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.
Table of Contents
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 we gave them goat feed before they freshened. They never received grain anywhere else. Since dry does don’t need goat feed, this was infrequent, and they only got a small amount, like 1/4 cup, but that’s enough for them to be excited about jumping up on the stand whenever they get the chance.
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. The milk stand is a great place to do those things. Just be sure that it is not the only time you put them on the milk stand.
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 and a healthy weight. For my Nigerians, that means they will weigh 20 pounds, which usually happens at 8 to 10 weeks. Check out this article on how many kids a doe can feed for more information on this.
Milking a goat with a single baby
When a doe has only one kid, I always say that you have to be the twin that wasn’t born. That means you need to either be milking twice a day without separating or separating overnight and milking every morning. We have alternated between these two options over the years, keeping good records, and we have not found a difference in production, so you can do whichever is more convenient for you.
If you only want to milk once a day, separate the kid overnight. If you are new to milking, it’s probably better to milk twice a day without separating. In fact, if you don’t feel like you’re getting all the milk, you can even put the doe on the milk stand three or four times a day. Multiple short, stress-free milking sessions are better than one long rodeo. If you do multiple milking per day, just be sure that you are still only feeding one pound of grain for every three pounds of milk produced so the doe doesn’t get diarrhea or a rumen upset.
If you don’t start milking a doe with a single kid right away, 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, even if you are milking the mom. It’s about supply and demand, and a single kid will demand as much as it can, but it’s still nowhere near as much as what twins would consume.
The second reason you need to start milking a doe with a single kid on day one is so that she has an even udder. Single kids seem to be especially notorious for choosing a single side and only nursing on that side. We learned this in the early years when a doe’s udder had completely dried up on one side a week after her single kid was born. When she freshened the next year, her udder was dreadfully lopsided with the previously unused side being much smaller and having lower production than the side the kid had nursed.
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 cheesemaking, 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 for three or four hours 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 has a moderate amount of milk in it. 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 the milk.
Before the kids are two months old, you don’t want to separate them more than every few days — and only for three or four hours — for your practice unless you are weighing the kids daily to be sure that they are maintaining their weight gain during the days when you separate. For my Nigerians, that means they gain 4 ounces per day for the first two months.
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. (More info about this on this podcast episode.)
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 four cases of mastitis in 21 years, so this works for us. If goats live in an area that is especially muddy or there is lots of exposed manure everywhere, you might need to use a more intensive udder cleaning routine.
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.
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.
Ready to milk your goats? Here are 7 things you need, in addition to a goat.
Click here to visit our Amazon store, which includes a list of things goats need.