Milking Goats By Hand
Excerpt From Homegrown and Handmade, Revised and Updated by Deborah Niemann
The anatomy might look different from one mammary system to another, but extracting milk from most mammals is quite similar. Cows have four teats, while sheep, goats, and donkeys have two. Most people seem content to milk a cow from the side, but I have heard plenty of people say that goats or sheep must be milked from behind. While it is not true that you must milk them from behind, you can do it that way if you want. We sit on the side of our goats and sheep to milk, and from what I’ve seen at goat shows, I’m pretty sure we’re in the majority. However, I can see why people might want to milk from behind the animal. You can only milk two teats at a time on a cow, so you can sit next to the cow, and your arms will be stretched out an equal length from your body to milk the two teats closest to you and then the two teats on the other side. Goats, sheep, and donkeys have one teat on the left and one teat on the right side of their udder, so if you sit on the side, one arm will be overextended to reach the teat on the other side of the animal’s udder. If the person milking sits behind the animal, it is probably more comfortable for the person because both arms are equally extended. If you are new to milking, you can try both methods with sheep and goats to see which one feels most comfortable to you. I have only seen pictures of donkey milking, but some go back to the 1800s, and in all of them, the person milking is sitting on the side of the donkey.
Before learning the physical process of milking, it helps to understand how the udder works. A goat or sheep’s udder has two halves, meaning that milk from one side does not go to the other side. A cow’s udder has four quarters. Each teat should be milked out as much as possible unless there is a baby with whom you are sharing milk. Failure to empty each half or quarter can lead to mastitis, if done repeatedly. The goat is on the milk stand happily munching away on her grain, and you are comfortably seated, either behind her or to her side.
- First, you should wipe off her udder. We use a warm, wet washcloth, but there are also antiseptic udder wipes on the market if you prefer to use them. Using a warm washcloth, however, helps considerably with the goat’s letdown reflex. The milk will usually come out with the first squeeze, rather than after three or four squeezes if you use something cold to clean her udder. Once your milking skill improves, you probably won’t care one way or the other, but it is helpful in the beginning. I also think that using a warm washcloth is nice for the goat on those cold winter days.
- After cleaning the udder, the first couple of squirts should go into a separate bucket or a strip cup, which has a screen on the top that will trap any clumpy or stringy milk, which are early symptoms of mastitis.
- If you just squeeze a teat, the milk will go up into the udder. To get the milk to come out of the teat, you first have to trap the milk in the teat, so press the top of the teat against your pointer finger with your thumb. Then squeeze the middle finger, then the ring finger, and finally the pinkie. Each squirt is essentially achieved by a one, two, three, four rhythmic squeeze with your hand that pushes the milk towards the orifice of the teat and out into the bucket. If the milk does not squirt into the bucket, you are not trapping the milk in the teat, and it is going back up into the udder, so you need to press your thumb against the top of the teat more firmly.
- As soon as possible after milking, the milk should be strained through a filter to remove debris, such as hair, dead skin, or dirt. Plunging the quart canning jars of strained milk into ice water will quickly cool the milk before refrigerating.