Milking a goat isn’t much different than milking a cow or a sheep, but it can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re doing. The relationship between farmers and dairy animals is pretty interesting, too. When humans prep a dairy animal for milking, they start by wiping her udder. By doing this, the hypothalamus in the animal’s brain signals her posterior pituitary gland to release oxytocin into her bloodstream, causing teensy muscles around milk-holding alveoli to contract. In other words, she “lets down her milk.” If the dairy animal gets excited, scared or experiences pain, her adrenal glands secrete adrenaline, which constricts the blood vessels and capillaries in her udder and blocks the flow of oxytocin needed for milk let-down. For humans to be good milkers, they must be patient. They should approach milking in a low-key manner and practice good milking technique. Here’s how we do it on our farm.
Let’s imagine you’re milking a goat, like Katy. You’ll need:
- freshly washed hands with short fingernails.
- sterilized, stainless-steel pail or bowl
- udder wash and paper towels or unscented baby wipes (Mom carries several baby wipes per milking in a zipper-top plastic bag.)
- teat dip or an aerosol product
- teat dip cup or disposable 3-ounce paper cups (only if you use teat dip)
- strip cup with a perforated insert or a dark-colored bowl
- something to carry your supplies to the barn, like the clean 5-gallon bucket Mom uses
- a milking stand set up in your milking area, with grain waiting in the feed cup
You can milk from either side; the animal’s right side is traditional but Mom prefers to milk on Katy’s left. Lead the doe to the milking stand then ask her to hop up and fasten her head in the stanchion. If she’s dirty, brush her off before you start milking.
Sit down and clean her udder using your favorite prepping product. Dry each half using a paper towel. (Omit this step if you’re using baby wipes.) You might want to massage her udder for 30 seconds or so to facilitate milk letdown.
Squirt the first few streams of milk from each teat into your strip cup or dark bowl and check it for strings, lumps or a watery consistency that could indicate mastitis. You’re not wasting milk when you do this. Most bacteria present in the milk is in the first few squirts, and you’d want to discard it anyway.
Place the milking pail slightly in front of the goat’s udder. Sit down and grasp a teat in each hand. (When milking a cow, most people milk the nearest teats first.) Alternately, milk one-handed like Mom does in the video above.
Trap milk in each teat by wrapping your thumb and forefinger around its base. Gently nudge the doe’s udder with the upper edge of the same hand, then close off the teat with your thumb and forefinger. Never allow milk to backflow into the teat, and be sure to grasp a teat and not the udder itself because consistently pinching the udder can damage it–plus, it’s painful for the goat.
While still holding the teat closed, squeeze with your middle finger, then your ring finger and if you haven’t run out of teat, your pinky, in one smooth motion, forcing milk trapped in the teat down into your pail. Relax your grip to allow the cistern to refill and do it again. Never pull on an animal’s teats. It doesn’t work, it hurts the animal and it can damage the teat. Alternate teats, squeezing one teat while the other refills. Or if you do it Mom’s way, milk one-handed into a smaller container, dumping the milk into your milk pail as it fills up.
As the doe’s teats deflate, gently bump or massage her udder to encourage additional milk letdown. Don’t finish by stripping the teats between your thumb and first two fingers; that hurts and it annoys the goat.
Pour enough teat dip into your teat cup to dip one teat in fresh solution. Dump and refill it, then dip the other teat. Allow both teats to dry. As an alternative to dipping, you can spray the end of each teat with an aerosol spray, such as Fight Bac, until a bead of fluid forms on each tip. Then release the goat and let her jump down.
If you have more than one doe to milk, pour the milk into a larger stainless steel or glass (not plastic) container, cover it and move along to the next goat. As soon as you’re finished, rush the milk to your kitchen and process it without delay. Next week, we’ll show you how!