Training on the Goat Milking Stand
It's never too early to start goat milk stand training!
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Goats don’t come out of the chute knowing how to get up onto a goat milking stand, let alone how to stand still on one while you’re milking those sensitive goat teats! No, training on the stand should start from the very early months if you want to avoid having a goat rodeo when your doe is in milk for the first time. Imagine trying to wrangle a 150-pound hormonal monster onto the stand when you’re ready to milk that first freshener. Take it from me, been there and done that and it wasn’t pretty.
I raise dairy goats and so it’s obvious that eventually, my goats are going to have to know how to jump up onto a goat milking stand. But even if you raise meat goats, fiber goats, or any other kind of backyard goats, training them on the goat stanchion will make your life easier when it’s time to vaccinate, trim feet, or handle them for any other reason. And milk stand training isn’t the only thing you’re going to want to be thinking about. Just teaching a goat to lead where you want it to go can be incredibly useful but isn’t something they know how to do until you teach them how to do it. If you show goats, milk goats, or just want to easily get your goats from point A to point B, training should start young and handling should be done regularly if you want to have a happy and healthy relationship with your caprine companions.
Before you begin goat milking stand training, it is necessary to teach your goat how to lead well so that you can get her to the milk stand in the first place. Of course, doing any kind of training requires that you can actually catch the goat, which can be tricky with babies that are exclusively dam-raised if you don’t spend a good deal of time interacting with and handling them when they are young. I’ve had a few dam-raised kids that were so hard to catch I decided to wean them early from their dams and bottle feed them for a few weeks just so that I could begin to work with them more easily. They don’t always make this transition happily so you may have to get them good and hungry before they’ll take a bottle from you, but in the long run, it’s worth the time invested if you have a particularly wild or shy dam-raised kid.
Teaching your goat to lead:
By the time my babies are two to three months old, I like to begin their training by first teaching them how to lead. Initially, I find this easier to do with a dog collar and leash so that I don’t have to kill my back leaning over and crouching. Here are the steps I find useful in training my baby goats to lead:
- Fit a regular dog collar around the baby’s neck so that it’s not too tight but not so loose that she can pull out of it. Attach a leash to the collar.
- At first, the baby will likely not know how to respond to the tug around her neck and will often go backward trying to get out of it. Just go backward with her to start.
- Once baby gets used to the feel of the collar around her neck, you can start gradually introducing her to the concept of moving off the pressure. Start with small tugs and releases. Give a little tug and then a little release of the pressure so she eventually learns that if she moves with the tug, the pressure around her neck goes away. Short tugs are more effective than continuous pulls.
- Continue to walk and try to bring baby along with you. At first, you’ll be doing a lot of tugging and releasing, but eventually, she’ll figure out that you want her to come with you. As she gets better at responding to the tugs, you can expect more from her, including having her stay by your side. But that will take a few sessions.
- Take periodic breaks from tugging/releasing to just have baby stand still. You might hold her in place with your hands on her body instead of with the collar to give her neck and throat a break. Give her lots of pets and praise so that she starts to get positive reinforcement for spending time with you.
- Limit your initial training sessions to five to 10 minutes at a time so she doesn’t grow to hate them. It’s better to do two or three short sessions in a day than one long one. Practice a little bit every day or at least several times a week.
- Once the collar and leash are working well, you can switch to other types of leading options. For really unruly or stubborn goats, a chain collar gives you more control. You’ll keep the collar tight up under the goat’s throat to retain control — once it gets down around her chest, even a small goat can out power you! You just want to be sure the chain’s not so tight that you can’t get your hand under it, but not so loose that it can slip over her head. (see picture) Don’t use the chain like a choke collar. You’ll attach a carabiner or other fastener to the two ring ends.
*A final word about collars: It’s very useful to keep a collar on your goats to make it easier to catch them and lead them where you want them to go, but you may want to consider a breakaway collar to lessen the chances of your goat getting stuck on a fence or hung up somewhere. I like the plastic chain goat collars myself, but I know many goat owners who keep regular web-type collars on their goats, too.
Training on the milk stand:
Once your goat is leading fairly well, it’s time to start goat milking stand training. I find it easiest to teach them that the milk stand is a place to get grain and then everything is easy from there! Here are the steps I take to teach my goats to happily jump up on the milk stand:
- Put a little grain in the tub attached to the front of the stand and just lift the baby goat onto the stand and up to the feed tub the first few times. Let her eat a little grain while you pet her and praise her. Do this several times before you move to step 2.
- Hold baby at the end of the goat milking stand and show her the scoop of grain up on the stand. Make it so she can just reach it with her nose, and maybe give her a taste to entice her. Encourage her to jump up onto the stand* to get the grain and then quickly move the grain a little further out of reach until she gets up to the tub and puts her head through the stanchion.
- Once she’s standing nicely and munching her grain, rub her all over and tell her what a good girl she is. You may have to tie her in the stand if you want her to stay there, as initially her neck and head may be too small to stay put with the stanchion closed.
- Have baby get up on the goat milking stand and munch some grain every few days until she gets the hang of it. She should start to look forward to it and will eventually run up onto the stand at any chance she gets. At this point, you can start doing things like giving her vaccinations, trimming her feet, etc.
* If the baby is particularly small and the stand is high, you may need a ramp, but I don’t use one and find that all my goats, big and small, are happy to jump up onto just about anything if they know grain is awaiting them!
A precaution about using grain in your training sessions:
While using grain or treats as a motivator to get your baby onto a goat milking stand and to keep her busy once she’s up there is an effective strategy, you must be careful not to overfeed her. If she’s not used to having grain or treats, just give her a little bit at a time. Grain overload can lead to diarrhea, bloat, or other problems, so use sparingly.
Start working with your goats while they’re young and follow these simple strategies to maximize both your enjoyment and your goat’s cooperation!
Originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.