Improving Milk Stand Behavior Problems
Does Goat Milking by Hand Become a Pain for Everyone?
By Katherine Drovdahl MH CA CR DipHIr CEIT QTP
We are going to look at several common causes of behavior issues on the goat milking stand so that their experiences can be enjoyable rather than challenging.
Oh man! Who hasn’t experienced the skin-nourishing beauty of goat milk sloshed on their face and lap while trying to hand milk or strip a goat? If you have not yet experienced dancing goat fever, then you simply haven’t worked with milkers long enough. Your opportunity is coming!
First, we need to look at the milk stand itself. The stand needs to be on a flat surface that it will not rock or move when your goat jumps up on it. It also should have some type of non-slip surface in case the goat’s feet are wet. Periodically check all of the fasteners, nuts, and bolts on the stand if applicable and tighten them so that stand doesn’t get shaky or, worse yet, fall apart with a goat on it. A tiny bit of fingernail polish on bolt threads, just before bolting, will help them not loosen up but can still be undone with tools. Carefully run your hands down the neck rails and carefully look over the platform and feed tray/equipment. You are looking for sharp edges and protrusions that could cause your barn buddy pain or injury. Fix any deficiencies before you load a goat. Make sure any milk bucket you use is small enough to easily fit between their legs without bumping. I like mini buckets for this reason.
Goats are creatures of routine. They feel safe and confident from being handled at about the same times (especially for milking), by the same people and in the same environment. As a prey animal, they notice everything around them and can get insecure because their ability to escape a perceived threat is blocked when they are locked into the stand. New or sudden noises, or fast movements by children, dogs or even hand-raised baby goats they aren’t used to, can cause them to jig. A goat next to them, picking on them, can also be a problem. For that reason, we attach small plywood pieces between goat stanchions to keep faces where they belong. We also milk or do management in a room or area the goats are used to that also is unlikely to have new distractions.
Are goats smart? You bet! When “interviewing” my girls, they also ranked boredom pretty high on their list of reasons to misbehave. I always keep herb mixed kelp at the bottom of their grain feeder so that, once they are through their grain, they still have kelp to work on. In addition, we load no more than two or three goats per person or equipment milking onto stands; otherwise, we can’t finish before they are done eating. Also, watch for moldy or problematic feed or mold on unclean feeders, which will shorten their eating time.
You have one opportunity to make a good milk/grooming stand experience with your goat or kids! For this reason, we do not disbud, castrate, draw blood for testing or tattoo using a goat stanchion. Goats have excellent memories and if their first experiences with a stand or you are those of pain and fear, you may work hard to overcome that later. We try to trim feet on a stand in our barn isle, rather than in the milkroom. To keep that good impression with a new goat or first freshener, plan time to load them on the stand for the first experience. If you drag or rush a hesitant goat, you will succeed in supporting their instincts that they are in danger and make the next time more difficult. Who wants that? Coax, be gentle, reward, be kind. Coming off of the milking stand, we always offer a small treat so they end their experience on a good note and don’t risk injury to us or them by just flying off of the milkstand.
Incorrect milking techniques can also initiate problems with the best goats for milk. Brrr! No cold hands or cold sprays on teats or udder tissue, please, otherwise your goat may levitate! Also, keeping fingernails short so teats are not poked, scratched or pinched is very helpful. Be confident while learning to milk by kindly but firmly grasping teats or touching the udder so you don’t tickle them. If you are using a milk machine, do not allow your goats to “dry milk.” That is allowing inflations to remain on the teats once milk flow is very thin or finished. This causes the vacuum to pull on sensitive tissue inside the teat. This can cause pain, damage, and even can pull out teat tissue. Be sure your milk machine is adjusted to the correct pressure for goats. It will be less pressure than is normal for cattle or sheep with that machine and hose length. Talk to your machine’s manufacturer to learn the appropriate setting for your machine. If you have an ancient cast iron unnamed workhorse like ours, start at eleven pounds of pressure and adjust slowly if needed.
Sometimes, issues with the udder itself can cause “dancing goat fever.” I once had a yearling doe that came into milk so fast after kidding that her teat skin split. A doe may also have a sore, cut or abrasion in an area not readily visible. If she bounces, gently but firmly feel around the teats and udder base, to see if the tissue or skin feels different inside or out, before you jump to conclusions. Also, feel for internal lumps that may indicate mastitis. Blockages in the teats caused by injury, a lump, or even harder (and sharp) calcium crystals in the teats can all cause pain when squeezed. A goat that comes into the milkroom too full may also get upset when you begin to relieve pressure from her stretched-out mammary. Be sure to address any of these issues before blaming the goat for a bad performance. Soothing herbal salves go a long way to giving your doe immediate comfort in many of these situations.
Scaring a goat by performing a procedure they aren’t used to, or not doing frequently, may also get a negative reaction out of them. When trimming hooves, we always make sure the goat feels secure by leaning on them or holding their feet in a way that they can balance against us. A goat out of balance instinctively moves to correct that problem as, in the wild, being out of balance could mean a fall to their death. Clipping goats with noisy grooming clippers can be scary indeed. I usually clip goats starting at the rump and tail end, and most of them, by the time I get to their head, have long since decided they are more interested in their kelp and goodies in their feeder. Other herd management, such as drawing blood for testing, may take two people to keep the goat feeling most secure.
Sometimes, a goat just does not want a human touching her mammary, ever. It may be a goat with a bad temperament or maybe a goat that has been repeatedly mishandled or abused. If you are calm and patient, you may address previous poor management as your doe learns to trust you. Remember to always keep yourself safe from injury as well as the goat. You can put her on nervine herbs and see if, over time, she becomes more balanced out in her behavior. Rescue Remedy is homeopathic product you can also try, which helps many animals deal with fear. Energy medicine may help. If you find, over time, that your goat-whispering skills and supplements aren’t getting you anywhere, accept it’s the one-in-a-million goat that isn’t a good hand- or machine-milking candidate. You may also find that, if you continually have a short fuse when a goat is problematic for a legitimate reason, you are going to be less patient than you need to be and can cause a problem to become worse. Please consider that part of the equation as well.
My hope is that every chore time and session on the milking stand will be a peaceful and enjoyable time with your beloved goats!
Katherine and her beloved husband Jerry are managed by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications including Master of Herbology & lifelong creature experience give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her herb products & consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com.