos to be the best tutorials.
After Care of the Goat and the Milk
When you are finished with the goat make sure she has plenty of fresh hay and water, Milk production hinges on a good food and water supply. If you worm your goat be sure to read the guidelines for milking carefully.
Now you need to strain your milk. You can use coffee filters or cheesecloth. However if you plan on milking long term purchasing a milk strainer is well worth the expense. Be sure to refrigerate, or pasteurize and refrigerate, your milk right away. There are some differing opinions about pasteurizing milk or consuming it raw. If you keep close track of your goats health and everyday care you may choose to go all natural and reap the health benefits of drinking raw milk. I know people who swear by pasteurization.
We do not pasteurize our milk; although, with several children in the house we also don’t keep it in the fridge for every long. I make cheese, soap, and yogurt our goat milk that we do not drink and cook with. We have stopped purchasing milk from the store all together. One of the few disadvantages to goat milk over cow milk is butter. Because goat milk has such a low fat content it takes an excessive amount of milk to produce butter.
There is a wealth of information online about the care and health of milk goats. Here are a few that have I have used and a supplier that I purchase milking supplies from. I am not affiliated with this supplier I have just had very good dealings with them. I hope this information is helpful and happy milking!
http://www.goatwisdom.com/index.html#topics – An excellent site for general information
http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/xcart/home.php – Great supplier for goat milking supplies. They also have good recipes for soap and cheese. There are also some supplies on Amazon that I have had wonderful success with.