Thursday, May 24, 2007

The New Milk Goats

Yes, we are now milking the goats who had babies last month. Our very first milk goat was a big grey mostly Nubian that we bought off a man who said she would “save” some of the milk in one of her udders for him. She was a good goat. We have her daughter, who is now getting some age on her. The two we are milking are her grand daughter and her great-grand daughter, although it is the first time I’ve milked either one. Grand daughter has had a lactation before, but this is the first lactation for great-grand.

I pretty much think babies need mommas and mommas need babies, so I’m not one of those goat people who takes the babies away from the momma and pasteurizes their colostrum and gives it back to the babies. I think the whole thing of over-management is just ludicrous. Let the goats be goats. I also don’t like to overly tame any goat because it has been my experience that animals that have a slightly wild streak are just flat out better mothers. So these two goats have not been handled a lot before coming in to be milked for the first time. I consider a goat to be tame enough when it will come to a bucket of corn.

Truth be told, the younger goat is fairly tame -- she was the one who I thought was going to die this winter, who lived in our kitchen floor for nearly an entire week. Her mother, though, is pretty darn wild.

To milk, the first thing you have to accomplish is to separate the babies from the mommas. Every night, when I milk the cow, the kids go and find the goat herd, catch the babies, and carry them to the barn (and now lead them, the babies are getting so big) where they are put, all together, in a humongous dog carrier. They were a little upset by this the first night but have the routine down now. It is handy that we have four of each sort of kid.

The next morning, as soon as I’ve milked the cow, a child helper and I go out to get the goats. They do not come before being called, the way the cow does. And it still takes a bucket of corn to persuade them. And none of them will come if the herd queen won’t come, and she’s getting a touch deaf it seems. When I get all the goats near the gate, I just catch the one I want to milk. I always milk the younger one first -- she’s easier to catch.

Originally uploaded by Contrary Goddess.

You can see also that she has a terrific bag. And she is easy to milk and has a real good supply (about three quarts of milk per day and keep in mind, that’s on first lactation which is almost always lower than subsequent lactations -- obviously, I’m only getting half of this since I’m only milking her once a day). After she’s milked, a child helper gets her babies and I lead her (or she leads me) back to the field, where we go about catching the other one.

Now, “the other one” is an interesting one. You might remember that we had an earlier kidding where the momma had a real problem with one of her teats and it didn’t express anything. Nothing, nada came out of that teat. Well, this one has a different “thing”. I noticed when the babies were very young that when they tried to nurse her right side that she kicked. She’d had a successful lactation before, I could express milk from both sides, so I just assumed it would resolve itself. Well, it did, just not in the way I would have preferred. The kids evidently continued to nurse only the one side, and the other side quit producing as much. I can still express milk out of it, there is nothing wrong with it, but it just isn’t in full production this lactation. I thought having only one teat would affect milk quantity but I thought wrong. It just takes longer to get it out with only one spigot. We’ll keep her as a milk goat because she has every prospect of normally lactating from both teats next freshening, and this milking cycle it will just take me longer to milk her out.

Milking One Teat
Originally uploaded by Contrary Goddess.

As you can see, I just milk one and let her baby girl do what she can to increase the supply in the other one (milk is a supply equals demand thing but truthfully, not much seems to be changing here). Never before, in more than fifteen years of milking and kidding goats, have we ever had one udder incident, and now, this year, two.

What do I do with this milk? Especially since I am already awash with milk from the cow’s summer production (3 gallons/day more than three years past freshening)? I make feta. It keeps very nicely for more than a year refrigerated in brine. On the wonderfully green fresh from the garden salads that we are feasting on now (and hopefully will for most of the year), nothing is better than a few crumbles of feta.

A few further notes. When milking a goat for the first time, the first day you would swear this is not a thing that can be done. Our first day milking these goats, they kicked, they stepped in the bucket, I spilled the bucket being jostled by the goats, the milk was dirty, I was irritated and tired, etc. I call it a rodeo. The cats got all that day's milk. But by the second day it was better -- still a rodeo but better. In a week's time, it is actually doable. Still somewhat difficult at times but doable. Three weeks later and there is still improvement in that they get used to the routine.

Also, last month when these had their babies, I looked at the herd queen and said, she'll kid next month -- she just didn't catch the first month we had the billy. Sure enough, she had one doe kid the other day. I'm just as glad she had one as she (and her momma) often had three, and once she had four, and frankly, it is hard on them to have more than two. So for the year we have three boys and two girls, and the herd now numbers 13. Which we do not need 13 goats!


Karen said...

I love to read your goat stories. I've wanted to keep goats since I was about five. Forty years on and not got there yet but in the meantime I borrow yours.

El said...

Fascinating as usual, CG. (And thank you for the goat people link, too. Very useful stuff there.) I seem to remember regular old nursing took a few days to get right, too, so by extension I would think milking a goat would be the same. SO! Does all that feta end up in your fridge, or is its brine enough of a bug inhibitor for you to keep it in the pantry? I've always wondered what those electricity-less Greek houses did to store it.

Mushy said...

Very interesting post - thanks, I learned a lot.

kathleen said...

My old Nubian gal, Pansy, developed calcium balls in her udder that restricted the flow of milk in one side of the udder. And it hurt her to nurse her kids on that side and the of course it hurt her to be milked. It was something similar to having a kidney stone pass. We endeed up expressing it out as far as the nipple opening and then breaking it up at the opening with tweezers as much as possible so it could pass. A painful and difficult process for all involved.

the Contrary Goddess said...

el, I keep the feta in strong (that is, saturated) brine in the fridge. Although with that amount of salt, I imagine it might be ok with no refrigeration. If I didn't have a fridge I'm thinking we'd make a creek box (or several) to keep things cool in (and/or root cellar sorts of buildings, spring boxes, lots of possible options and probably all with slightly different usefulnesses). Also, in any of those arrangements it would be better to keep things in larger crocks instead of smaller plastic boxes which I use now. We don't currently have large water tight crocks. Lots of crocks you can buy these days aren't actually water tight (we tried to crock make kraut once and ended up with, well, it wasn't pretty -- then I learned from On Patrol's mom how to do it in the mason jar). Yadda yadda yadda.

Teri said...

I lost my nubian a week ago, giving birth. She managed to bear three live ones, so we are bottle feeding. That leaves me with the two goats I didn't plan to milk. One has the saddest looking bag I've ever seen. Poor old girl needs a bra. I've had to milk her a bit as she has had mastitis in the past. She doesn't like her buck kid to nurse, so we have to hold her in place for him to nurse. When the kids can be weaned, I think I will try milking the other goat.

I'm not going to own nubians again. My friend (who I got these goats from) lost her nubian and all five kids. They just turn out too many kids. With luck, I'll find a nice Alpine one of these days. I sure miss milking goats.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Well, I don't have a complaint in the world about Nubians. But overbreeding causes a lot of problems with everything that gets that way.