Goat Talk – Part 2 – MILKING: The Real Story
Clark is the goat guy at our farm. He does the milking and teaches our farm hands and interns how to milk goats. It is a ritual he loves. For many people, milking a goat in the morning and then again, the same day 12 hours later every day, no exceptions, is too much to ask. Committing to milking not only means staying at home most of the time, but also prevents very little or no long-term absences from home. So why do it? If you are a dyed-in-the-wool homebody like Clark, milking is not a chore, but rather a preferred lifestyle.
Despite my efforts to get him to build a barn or at least a milking shed so that he has some form of protection from the elements, he rejects the idea saying, “I don’t want a roof over my head; I want to see the stars.” During this last set of serious snow storms, he consulted the weather report, found a break in the snowfall, put on four layers of warm clothing, and headed out the door. At the milking stanchion, he threw a blanket on Petunia, our best milker, then he and our red healer mutt, Granite, proceeded with their nightly milking rituals as if it wasn’t 10 degrees outside. That night he had a full moon to look at.
Clark can tell you the name of every goat we have owned over the past nine years and every kid birthed in our pens. He will be the first to say they taught him what he knows about goats–trial and error, an unspoken agreement between goat and man.
I go to lengths to tell you about Clark because goats and milking goats isn’t for fair weather farmers. I chose to stick to growing food on our farm rather than milking or processing the milk. It is a very time-consuming commitment, but I can attest to the results–sweet relationships that manifest tremendous satisfaction and highly nutritious products, to boot!
As we are off-grid and attempt to minimize our energy use, we do not use milking machines. At this writing, we have two goats who daily give us a gallon of milk. They live in pens with their kids who are being evaluated as future milking candidates. We select our milkers by observing their physical growth and personalities, as well as factoring in their genetic heritage. Choosing the next generation of milkers is the subject for another talk Goat Talk Part 3, but we can say here that most of our goats are Nubian breed—known for their rich milk. Presently, we have a total of 15 goats, including Troy, the buck, who sired most of the kids. Some of the herd will be processed for their meat—a subject for yet another talk Goat Talk Part 4.
At every milking, Petunia and Belle receive a serving of sweet grain and alfalfa pellets to enrich their food intake and keep them occupied while on the milking stand. (Petunia has ruined more than one pail of fresh milk by kicking it over or stepping in it—aaaarrrgghh!). The herd eats approximately three to four large flakes of alfalfa twice a day. At present day costs, it requires approximately $90.00 to $108.00 per month to feed 15 goats of various ages and sizes. The super goat sweet grain (2 ½ cups/goat/feeding) and alfalfa pellets (about 1 lb./milking) for the milkers adds another $60.00 a month. These costs are averages based on current local prices and sometimes availability—supply and demand. We choose to support a local farming family in New Mexico; we buy our grain and pellets from Onate.
Still thinking about raising goats? Here’s what Clark carries out to the pen–the equipment list:
Stainless steel pail (1 1/2 gal), lidded stainless steel transport bucket, #10 tin can, 5-gal Home Depot bucket, clean wash cloths. All items are spotlessly clean. He uses a brush to wipe off the loose hairs and a damp cloth on the udder and teats. He milks from the side, though much of the world milks from behind the goat and between the goats back legs. Milking requires finesse and builds hand strength and agility. You learn by doing this timeless practice. As much as we would love to let our goats graze, our farm has its share of visiting coyotes, so goats are kept in chain link pens. To date, we have never lost a goat to predators. So, if you have 4-legged predators, add a sturdy, secure fence to the equipment/materials list.
In order to make Grade ‘A’ milk, one must get the temperature of the milk down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 20 minutes. Morning or evening milking, Clark hauls his buckets at a clipping pace into the milk processing shop. He gits er’ done–the milk is chilled and stored in glass containers in the refrigerator within a half hour of taking the milk from the udder.
The best way to learn more about milking is to observe it being done first hand. If you are considering owning goats and milking them, we are more than happy to host a visit. If you have questions, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: (928) 587-1405. The second most effective way to observe milking being done on the many You Tube programs on the subject. We also recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats as a classic reference book on the topic.