Milking goats provide milk for the family, even butter and cheese, at little cost. The downside is the time and effort it takes to manage does and their kids, to train the does to be cooperative, and to milk them at the same time, in the same way, every day.
Goat milk is popular because it is more like human milk than cows' milk is. It's suitable for a range of dairy products and is particularly good for making cheese.
A good dairy doe can give around 3 litres a day for 10 months or more, and some does can be milked continuously for nearly 2 years. If the doe is being hand-milked she should be milked twice a day in hygienic custom-made facilities, preferably with a little feed as a reward while she is being milked.
Hand milking goats on the farm is not to be undertaken lightly. It requires good facilities, excellent hygiene, a lot of time and patience, and some knowledge of breeding and managing breeding does. If you are serious about it, this series will help, but it is really important to consult an experienced dairy goat farmer if you have any doubts about what is involved and to help you get started.
Wash and dry your hands well before milking each goat. It is generally best to clean the udder before milking. Use a medicated teat wipe or a veterinary-approved disinfectant at the recommended concentration from a spray bottle then a paper towel or a clean cloth to wipe dry. If you are using a cloth, wash it and soak in disinfectant then squeeze dry and hang up to dry between milkings. Dry the udder and your hands carefully with paper towels and use new paper towels for each goat. Proper drying is important both to prevent water droplets from falling into the milk and to prevent chapped teats.
Be kind to your goat by warming your hands first. They don't like cold hands!
Grasp the base of the teat with your index finger and thumb. Don't grasp the udder. Close your thumb and index finger to hold milk in the teat canal and prevent it from returning to the udder. Then close the second finger, then the third and little finger to force the milk down and out into the bucket. Discard the first squirt or two as the milk may not be clean.
Use first one hand and when that gets tired, the other. With practice, it will get easier. Do not pull down on the teat as this can damage the teat and the udder and it will be painful for the doe. Use a squeezing action to push the milk down.
NEVER milk like this; it damages both teats and
Next close your second finger, and the milk
Close the third finger. Use steady pressure;
Next, close your little finger; squeeze with whole hand
Now release the teat and let it fill up with milk...
When the milk flow is near to stopping, nudge
If you are not sharing the doe's milk with her kids, you should milk her out completely. This means you keep milking until you get no more, then massage or nudge the udder (as the kids do) to encourage more milk let-down.
Many medications can find their way into the milk and after treatment, it can take anything from a few hours to several weeks for the milk to become free of them. If the doe has been on any medication, it's important to observe the 'with-holding period' shown on the label. In the case of dairy goats, this is the time that must elapse before milk or milk products from that animal can be sold. Often goats are not among the species listed on the label of the medication, and the veterinarian who prescribed the remedy will advise on an appropriate with-holding period.
As a hobby farmer, you may not be selling the milk, but it's still important to observe with-holding periods, which may range from a day or two to several weeks. The reasons why with-holding periods must be observed are:
- some people are allergic to some medications
- taking in antibiotics at a low concentration encourages antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop
- antibiotics in milk will affect cheese-making.
Dairy goats are creatures of habit and they adapt readily to being milked if they are treated kindly and calmly and if the timing and the routine are the same every day. Otherwise, the training process can be taxing.
It pays to accustom young does to the milking shed before they even become pregnant. When they are very young they could regularly be given a little feed in the milking stand for example. This practice can be continued when they are being milked. It should be a stress-free experience for the milker and the goat.
Even if you plan to milk the doe, you should let her kid or kids have her first milk, the colostrum, for the first few days of lactation. Colostrum is a vital food for newborn kids and its taste is not to most people's liking. After that, you might decide to share her milk with her kid or kids. This is a convenient option because the kids don't require hand-rearing, and you don't have to milk her twice every day. If she has two or three kids, you can let her keep one or even two, preferably females, and sell or give away the rest when they are a few days old and after they have been well fed on colostrum.
Remember that if you do this, you have a moral obligation to ensure that the new owners know how to hand rear and care for the kids, and its best if the kids are disbudded and males castrated before they go.
Kids need at least a litre of milk a day each, but an adult doe in good condition with plenty of feed can usually raise one or two kids and still provide some milk for the family.
For share-milking, you have to limit the kids' access to the doe for a while each day so that you can milk the doe. You might for example put the doe and kid(s) in adjacent but separate pens overnight, well sheltered and in full sight, sound, and sniffing reach of each other so that they are not stressed by being separated. You can milk the doe in the morning then let the doe and kid(s) run together until the evening when you separate them again. The doe and kids must have access to drinking water and feed. Offering the kids hay has the advantage of encouraging their rumen development.
If the doe is being 'share-milked' she is usually milked just once a day. However, some farmers hand milk only once every second or third day, and the goats can readily accept this routine too.
A milking stand can be set up in a corner of a shed. Ideally, this will be a slightly raised platform (about 30 cm off the ground) with a restraining crate (about 1.2 m long and about 0.5 m wide), or perhaps with a head bail to hold her steady. If the platform is at the correct height, you can sit to one side facing the rear and milk by hand into a bucket. If the doe is securely restrained and has a trough at her head she will probably stand quietly to be milked while she enjoys a snack of concentrate pellets. Some farmers buckle a short leather leg strap to the hind leg closest to them and attach it to the crate by a short length of chain, to minimise the risk of having the bucket of laboriously collected milk kicked over! Once a pleasant routine is established, the strap may not be necessary.
Equipment should be disinfected after each milking using dilute antiseptic, or by putting stainless steel bowls in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them.
Drying off can be a stressful time for the doe if she is producing more milk than is being taken off. Her udder will get very tight with milk and apart from being very uncomfortable, this can predispose her to mastitis.
When a doe is suckling kids, her milk production normally slows down after 9 to 10 months, her kids gradually suckle less, and drying off is a stress-free business for them all.
If the doe has no kids and is being hand-milked only, her production will taper off too, and eventually, it's wise to allow her to dry off so that she can regain body condition ready for her next set of kids and lactation. Some good dairy does will happily continue to produce milk for much longer, and while their milk production might fall over winter, it will pick up again the following spring.
There are several ways of drying off. Some people advocate reducing the amount of milk taken off at each milking and milking just once a day for a few weeks. Others say it's best to milk out completely at every milking, but reduce the frequency to once a day for a few days then once every second day for a week. With the latter method, there is less chance of mastitis developing. Restricting the doe's concentrate ration will help her dry off too and keep her out of sight and sound of the milking shed. If food is restricted for a short time, ad-lib roughage should be provided (hay for example) and her water supply should never be cut back.
On most lifestyle farms, there is probably no need to give "dry goat therapy" at drying off. However, the risk of mastitis increases when milking stops because bacteria can enter the teat canal. If you have had mastitis in goats before or if your vet advises it, you can help prevent mastitis and "clean up" the udder in your does by putting intra-mammary medication into the teat canals after the last milking. This is "dry goat therapy".
Dry goat treatment such as "Nafpenzal" can be obtained from your veterinarian, who will provide more details about how to use it properly. The treatment is given after the last milking when the udder has been completely milked out so that there is good absorption into the udder.
The teat and udder must be disinfected with special teat wipes first, a new tube of medication should be used and the nozzle inserted only a little way into the canal. The medication should not be massaged up into the teat.
After the last milking, the doe should be run for at least a week in a clean paddock, to help keep the udder clean and reduce the chance of infection. She should be checked daily for a while to make sure she doesn't develop the swollen painful udder that indicates mastitis. If she does, don't be tempted to treat it with the dry goat therapy. See your veterinarian right away for the appropriate antibiotic treatment.