Friday, August 13, 2010

Learning to milk all over again

CH Twin Creeks DJ Scandal eats grain on the milk stand
while the milking machine collects her milk. The tubes
are clear, so I'll know when the milk is no longer flowing.

We've been hand milking our goats since we brought home Star, our first doe, on Mother's Day in 2002. And the herd has continued to grow every year, even though I've been saying that I need to cut back, because my children are leaving home. I don't really like to milk more than about four goats by hand, although I was milking six a couple months ago. I did milk nine in an emergency, but it took me an hour and a half. I've decided that my heart really is not into the idea of reducing my herd, so I did what had to be done -- bought a milking machine.

You might recall that our first experience with it was not so good. One goat kept trying to lay down. Another tried to kick off the inflations. The third stood there like an angel, but when we removed the inflations, her teats were purple. Obviously, we had no idea what we were doing. I was mortified and feeling terribly guilty. I called the manufacturer to get more comprehensive instructions than what was provided in the booklet that came with the machine. And we tried again.

Learning to use the machine has been complicated by the size of my goats. I bought the "belly pail" set-up, which is a pail that sits under the belly of a big goat. I have little goats, and the pail does not fit under their bellies. Since it would cost a few hundred dollars to switch to a different bucket system, we will have to make do with what we bought.

The tubes aren't long enough to put the belly pail on the floor, and the milk stand isn't wide enough to sit the pail next to the goat -- plus the milk would have to go uphill to get into the bucket if we did that -- so we cut a hole in the milk stand and have the bucket sitting under the milk stand. And because the tubes are not very long, the bucket is sitting on a stack of two-by-ten pieces of lumber. When I hook up the goats with the longest legs, I slide the bucket so that it sits directly beneath them, and when I milk the goats with the shorter legs, I slide the bucket forward, so that it's sitting under their front legs.

It's a complicated system, and it took me at least a week to get accustomed to it. No longer do I simply wipe off the udder, stick a bucket under the goat and start milking. Now I wipe off the udder, stick a bucket under them and put a few squirts into the bucket, set the bucket aside, hook up the milker to the goat and watch the flow of milk. When the flow starts to slow down to a trickle, I massage the udder a bit to get the last of the milk to come down. Then I turn off the milking machine, remove the inflations, and replace the cover that goes on the hole in the milking stand.

Oops, I guess I forgot to mention that we have to keep a cover on the hole, or the goats' legs will go sliding through or stomping through and scare both of us. Also, the little hand milk bucket needs a place to sit when I do the first squirts and the final stripping. What's stripping? Well, a machine can't get all the milk out, and unless you strip the teats after you turn off the machine, the goat could get mastitis, so it's important to do a bit of hand milking to get the very last little bit of milk out of the udder.

And then there's the cleaning. This is what caused Katherine to say no to machine milking. After completing the machine milking routine, you come inside and have to clean the tubes, inflations, and pail. I understand why I've heard others say that machine milking does not save time unless you're milking at least five or six goats. It's a trade off. The machine gets the milk out faster, but it takes time to clean everything. With hand milking, you put the bucket in the dishwasher, and you're done.

So, is it worth it? Yep! After using the machine for nine days, it was time for our classifications, and I needed to milk only the three first fresheners, who were not eligible for classification. I told my husband that I'd just milk them by hand. Before finishing the first goat, I missed the machine! I've never claimed to be the world's fastest goat milker, but after using the machine for more than a week, I felt slower than a snail hand milking again. I was whining like a three year old before I finished the first goat.

In case you're wondering, yes, I did momentarily consider how many goats I could have -- and how much cheese we could make -- now that I have a milking machine. But I really am going to keep the number at less than twenty does. I think I can, I think I can!


kathy parham said...

I have the same setup, but I ordered new lines for mine and it works great to set it on the floor behind the stand. I'm just sure to have the lines not sagging as they go into the lid. I got my new line and cut it to the length I wanted from I got clear air lines and silicone milk lines. They also have a great explanation of the various milking systems here:

If you aren't sure what size to get call them, they are awesome about helping out on the phone. I couldn't be more happy with these people.... they believe in old fashioned customer service

LindaG said...

That's great. :)
Have you considered selling home made cheese? Just curious.

Have a great weekend! :)

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks for the links, Kathy! I was telling Mike that I'd like to get longer tubes and set the bucket on the floor. His only concern was cleaning the longer tubes. Got any suggestions?

LindaG, I'd love to sell a small amount of cheese. However, it would cost me close to $100,000 to meet state requirements as a Grade A dairy and to build a certified kitchen, so it's not going to happen. When I told the woman at the Illinois Dept of Ag that they should have an exemption for small producers, she told me that all consumers in Illinois should have access to safe food, regardless of who makes it or how much they make.

LindaG said...

I hate bureaucrats. >:K
They are ruining our country!
Those requirements are ridiculous.
Lucky family members you have though! :)

Em said...

I would love to try my hand at milking goats, but I'm sure the task of milking 4-6 of them would be daunting! It looks like your set up is working for you... and you could work a few more 'girls' into your routine without making a big difference in your time. How much milk do you get per girl?

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Aw, thank, LindaG!

Em, the amount of milk they give varies based upon where they are in their lactation. I have a few that peak at more than half a gallon a day two months after they freshen (give birth). It gradually starts to go down after that. A first freshener might be down to nothing by six months, but a typical lactation is 10 months. I have one goat that is still giving a quart a day at 13 months! These are Nigerian dwarf goats, so they give a lot less than a big Saanen would -- however, their butterfat is 50% to 125% higher than a big goat, which is perfect for cheesemaking!


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