Photo by Sue Weaver
My new triplets will be 2 weeks old this week, so Mom’s going to start milking Katy once a day. She can do that because the people who developed modern dairy goats selected for amazing milk production, and does like Katy make much more milk than even three strong kids can drink.
Mom will pen Katy’s kids in a big, roomy area of Katy’s stall overnight and milk Katy in the morning, leaving enough milk for the kids’ breakfast. This works because my kids have been eating hay and grain for more than a week now, and they’ll have drinking water and their own overnight feed supply in their pen.
Mom and Dad love Katy’s rich milk. Maybe you’d like fresh, sweet milk for your family, too? Mom says milking is fun and easy, but it isn’t something to commit to until you know the facts. Here are some things to consider.
1. Many Animals Can Be Milked
You don’t have to milk a cow or goat. According to United Nations figures published in 2001, 84.6 percent of the world’s milk was produced by cattle; 11.8 percent by water buffalo; 2.1 percent by goats; 1.3 percent by sheep and the remaining 0.2 percent by an assortment of other mammals, including horses, donkeys, camels, yaks, reindeer, llamas and moose.
2. Only Animal Moms Can Be Milked
To begin producing milk and keep on producing it, an animal must periodically give birth. Ordinarily, females produce offspring once a year. However, some individuals “milk through,” meaning they don’t have to be rebred every year. Alpines, Toggenburgs and Saanens are the goat breeds that most likely to do it.
3. Milking Must Be Consistent
Dairy animals must be milked every day at the same times, in the same place, preferably by the same milker; they never take long weekends or sleep in. For maximum output, dairy livestock is milked twice every day at 12-hour intervals. (But you can read here about milking cows once a day.)
4. Milk Supply Fluctuates
No cow, doe or ewe provides maximum output of milk year-round; the amount of milk she gives decreases as her lactation progresses. If she milks through she might give only a few cups through the winter months, but she’ll increase production again when spring arrives. She’ll also need time between lactations to recover from milking before giving birth again. Sheep and goats need roughly a two-month break.
5. Healthy Milk Tastes Great
Milk from healthy, well-fed goats is delicious. I know because I drank it as a kid! Properly handled goat milk neither smells nor tastes “goaty;” in fact, it tastes like full-cream, home-processed cow milk. Goat’s milk is slightly higher in calcium, milk solids and a few vitamins and minerals than cow’s milk, but their protein and carbohydrate counts are practically the same. However, smaller fat globules make goat milk whiter easier to digest because it lacks the carotene that turns the fat in cow’s milk a pale, creamy yellow. (Goats convert carotene to vitamin A.)
6. Know How Teats and Udders Function
Teats are the structures you hold in your hands when you milk; the overall mammary structure is the animal’s udder. Cows have four teats; most sheep and goats have only two.
Between milkings, milk accumulates inside the udder in structures called alveoli. Then they pass through a series of ducts into the gland cistern, the udder’s largest collecting point. The gland cistern is connected to the teat cistern, a cavity within the teat where milk pools until milking time. A group of circular sphincter muscles surrounds the orifice (the opening) at the tip of each teat. When an external force (a calf or kid’s mouth or a milker’s hands) overcomes the strength of the sphincter muscles, they open and stored milk comes out
For more help on starting your farm dairy, read these other articles:
- Raise Dairy Goats for Milk
- How to Milk a Cow
- When to Breed Young Goats for Milk
- Start Your Home Dairy
- Can I Milk Sheep?
Next week, we’ll show you how Mom and Dad milk our goats.
Do you have a livestock or wildlife question you want me to answer?
Please keep in mind that I receive a lot of questions, so I won’t always be able to answer each one immediately. In the case of an animal emergency, it’s important to reach out to your veterinarian or extension agent first.