Learning to milk a goat

 

learning to milk a goat

You may think that only you need to learn to milk a goat, but it’s not a natural thing for a goat to let a human take her milk. So, the goat also needs to learn to be milked. This is why it’s a great idea for you to get an experienced milker as your first milk goat. At least one of you knows how it works. However, that’s not usually possible. So, before we talk about how you milk a goat, let’s talk about how you teach a goat to become a milker. 

Teaching a goat to be milked

First, let’s talk about what to avoid. Fighting with a goat or hitting a goat is a bad idea. They are very smart and never forget. You want them to associate the milk stand with happy times and positive images, so that they will be beating down the door to get into the milking parlor — really. A goat that raises her own kids and misbehaves on the milk stand is simply expressing very strong mothering instincts. She feels that the milk is for her babies, so she is trying to stop you from taking it from them just as she would butt away another kid that tried to nurse off her.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the real answer is to start training your goat to the milk stand months before you plan to milk her. So, if you just brought home your first kids this spring and won’t be milking until next year, keep reading!

Back in the day before I had 20 milkers, we would put every goat on the milk stand every single time they got grain. They never received grain anywhere else.

One mistake some people make is to only put them on the milk stand when they are going to do something unpleasant like vaccinate or trim hooves. So the goats associate it with negative experiences and want nothing to do with it after freshening.

When our herd got too big to put every dry doe on the milk stand every day, I started putting them on the milk stand as early as possible after freshening. The sooner, the better — measured in hours, not days or weeks. If you can get them up there within 12 hours, you are usually good.

Some people say that you should let the doe lick birth fluid off your hands and she’ll let you milk her, but that’s not necessary. The bottom line is that if you’re milking them from day one when their hormones are raging, they think that you milking them is just as normal as their kids nursing. If their kids are the only ones getting the milk, then they think that the kids are the only ones that should be getting it.

And all those people who talk about the birth fluid thing also bottle raise kids. If you are bottle raising kids, the does tend to be completely mellow about being milked because they don’t know any other way. I don’t recommend bottle raising kids if you don’t know how to milk because you won’t be able to get the doe empty when you’re learning, and it’s all a matter of supply and demand. (More on that later.) 

If a doe is raising her own kids, you are not necessarily going for volume when you milk her, although I’ve had goats that would produce more than their kids could consume. I had a la mancha that would give a quart a day while nursing two kids without ever being separated.

However, you  may only get a few squirts, and that’s fine. This is all about training. Especially first fresheners won’t produce much more than what their kids can consume. If a doe has two or more kids, do not start separating them from mom overnight on a regular basis until they are two months old. Check out this article on how many kids a doe can feed for more information on this.

If a goat has only a single, you really need to either be milking twice a day without separating or separating overnight and milking every morning, or you’ll have a very wimpy milk supply because she will only produce enough for that one kid. Single kids also tend to be quite chunky because they can have all the milk they want. It’s about supply and demand, and a single kid will demand as much as it can, but it it’s still nowhere near as much as what twins would consume.

So, what do you do with a doe at two months with kids nursing who doesn’t want you to milk her?

The first thing I do is just put her on the milk stand and let her eat, and I’ll put my hand on her udder. She’ll start to kick at my hand, but I won’t move it. I’ll just leave it there until she stops kicking. Do that for a few days, and then start milking a little bit. She’ll probably get mad when you do that, but just stay calm and put your hand on her udder until she calms down again.

You haven’t separated the kids, and you’re not going for milk volume here. This is training. The whole time I’m talking to her in that voice that you use with a baby that is upset, telling her that everything is going to be okay and that I understand this is new to her. But as they say, it’s the tone of voice that’s important, so if you can talk soothingly while reciting the ABCs or the weather forecast, go for it.

If you have brought home a doe in milk that was just taken away from her kids this morning, however, you don’t have time for this type of training because you need to milk that goat tonight! If you are just learning to milk, it can be helpful to have someone hold one of the hind legs because most goats cannot kick the bucket over if they only have three legs on the milk stand. (I say “most” because it is not impossible.) If you have one that lays down, you can have your helper hold up her back end, or you can put something very large under her chest.

If you don’t have a helper, you can hobble a goat. We’ve only ever done this once, and it was with a LaMancha that my daughter had sworn to “never milk again” after the doe exploded on the milk stand and sent half a gallon of milk into the daughter’s lap. I suggest, however, that you stop using these strong-arm tactics as soon as possible because they’re time-consuming and stressful for both you and the goat.

If you did purchase a doe in milk, and she is not nursing a kid that will keep up the supply while you’re learning, you may need to milk three or four times during the day to keep her supply from going down. Three or four shorter milking sessions will be less stressful and more productive than two longer sessions.

I completely understand the frustration of learning to milk when you have an uncooperative goat — and in 2002, I gave up on my second goat and quit milking her after only a week. But it’s been years since we’ve had a doe that took longer than three or four days to settle down and let us milk her. I’m not sure if we’ve become that good at training them, or if we just culled all the lines that were not good at raising their kids and letting us milk them. It’s probably a combination of the two. My ultimate goal is that all of my does will run into the milking parlor and jump on the milk stand, and I will be able to milk them without even closing the head gate on the stanchion.

And even though I “complain” about my goats beating down the milking parlor door — some of them jump on the door while waiting their turn — and fighting to get in ahead of the other goats, I really would not have it any other way. It means they trust me and want to be milked. I talk about my goats as my partners in cheese making, and that’s really the way I feel about it. They’re sharing their milk with me because they want to, not because I’m bigger and stronger and am taking it by force.

How do you milk a goat?

The concept is very simple. You trap the milk in the teat, then you squeeze the teat, and the milk has nowhere to go but out the orifice on the bottom. The concept of riding a bicycle is also very simple — just pedal the bike — but learning the coordination to become efficient at either task takes time. Everyone is slow in the beginning. Don’t be hard on yourself if you get more milk on yourself than in the bucket and if it takes 15 minutes to get a cup of milk the first few times. 

This is why I recommend milking a doe that still has kids nursing. If you can learn to milk without ever separating the kids, that’s great. If you are not able to get out any milk, then once the kids are a month old, separate the kids as late in the evening as you can so that they will only be separated for about 8 hours before you milk in the morning. This is not only for the kids’ benefit but for yours! A very full udder is much harder to milk than one that’s only moderately full. You won’t be able to get all of the milk, and that’s fine. This is your learning experience. Just get as much as you can before the doe loses patience. Then put the doe back with her kids, and they’ll take care of getting the rest of milk.

I don’t sell a doe in milk to anyone without milking experience unless I am selling a kid with her. It only took a couple of unhappy customers in the early years of selling goats to realize that if someone doesn’t know how to milk, the doe’s supply will decrease every day as they’re learning. By the time they’ve got it figured out, she could be almost dried up. You need a kid to keep up the demand so that her body will keep producing while you’re learning. 

The doe needs to have goat feed to eat on the stand while you’re milking. You can mix alfalfa crumbs or alfalfa pellets into her grain so that she’ll have more to eat, and you’ll have more time to milk. If you just keep refilling her grain on the milk stand, she could wind up with an upset rumen and diarrhea. But she can eat as much alfalfa as she wants. 

Before milking into a bucket for human consumption, you need to clean the udder and put the first few squirts into a strip cup. The first few squirts have a higher bacteria level than the other milk because harmless skin bacteria are around and in the orifice (the opening) of the teats. Even though it’s harmless and won’t make you sick, it is what causes that “goaty” flavor that some people assume is normal in goat milk. It multiplies quickly, which is why the milk tastes worse as it gets older.

Pasteurization doesn’t help because dead bacteria don’t taste any better than live bacteria. My daughter actually studied this when working on her PhD in biological chemistry. Her goal was to create a filter to remove the bacteria, which she was able to do, but the problem was the filter also removed the butterfat. 

There are dozens of different ideas on how to clean the udder, but we have used nothing other than a wet washcloth, using a clean quadrant for each doe. I always start with something simple and don’t move on to anything more complicated unless simple proves to not work. We’ve only had three cases of mastitis in 17 years, so this works for us.

Now that you are ready to actually milk the goat … Trap the milk in the teat by pressing your thumb against the teat, which presses the teat against your hand. OR wrap your pointer finger tightly around the teat. 

how to milk a goat

 

After trapping the milk in the teat, press your other fingers against the teat, which presses the teat against your hand. OR wrap your other fingers around the teat to force the milk out of the orifice. The variation you use here will usually be dictated by how long the teats are. I don’t usually wrap my fingers around shorter teats. Be sure to squeeze with top finger first, followed by the middle finger, ring finger, and if it fits on the teat, the pinky finger. Your pinky finger may not be strong enough to actually do much, so if it needs to just hang out, that’s fine too. 

If you are squeezing and no milk is coming out, that means you don’t have a good seal at the top of the teat and the milk is going back up into the udder. Just relax your fingers and try again. 

When I’m teaching people to milk here — whether it’s adults or an 8-year-old — I show them what I mean by doing the same motion on their pointer finger. Then I have them practice on my finger before trying it on a goat. If it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to force blood out of the bottom of your finger, you’re not squeezing tightly enough. In fact, if the finger doesn’t turn red from you simply wrapping your pointer finger around the finger, you need to squeeze harder.

Milking a Nigerian dwarf

Some people say that milking a Nigerian dwarf is harder than standard goats. I understand. I complained non-stop for the first couple of years I had Nigerians. Then I learned how to milk them. That means I stopped trying to milk them like a cow. In fact, once I figured out how to milk them, I preferred milking them to a cow or a standard size milk goat with longer teats. Why?

Because there is one way to milk long teats — wrap all four fingers around the teats and squeeze from the top down. Your fingers get tired pretty fast doing that unless you’ve had enough practice that you’ve developed abnormal strength in your fingers.

With my Nigerians, I have three different techniques that I use to milk them, so when a couple of fingers get tired, I can switch to a different technique without missing a beat. Also, since you don’t usually get more than a quart out of one at a single milking, your hands get a couple of minutes rest before moving on to the next goat and milking out the next few cups of milk. With a cow or goat that gives a gallon or more, you don’t get breaks, and that makes a huge difference. 

Here’s a video that shows you the step-by-step process for milking a goat and handling the milk afterwards. Although I milk a Nigerian dwarf in the video, you can use the same techniques for standard size goats.

 

learning to milk a goat

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30 thoughts on “Learning to milk a goat”

  1. Great advice! I don't have goats at the moment, but hope to in the future. I'll tuck this into the recesses of my brain and hope to find it again when the need arises.

    Reply
  2. This is an awesome post! We've been lucky so far, fingers crossed, knock on wood and all that jazz. We're breeding our Nubians for the first time this fall, and they're more spirited than our Alpine. Great advise!

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this very useful post! We’re hoping to get goats next year. I was caring for a friend’s goats who have never allowed anyone to milk them and I don’t want to find myself in that predicament.

    Reply
  4. Hi,

    I just got my first doe kid and was wondering if they are similar to sheep where you can get them in lamb(kid) in their first year without, for a lack of a better word, stunting them provided they are well fed the entire time?

    Reply
    • You should not breed a goat until it is 60% of its adult weight to avoid kidding problems. Some goats will reach that by 7 months, but some may take 18 months. As long as does are well fed, there are no issues with stunting their growth. Hopefully you got more than one goat because they are herd animals and are rarely happy when alone. Be sure to check out my Beginner’s Guide to Goats — http://thriftyhomesteader.com/a-beginners-guide-to-goats/

      Reply
    • How exciting! If you get it done in the next month or two, you might still be able to find a few goats for sale.

      Reply
  5. How does this process work for a herd? Do you take the milk from each goat into the kitchen to filter and weigh one by one? That seems time consuming.

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    • We have a large pail with a lid, and we weight each goat’s milk in the milking parlor. You can either use a hanging scale for the bucket after you milk each doe, or you can set the large pale on a digital scale and zero it before you add the new milk. If we are milking more than about five goats, we don’t actually weigh each doe’s milk every day. We do it about every week or so unless it seems that a doe gave quite a bit less than usual, then we weigh it. A sudden big drop in milk production can tell you that something is up, such as the doe is sick or in heat. This is why it’s good to have a general idea of how much a doe is producing — in addition to long-term goals, breeding, and culling decisions.

      Reply
      • Thank you! I’m taking over our milking from my adult son, who still operates like he did when we had only 2 does, and I’m trying to streamline the process. (We have a dozen now!) It sounds like a scale in the milking parlor is the way to go.

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        • I am getting my first dairy goat this Saturday this is I believe her 3rd freshing you say to milk 3x a day the owner agreed but how long should I milk 3x a day? A couple weeks? Until after her quarantine period is up? Or should I wait until she has been in with my other 2 goats a couple of week’s?

          Reply
          • Ask the owner how much milk she normally gives in 24 hours and see how it compares with what you get. If you are getting quite a bit less than that in three milking, then keep milking until you are getting at least as much (or more) as what she was getting — or until you decide it’s not worth the extra effort. If she is leaving behind kids, her production will drop more than if she was only being milked, so keep that in mind also.

          • Makes perfect sense no kids currently on her they have been weaned for a long while now she’s giving around 7.1 lbs a day ! Also she’s in a DHIP so she’s constantly checking production I will definitely weigh it and see where she’s at and compare thank you so much for the advice

  6. Can you provide a link to the funnel and filters you use? I bought mine on amazon but they drive me nuts not fitting nicely.

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      • I’m milking Delilah in the mornings and getting about a quart of milk from one side. I leave the other side for her 5 month old baby, but I would like to sell the baby now. One quart of milk is plenty for us. Should I just let the doeling’s side dry up, and continue the milking as before?

        Reply
        • You should milk both sides equally. Otherwise, the goat will wind up with a lopsided udder, which could be permanent. When a doe’s kids are sold, her milk supply naturally decreases because her hormone levels change, so you will probably see about a 30% drop in production after the kid is gone. However, since you don’t milk one side, you don’t really know how much she’s making there, so will be tough to know for sure. In the future, I’d suggest milking both sides in the morning after an overnight separation. The kid can have everything the doe produces all day long, so is getting about 50% of the production that way.

          Give Delilah about a week to adjust to her kid being gone, and if she is making more than you need, you can go to once a day milking. They usually drop about 30% production when you go to once a day. Doesn’t matter whether you pick morning or evening.

          Reply
  7. Would it be possible and safe for all involved to milk a goat without separating the kid(s)? I assume you’ll get a much smaller amount at each milking, maybe none on occasion. But any other reason not to?

    Reply
    • If a doe has twins, it is usually safe to milk once a day without separating the kids. If they aren’t consuming all of the milk, then the doe’s production will decrease to meet their demand. So you would be ensuring that she’d produce as much as possible if you took whatever was left over once a day. Once in awhile you will find a doe that really needs to be milked one a day because she produces a lot more than the kids can consume. We had a LaMancha one time that was producing about a quart extra every day when her kids were newborns. By the time they were a couple of weeks old, however, they were consuming most of what she was producing.

      Reply
  8. Thank you! You are brilliant! Just building our stanchion now. I will start getting them use to the stand. I needed this article.

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  9. We have a goat who just had her first kids yesterday. She sat on her udder when we tried to milk out some colostrum to freeze. How do we teach the goat to remain standing while we milk?

    Reply
    • Practice. Just keep working at it. Someone will need to hold up her back end for now. This is totally new to her, so she just needs to understand that you’re not going to hurt her. If you give up now, it will be much harder later on. If you start on day one, this type of behavior is usually very short-lived — as in minutes, rather than days, if you wait. Put her on the milk stand twice a day and “milk” for a couple of minutes, just for practice. Basically keep going until she at least calms down and lets you milk her. It’s all just a matter of practice right now. You’re not going for volume. If she has extra, that’s great. If not, just squeeze the teats anyway, even if you only get drops.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for your wonderful explanation and video, it has worked for me! However, I am getting arthritis and even though we only have 3 ND does, some days it is very painful to milk. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on milking pumps? So much information out there and I don’t want to do any damage to her udder. One of the goats has very tiny teats.
    Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • I am thinking I will do a survey to get opinions on a variety of milking machines. I can tell you that those manual pumps are worthless, plus they require you squeezing your hand, which would not be helpful for you. I have been using a Hoegger Milking System for about 10 years and love it, but it was $1500+. I’ve heard a lot of people say they like the SimplePulse, but I don’t have any experience with that one. You definitely want an electric one that pulses and has adjustable pressure. Don’t get anything that just sucks — because those are the ones that damage the teats.

      Reply

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