When Fraser and I told people about our plan to keep goats, we often got asked 'do you know how to milk a goat?' and the honest answer was 'yes...but only in theory'. When we got our new goats from Cumbria two weeks ago, we knew we'd have to hand milk two of them from the start and were a bit nervous. We had studied various books and You Tube videos, but nothing quite prepares you for the real thing!
The good news is that after two weeks, we have hand milked our two milkers, Belle and Damson, twice a day, every day, and have enjoyed plenty of their milk. It is really creamy tasting and surprisingly enough doesn't taste of goat at all. The methods we had studied for goat milking work: after cleaning your hands and the goat's udder, you trap milk in the teat by tightly closing your thumb and forefinger around it, and then draw the milk out by closing one finger after another until it shoots out of the end.
However we soon discovered it isn't always that simple...
Goats are intelligent and also very stubborn, and they don't like changes in their routine. Damson is very easy to milk and just stands quietly on the stand munching her food. However Belle is what you might call a strong personality and will kick when she is being milked if it gets ticklish, or she has finished her food, or she is just feeling impatient to get back to the other goats. The first few times we milked her, she ended up jumping and landing her hooves in the milking bucket so we had to throw the milk away. D'oh! Another time she managed to kick the bucket so it went all over my face. D'oh! Then she showed us one of her other tricks - trying to sit down on the milking stand while you have your hands on her udder. D'oh! Meanwhile, the place we have put our milking stand turned out to be rather too easy for the other goats to access and we soon found lots of goat heads appearing next to the milking bucket, and some even tried to get their heads in it so they could drink the milk.
We asked the vet if there could be anything medically wrong with Belle's udder but there wasn't - apparently Belle's udder is in great shape. 'I'm afraid you're just have to keep trying,' she told us, 'some of them are like that.'
I'm pleased to report though that things are looking better now and we have just managed three milkings in a row where no milk has been kicked over and no hooves have gone in the bucket.
So what have we learnt so far about the art of milking?
1. Routine. Goats like routine so we've been careful to do everything in exactly the same order each time we visit, from filling hayracks to the order we milk them in. Result: this morning Belle was standing at the gate waiting to be milked as soon as we arrived at the barn and trotted out and straight onto the milking stand with no coercion. Hooray!
2. Crackerbreads. Goats will do anything for a crackerbread, we've discovered, so they have become an essential part of the milking routine, from a reward to coming out of their pen, to a nice little treat at the end. The other goats get a bit jealous and a couple even line up to try and come out of the pen to be milked too.
3. A jug. We had a beautiful stainless steel bucket to milk into to start with, but after both Belle's hooves went in it on numerous occasions we took a tip from a more experienced goat keeping friend and now milk straight into a jug, which you hold up close to the udder. If there are any fidgets or kick-attempts, we just whip it out of the way, and emptying it often into another container out of reach of a goat means that even if there is any spillage you don't lose all the milk.
4. Uddermint. This is a bit like deep heat for goats. Applying a bit to your hands before you start milking keeps the teats soft and acts like a lubricant which seems to make everything go a bit more smoothly (literally). It also makes your hands minty and tingly for several hours afterwards. Nice!