In my last article, I talked about the basics of milking your homestead dairy animal. Today, I want to talk about how to handle the milk safely and how to have the best tasting milk.
When I first mention that I milk my goats to someone new, one of the most typical reactions is “EWE! Doesn’t the milk taste weird? If it’s not pasteurized, how can it be safe to drink?” In fact, it even took me a lot of coaxing to get my husband to try raw goat’s milk. He loves it now, but he turned his nose up at it at first.
I am a big believer in the health benefits of raw, organic milk from mostly grass-fed animals. I have never pasteurized our milk, and I don’t plan on ever doing so. That being said, you certainly can pasteurize your milk if you choose to. In fact, in most states throughout the US, it is illegal to sell milk for human consumption, if it has not been pasteurized. I recommend doing your own research before making a decision about whether or not to pasteurize the milk on your homestead.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to talk about the safest way to handle your raw milk so that you know your family is drinking the cleanest, freshest milk possible. The way your milk is handled will also affect how it tastes, so we’ll talk about that, too.
Milk Handling Equipment
The equipment you use for milking should always be easy to clean and sterilize. Equipment made from glass or stainless steel is best. Please, don’t ever put your milk in plastic containers! Plastic is difficult to clean and sterilize and it could leech chemicals into your milk that will give it a nasty plastic taste. Here’s what I keep on hand for milking:
- A Stainless-Steel Pail- I use a 2-quart pail, since I am milking goats. Goats are low to the ground and they don’t give the huge quantity of milk that a cow does. If you are milking a cow, or cows, you will want a larger stainless-steel pail. A three-gallon pail would work well.
- Glass Canning Jars with Lids- Once again, the size of the jar will depend on how much milk you’re going to be dealing with. I milk two Nigerian Dwarf goats every day, and quart-size jars are perfect for me. If you are milking a large number of goats, or a cow, you will want half-gallon, or maybe even gallon size jars.
- A Stainless-Steel Canning Funnel- If you can find one that has a mesh strainer built in, that’s great. If not, get a reusable metal coffee filter to set inside of it.
- Disposable, Basket Style Coffee Filters- I like to double filter my milk. The disposable filters are set inside of the canning funnel and reusable filter.
- A Cooler- Look for one that’s big enough to hold all of your jars of milk from one milking session. It’s nice if it has a lid and handle. Fill the cooler part way with ice and cold water before you head out to the barn. The ice water should come to the top of the jars, but it should not go all the way over them.
- A Pail of Warm Water and Clean Rags- You will need this to wash your hands and your girls’ udders. Use a clean rag for each animal and don’t double dip. I wash udders before and after milking. It’s nice to have paper towels on hand for drying your hands, too.
- Small Disposable Clear Plastic Cups- These are for the first few squirts of milk so that it can be checked for signs of mastitis. I also use them for dipping the teats at the end of the milking process.
- Teat Dip and Udder Balm- I do use both on my girls after every milking. You might want to research this as well because there are varying opinions about using these products.
Handling the Milk
When it comes to safe handling of the milk, cleanliness is of the utmost importance. All of your equipment should be thoroughly washed and sterilized before you head out to the barn. It’s a good idea to have a lid, or at least a clean dish towel, to keep over your bucket when you’re not milking into it. That will keep dirt, hair, and insects from ending up inside your bucket. I also have a clean work table in my barn where I process the milk. Laying a clean towel over the table before you start ensures that you have a nice, clean work surface every time.
- First, wash your hands and wash the animal’s udder. Then, express the first few squirts of milk go into one of the clear plastic cups. The milk should be inspected for signs of mastitis: blood, stringiness, graininess, puss, etc. Inspect the milk and then dump it out before moving on to the next teat, that way, if there’s a problem, you’ll know which teat is affected. Don’t ever drink milk from an animal that is showing signs of mastitis. Sometimes, bacteria can be in the milk that has been sitting in the teats for a while, too, so it’s best to discard those first few squirts from each teat, anyway.
- Now, go ahead and milk your girl directly into your stainless-steel pail. As explained in my Milking 101 article, it’s important to make sure each teat is emptied completely.
- For the best tasting milk, it is critical that the milk is chilled quickly. When the enzymes in the milk start to break down, it will lower the quality and taste of your milk. Chilling the milk right away slows down this process so your milk with stay fresher longer and taste better, too. As soon as my girl is milked out, I take the pail of milk over to a clean work surface. The milk is poured into the jars through both filters, the jar is capped, and then it’s placed immediately into the ice bath to chill.
- Now go ahead and wash off the animal’s udder and use the teat dip and udder balm, if desired. Go ahead and turn her loose.
- Repeat the entire process for each animal you are milking. It’s fine to combine all of the milk from one milking into the same jar if you want, as long as you are inspecting those first few squirts for any signs of infection.
- After all of your girls are milked and tended to, it’s time to get that milk into the freezer to chill. Head immediately to the house, or get a helper to do it, and put your jars of milk into the freezer. Set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your jars. You want the milk to chill fast, but not freeze.
- Since the milk was put into sterilized containers and double strained before it was chilled, it goes right from the freezer to the fridge for drinking. I leave it right in the jar. Sometimes, we have a surplus of milk for whatever reason, and I will freeze it for later use. If I’m freezing it for drinking, I freeze it in canning jars, leaving about an inch of headspace for expansion. I also use my goats’ milk when making soap. Milk that will be used for soap can be frozen into plastic baggies, if you want to save room in your freezer.
This may seem like a lot of steps, but, over the years, it has become a relaxing routine that I truly enjoy. The taste of farm fresh milk is not something you can duplicate in a product from the grocery store, and for me, it is well worth the trouble!