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Goats are a lively and productive alternative to keeping dairy cows on your homestead. As a huge bonus, their milk is flavorful and full of nutrition. Use this quick guide to understand the basics of keeping dairy goats.

Legality

Always check your local ordinances and laws for livestock restrictions. Even if you’re allowed to keep chickens, it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to keep livestock. Don’t skip this crucial step!

Food and space

Where will you keep your goats? Ensure they have adequate shelter, housing, food, and water. A fence is necessary for shelter from the elements, as well as a fence.

Find your goats (yes, plural)

Goats are herd animals. For this reason, you should never buy just one goat. They can become depressed if separated from their friends, just like human beings. Always buy at least two goats so they have a companion. Opt for dairy breeds like Nubian, Nigerian Dwarf, or Sable.

Basics of goat breeding

Goats are mammals, which means they produce milk for their young. Just like humans, goats only produce milk for a certain time after giving birth. For this reason, you need access to a male goat to breed females for milk. A female goat can be bred every 12 – 15 months.

Make sure you have a plan for the kids! Many goat owners sell the babies at 8 weeks old to turn a profit. The mother goat will continue to produce milk for 10 months after giving birth, although the amount of milk decreases over time. Let the goat dry up for at least two months before she’s bred again.

Milking

The big upside to goats is that they produce more than enough milk for both you and their kids. You do need to milk a goat daily, and sometimes even multiple times per day. You can get more by milking up to three times a day, but make sure you have a plan for the milk. A goat can produce up to a gallon a day after birth, and about a quart a day 10 months after giving birth.

Always practice safe, clean milking procedures. This keeps your goat healthy and comfortable while preventing sour flavors in the milk.

The bottom line

Goats are a fun, lively addition to any homestead. Keep in mind that dairy goats can be a lot of work, but they can pay off in tons of milk and laughs.

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Milking Basics for Beginners

So, you’ve finally purchased that milk cow or goat you’ve been dreaming about! She’s been bred and the big day is fast approaching. Once the calf or kids are born, it will be time to get started with milking. Milking takes a little practice and patience to learn, but it can be one of the most enjoyable chores on the homestead.

Equipment

A stanchion is best for milking cows and a milking stand with a stanchion is best for milking goats. Some animals also doing fine just being tied. You will have to work with your animal to see what works best for both of you. You should have a comfortable stool to sit on while you’re milking. An adjustable one is nice so that you can get it to just the right height for you and your animal. You will also need a stainless-steel bucket to milk into. One with a lid or some other way to cover it is best to prevent debris from getting into your milk.

The Best Place for Milking

The best place to do your milking is in an outbuilding, such as a barn or shed. The area should be clean, dry and out of the wind. Set up your stanchion or milking stand in an area that is quiet and out of the way. You want your girl to be calm and content while you’re milking. If something scares her, the milk may stop flowing, at least for a minute or two.

Scheduling Your Milking

You have two options when it comes to scheduling your milking. You could milk your girl every 12 hours and feed her calves or kids their share with a bottle until they’re old enough to drink from a bucket. Or, you could separate momma and babies all night, milk in the morning, and then let them run together in the pasture all day.

Preparing to Milk

Every experienced milker is going to have their own routine that varies a little bit, but this is what I do. My girls are usually eager to be milked, so I call them to me and reward them with a little treat when they come. They are put into the stanchion and given a quick all-over brushing to remove loose hair and dirt. Cleanliness is crucial, so my hands are washed and dried with warm water brought from the house. Then, my girl’s teats and udder are also washed thoroughly and dried, giving the udder a good massage while doing so. Washing with warm water is not only important for cleanliness, it also stimulates let-down of the milk. While you’re up close and personal, check the teats and udder for any sign of sores or lumps that might make milking uncomfortable for her. We will go into what to do if there’s a problem in just a moment.

After the grooming and washing are complete, they get their grain. This keeps them occupied while I’m milking and they are generally much more cooperative. Your goal is to have a happy and relaxed animal while you’re milking, so send any distractions away and keep the area calm and quiet.

The Main Event

Now, it’s time to work quickly. Let down doesn’t last forever, and you want to be done by the time your girl finishes her grain.

Grab high on the teat, right near the udder, with your thumb and forefinger. Now, gently constrict the top of the teat to force the milk toward the end of the teat where the hole is. With your remaining fingers, squeeze gently to force the milk down and out, aiming for your bucket. The first 2-3 squirts from each nipple should be discarded. I usually just squirt them onto the ground.

A cow has four teats while a goat only has two. Work methodically from teat to teat. It’s important to empty each teat completely.
When the teats get a sort of wrinkled, shriveled appearance, it’s time to change up your technique and strip the last remaining milk from the teats. Using your thumb and forefinger, once again grip the teat at the udder. Pull the thumb and forefinger straight down the nipple, forcing out the last remaining milk from the teat. Repeat 5 or 6 times and go from teat to teat, letting each one rest for a moment and then coming back to it, making sure they are completely emptied. Not emptying her completely can lead to reduced milk supply and possibly even mastitis.

I like to finish up with another quick washing, followed by a teat dip to make sure there’s no bacteria left behind to cause problems.

FAQ’s: Milking Problems

Can I change my milking schedule?

Yes, but don’t do it abruptly. If you need to change your milking schedule, do it slowly by moving milking time forward or back 15 minutes every day or two until you get to the new time you desire. Remember to keep it at 12-hour intervals.

My cow/goat is very skittish and/or reluctant to be milked. What can I do?

First of all, be patient. If you’re upset, she’s going to be upset. Spend extra time with the grooming, ply her with love and treats, and then take extra time washing and massaging her udder. With time, most animals will come around, but it does take a lot of time and patience.

My goat’s teats are very small, making it hard to milk her. Is there a better way?

Goat’s with very small teats can be a challenge to milk with your full hand. Try using the stripping technique described above for the entire milking process. It will take longer, but you should be able to get the job done.

My cow/goat has a cut or sore on her udder or teat. How should I treat it?

Keep the area clean and dry, but don’t discontinue milking or she’ll suffer from the extra milk built up in her udder. No matter how much the cut or sore hurts, she will suffer a lot more from an over full udder. Bag balm is great for soothing chapped skin, cuts, or sores.

How do I know if my goat/cow has mastitis, and what should I do?

First of all, do not drink the milk if you suspect your animal has mastitis because it is full of infection. Mastitis is caused by bacteria that have entered the whole in the teat or a cut in the udder. The infected area will feel warm, be tender to the touch, with milk that is thick, lumpy, or possibly has blood in it. Sometimes you will feel lumps in the udder itself. In many cases, it will be obvious that attempting to milk her is causing pain.

If you suspect mastitis, immediate treatment with antibiotics is a must. Call the vet for dosage and type. It’s important to act very quickly to improve chances of success. Also, be aware that mastitis can spread from animal to animal, so wash your hands and equipment thoroughly between each animal.

Milking time is my favorite part of the day. You will see that you form a strong bond with your dairy animals, thanks to the close, personal contact every day. It does take some practice, but once you get into the routine of it, it becomes second nature!


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