How to Milk a Goat: Are You Hurting or Helping?
Is Goat Milking by Hand Destroying Your Goat's Udder?
Knowing how to milk a goat is not quite as simple as it sounds! While nearly anyone can squeeze milk out of teat, milking goats the right way protects the udder and that milk that you work so hard to produce! It also takes time to develop coordination and efficiency. For those that have hand-milked goats for some time, I can see that grin as you recollect spilled milk, milk running down your wrists and arms, and perhaps a dancing goat or two.
Before you head out to the barn, do your goat a favor: Please keep those fingernails short so you are less likely to pinch skin or a teat.
Ideally, you want a location that is quiet and peaceful with a good temperature and protection from wind and weather. That may be in a corner of a garage or shed, under a tree in summer, or a dedicated milk room. You want your goat to be relaxed and you want to enjoy the experience that you may be partaking in 610 times per year per goat, milking twice per day for the average lactation of 305 days! Times 10 goats? Yes, 6,100 goats milked! That SHOULD make you a superhero of some kind — right?
Besides the enjoyable location, lighting is important so you can see that your goat udder and teats are clean. You need to watch that the milk is clean without lumping and is not collecting pieces of alfalfa dropping from your sleeves because you fed the goats first. Oops! You also need to make sure nothing in the area will trip you and be able to inspect equipment for safety.
Your milk stand could be your best friend! It enables your goat to focus on her feed and to be restrained from capricious premeditated antics. How many of us forgot to lock the goat stanchion then the goat finished her feed while you were still milking? Spilled milk, twisting goats attempting to get at someone else’s feed, and barnyard entertainment at your expense! I prefer the milk room to be a little duller than that! Always check your stand for loose nuts, sharp edges, that it sits firmly on the ground without rocking, and for a slip-free platform. I keep wood shavings handy in case a milk stand gets wet. They help absorb the milk, counter some bacteria, and give traction on the surface including a wet floor. They sweep up easily when I’m done.
Have your milking equipment (bucket and milk storage containers) ready before you get your goat. Stainless steel or glass containers are the only acceptable materials that you want touching the milk. Neither will leach flavors or chemicals into the milk and both can be sanitized effectively. Here we hand-milk into stainless and store it in quart canning jars, which cool quickly in ice water for a high-quality, tasty milk. Caring for goats, especially milking stock, is too much work to get sloppy.
After I load my goats, I use a natural teat spray on each teat then wipe it off with a clean paper towel so dirty water doesn’t run onto the orifice area. If you get dirt in the towel, repeat the process until they are dry. This is called a “pre-dip.” I don’t use actual dips because they become contaminated as you go from goat to goat. To glove up or not glove up is a personal preference, but be sure your hands and fingernails are clean so you don’t carry more bacteria to that teat.
It’s show time! Roll up those sleeves and position your milk stool on either side or behind your goat. If the goat is jumpy, get them used to milking from the side before you attempt to milk or strip from the back. Roll up your sleeves, get your milk bucket in place, take your dominant hand with the back of it facing your face, and spread the thumb away from the fingers. Then rotate your hand laterally or toward the outside so the back of your thumb is facing up and your fingers are facing out. Now confidently clasp the top of the goat’s teat below the udder floor and clamp it shut. Make sure you do not have udder tissue, only teat tissue in that clamp, so you don’t ruin the udder floor or shape or have it drop into the teat. Clamp flat, not in a round shape, with your thumb and pointer finger. Then squeeze without pulling the teat itself down, so you don’t damage the udder or stretch out the teat! Start your squeeze with the top pointer and middle finger, then index then pinky. Start with just one hand for a few squirts. Aim for a steady, strong stream that lands in the milk bucket.
Keep a second bucket on hand. For every inch or two of milk, dump into the second bucket so you can save some in case your first bucket gets dumped over while you are learning. That second or third squirt can be checked for unusual milk (mastitis) with a CMT test paddle, test strip, or a strainer developed for checking milk to make sure it’s usable in the house. Now after three to five squirts, try with your non-dominant hand. Then try it with both hands, squirting both teats simultaneously. Don’t worry about alternating hands until you’ve some practice. Also be prepared for really sore hands for several days, as you may be working little muscles and tissue that aren’t used to exercising in that fashion.
So you’ve been milking several minutes and the streams are getting thinner. It’s time to bump the udder for more letdown. Gently but firmly, either massage or bump up into the udder tissue. You do not need to bump as hard as an excited and hungry kid; just firm enough to get up into the udder tissue. Repeat three or four times or until you feel more milk drop into the lower udder or teat. Then milk that out. With most goats, you will do this two to four times before you are done milking.
Now post-spray the teats to encourage the orifices to close sooner and to decrease any bacteria on teat ends. This is a great time to apply a skin conditioner or natural salve to encourage udder and skin wellness. Pour or strain your milk into jars, set in ice and water.
Well done! You’ll soon be able to teach someone else how to milk a goat!
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
Katherine Drovdahl MH CA CR DipHIr CEIT QTP and her beloved husband Jerry are owned by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative education including a Masters in Herbology and lifelong experience with creatures of many kinds give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her wellness products & consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com as well as signed copies of her book, The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal.
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal.