Friday, July 27, 2012

Milking the goats

Meet Daisy and Larkspur. They are Snubians, that means they are a cross breed of Nubian and Saanan dairy goats... mutts really. :-) When we were looking for a few goats to add to our family, these were the only two I could find for sale locally that were both in milk. They are both yearlings and this year was their first freshening (first time they have given birth). The had never been hand milked before I got them. Their previous owner left their kids with them to help develop their udders and had never trained them to the milk stand. I bought them 4 months after their kids were born. The lady I got them from told me that they were both already trying to wean their kids and she wanted to sell the kids as well. So I bought these two does and brought them home. 

My idea that first morning was to milk her while sitting on a tiny stool in the grass while she stood patiently chewing her cud allowing the frothy white goodness to come pouring out of her. I envisioned it would be just like the stories of goat herders in the Alps, like in the story of Heidi! I went outside imagining all the the wonderful milk I would be getting from my goats, the cheese I would be making with the excess milk that we didn't drink fresh, all of the picnics in the shade of a huge tree eating crusty homemade bread, smeared with fresh butter, and jars of fresh ice cold milk to drink with creamy goat cheese spread on our crusty bread while my children gathered wildflowers and made daisy chain crowns of them and danced around a maypole singing folk songs and... yeah it was going to be just like that! 

Well, that beautiful vision lasted just about 20 seconds! They were friendly curious goats, but they had not been touched or handled much before they came to live with us. The first day they were here, milking time came and I got my supplies together and took Logan outside to help me figure this out. I took a dog leash out with me, hooked it on one's collar and brought her out of the pen to milk her. 

I had to drag the poor animal out of the pen on the leash (they had never been trained to walk on a lead either) while she protested loudly.Then Logan held onto the lead while I situated myself on the little stool next to the goat. The minute I touched her she moved away. So I scooted the little bench I was sitting on over a bit, to be within reach and she promptly moved out of my reach again. We were both pivoting around poor Logan who was trying desperately to keep a hold on her leash while I tried desperately to keep a hold on her teats! We had left the milk bucket behind and at this point both Logan and myself had milk running down our legs and into our shoes. He was laughing so hard that the amount of help he was actually providing at that point was negligible. 

While the goat and I were orbiting my ever helpful son, he quipped "With people like us living here the neighbours don't even need to watch TV anymore. They'll just see us head out the backdoor and start popping the popcorn, and sit by their back windows to watch the show!" *After that I was afraid to look up, for fear that he might be right! 

After about 20 minutes we repeated the entire spectacle with the second goat... it didn't go any better than with the first one. If anything it was even more difficult because this one was more nervous after hearing her herd-mate protesting the whole time! We finally went back up to the house with a grand total of nearly one cup full of very dirty, stepped in milk, which I dumped unceremoniously into the dog's dish as I passed by. I called Rodrigo at work and told him that he needed to plan on making me a milk stand before that evening's milking time after he got home from work! 

My darling husband did come home and make me a wonderful milk stand. We had numerous books about goats and homesteading in general with plans for DIY milk stands. We looked at all of them and took what we thought were the best points from each and he built it for me. Two things I asked that he specifically include in the design were #1 that it have a back "wall" that way the goat couldn't move away from me while I was milking her. And #2 that the stand be made about 8 inches wider that the goats actually needed so that I could sit next to them while I milked. My thought was so I could lean my shoulder into the goat to help her feel calmer and hold her still while she was being milked. After having the stand in use now for more than two months I am very happy with these design choices! 

Within about a week's time of having the milk stand, the goats were settling into our routine. They realized that I had no intention of killing them when I went out twice a day to lead them out of their pen and onto the stand. They decided that quite liked the grain they got while being milked. I caught on pretty quickly that they would stand still (well, fairly still) if I only let them eat grain while on the milk stand. The rest of the day they have free choice of browsing and good hay.

During that first month I I read every book, blog post, or magazine article and watched every single video I could find, trying to figure out how to get my goats to stand still! There where several good suggestions, but none of them really worked for us. Mostly they just came down to this, "Be patient, eventually your goat will stand still on her own."  I'm not terribly patient and I was sick of never even getting to taste the milk that I was working so hard to get out, since the bucket (Or large stainless steel bowl in our case) was being kicked over and stepped in before I ever had a chance to save it. Finally, I figured out a way that works for us that I had not seen posted anywhere else. I had Rodrigo shoot a short video of how we do it, in the hopes that it might help someone else that might have the same problem! I am editing it now and I'll post it next week. 

*P.S. The aforementioned neighbours, who Logan predicted might be watching our crazy antics... Well at least 4 different times I have seen and heard various neighbours outside talking on their cell phones about me while I am milking. They lean over the fence to get better shots of what I'm doing. They have texted pictures of me milking to their friends and families, they have posted pictures of me on facebook... You know, I think they might miss us when we move! The rest of this neighbourhood is pretty boring compared to us... I guess they'll just have to go back to watching TV next month! 


  1. That is such a great set up! We're about to get some goats, I'm thinking pygmy goats though, and that looks just perfect...

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I don't have goats, or animals of any kind, but we live in a neighborhood that, although there are many kids, you rarely see any outside. So my yard is often the loudest, most active yard in the entire development. I've frequently thought the neighbors must get a kick out of the entertainment available right outside their windows.

  3. I agree your setup is beyond awesome! We don't have goats yet but I sure am looking forward to milking and have the dairy! Please come share this and link up at our "Home is Where the Heart is" Link party! We'd love to have you! :) Feel free to link up other posts that would be helpful to others as well!

  4. Oh Rachel ~ I loved your story ~ it had me sitting here laughing... I've had so many 'first attempts' at things that have gone so very differently to what I've hoped & I know just what it's like ( we often joke that our neighbours laugh at our attempts to do things they grew up doing). I tried milking one of our sheep the other day & it was so unsuccessful ( it was for a lamb & she was very unwell & had a lamb drinking off her already ~ that's all my excuses for getting about 100mls. I did end up with an aching hand though :) Makes me wonder how it will go with Bessy ~ I'm sure it will be a story to tell anyway :)
    Have fun

  5. Love this! We are also homeschoolers//homesteaders and have 5 in the same birth order as yours :)

  6. Love this! We are also homeschoolers//homesteaders and have 5 in the same birth order as yours :)

  7. Dear Rachel,

    I found your blog via Hanneke , a Dutch Herborist, and googling 'Flower Pounding', your post on 'Rythm of the Home" is first on the list.

    I love your comment on the neighbours, you're a cool babe!
    And living in Heeze, a small village in Holland, I love to be able to buy goat-cheese regularly at the Saanenhof. Goats are lovely and smart!


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