Monday, April 9, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries:
First lessons in milking goats...

I arrived at Common Sense's giant two story barn a little early. The folks assigned to tonight's milking had not arrived yet so I made myself at home with Smudge, the black and white barn kitten. I scooped her up in my arms and walked down to the goat pen where Bonita was waiting for me.

And there she was... Bonita's a French Alpine doe, 3 years old with a black face and back and a brown body. She's the largest doe in the herd giving a gallon and a half of milk a day. The farm is happy to loan her over because they are getting a new doe from the community in Bellow's Falls Vermont and want their herd more uniform in size and production. Bonita is a great producer, but also larger than they prefer as far as children and families handling her. So they are happy to let me give goat owning a test drive. So am I.

I walked right into the pen and said hello to the fine lady. She did this thing were she showed me her upper plate and bottom teeth, lips curled back. I have no idea what this means since sheep only do this right before sex and I hardly know this woman. But she didn't try any moves, she just did the weird lip thing and sauntered around. I shrugged and scratched her ears. Then I checked out her teats. Two can play at this game.

Man, where they swollen! I started to feel a little doubt rise up in me. I mean, that entire fleshy milk container was packed with 2/3rds a gallon of warm milk and its my responsibility to get it all out in a quick and gentle manner in a way that doesn't cause mastitis or Lord knows whatever other goat-milking vapors I might cause through my clumsy hands.

Soon Yesheva and her children arrived, along with some other community members I know well. I've lived three miles away from Common Sense farm for two years now, sharing equipment, meals and conversations over hot mugs of tea. They've become good friends and farm co-conspirators over the years. We've bartered livestock for hay, built my sheep shed, and their landscaping team plows my driveway and has shoveled snow off my roof.

So when they ran this goat idea not only was I excited, but felt like I was in on something special. Bonita isn't just any Alpine, but a doe from a farm that cares for its animals so well their barn is usually in better shape than my living room (WHEN I have company over) so I feel both excitement and a little fear. I don't want to do anything wrong, or cause any harm.

Before I knew what was happening, a man opened the goat pen and let two out. Bonita and her pal Iris. They both bee-lined for their milking stands with such excitement I was shocked. Then I realized they were so used to the routine, the grain in the stands, and the relief of the empty bag...why wouldn't they run? It's like one wild date night in hyper speed. They get dinner and felt up in ten minutes flat.

With Bonita locked and loaded in the metal milking stand my lessons started. I was handed a warm, wet rag that smelled like lavender. It was a castile soap they use to clean and gently massage the teats before milking. This "lets down" the milk into the teats. It was a quick massage, and then on with the drying towel. Now that Bonita's swimsuit place was cleaned (and my own hands washed) a metal pail was set under her udder. I tried to recall the woman at Byler's Farm in Slatington Pennsylvania who taught me how to milk a cow on a family outing when I was. I used my thumb and forefinger to make an okay sign around the teat's base, pinched it off, and one finger at a time closed my fist.

Milk squirted into the pail!

Holy crow! I was doing it! I kept at it, and quickly learned how little pressure I was using. In the time it took me to get an 1/8 of an inch of milk in the pail my partner at the other stand was done and onto his next doe. So I have it some moxie, and a little more gentle force, and it came out faster and thicker. Okay, okay, I'm getting the hang of it. MY arms weren't used to it though. I got tired quickly, and had to switch hands. Eventually as the pail filled up I could feel her emptying out. When nothing came out of the back left teat I focused on the back right (which had plenty left). Yesheva praised my work, even if I was slow, because I wasn't causing milk to go "back up into the bag" a bad no no. This is what causes that scary mastitis disease.

In about fifteen minutes I had done the job. The milk pail was foaming with a happy half gallon of fresh milk and I felt like I just won a game of chess. I did some complicated and timeless, something people have been doing for hundreds of years. A dance between hunger and style. And the results were right there in front of me. Checkmate.

Tomorrow Cold Antler Farm turns into a micro-dairy!

P.S. Bonita will arrive early tomorrow morning. I'll get her milked outside the barn with a pail of grain and a tie out, and then walk her into a pen where she can meet Jasper through the safety of a closed stall door. I think having them side my side for a little will be good, in a way that Jasper can't hurt her if he is anti-goat. I don't think there will be trouble but better safe than sorry. Wish us luck and drama-free equine/caprine love.


Blogger The Sprouting Acorn said...

There's a lot to it, but you'll be a pro in no time! Will you be pasteurizing the milk? A friend of mine freezes her surplus.... though not sure how long it lasts in the freezer. You're in a fortunate situation. Congrats!

April 9, 2012 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger e.m.b. said...

Huzzah! (I grew up milking a Saanen herd). Best of luck! Although as I finish up reading Barnheart...I don't think there is anything you can't do. Rock on!

April 9, 2012 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Way to go are speaking my language now. You did, however, have me laughing out loud at the "left back teat" and "right back teat" Did she have any front teats? Sorry, I just had to tease you. I'm proud of you girl. You will love the goat milk. 12 years for us now and we can't stand the store back milk.

April 9, 2012 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Tina - Our Rustic Roots said...

Congrats on a job well done!

April 9, 2012 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

The first time I tried goat milking, I could not get the hang of it. Then a few years later I learned for real. I hope to milk more goats in the future, but even though I haven't lately I still remember the feeling and the rhythm. Sounds like another great adventure.

April 9, 2012 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

Wow!!! Just... wow.

April 9, 2012 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Rebecca! I'm new!

April 9, 2012 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger downeast becka said...

you go girl--it would be sweet for you to have a stand though, so she doesn't move around when the grain is gone...the real meaning of kick the bucket! and she may be a cross but she looks for the life of me like an oberhausli, which is the kind of goats we raised for 3 years, very gentle, friendly, great milkers, mild milk flavor...just don't see the alpine in her, but i could be wrong!
good luck!

April 9, 2012 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger downeast becka said...

you go girl--it would be sweet for you to have a stand though, so she doesn't move around when the grain is gone...the real meaning of kick the bucket! and she may be a cross but she looks for the life of me like an oberhausli, which is the kind of goats we raised for 3 years, very gentle, friendly, great milkers, mild milk flavor...just don't see the alpine in her, but i could be wrong!
good luck!

April 9, 2012 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

You Go Jenna! I've been hand milking goats for years now and will up the ante this june and start milking two after my doe kids. It's exciting! People ask how I like being tied to the farm twice a day because of dairying and I tell them, "Just fine, thank you! I made a commitment to be here doing that before I brought them here and I'm going to stick to that commitment." Hope it works out for you, as it is quite a commitment, but just set your mind to it like the other things you've done and listen to your gut. enjoy!

April 9, 2012 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

You're hilarious! I can tell how excited and happy you are about this new venture. Glad you had such success on your first "date."

April 9, 2012 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Great job, girl! Milking is my all-time favorite chore; I love the rhythmic motion and noise, and it soon becomes such a relaxing time to simply "be".

Oh, and the curling of the lip is called "flehming" (not positive on that spelling...) and it's simply how goats get a better smell of something new.

Bonita is a beauty, and 12 lbs. of milk a day is wonderful! So typical of the Alpine breed... :) They give it all they've got and are no-nonsense milkers. Nubians will often times fluctuate their production if something changes (even if it's just a new herd member!), whereas Alpines will keep chuggin' right along.

April 9, 2012 at 8:23 PM  
Blogger pawsfurme said...

Welcome to the world of dairy goats!! But 1 gallon+ a day seems like a whole heckuva lot for just you, even with using it for cheese, soap and whatever other ideas you can muster up. Those milk pails will stack up pretty quickly in the fridge. Granted, I can knock off 3 gallons a week by myself just drinking it straight! I'm partial to the Nigerian Dwarfs. ;) 1/2 gallon a day and sweeter and thicker than the Alpine and Saanan milk I had been buying raw.
When I get a constant supply of milk going again, I hope to never have to buy soap again. Goat milk soap is awesome! so is ice cream! Haven't tried cheese, yet.

April 9, 2012 at 8:33 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

That's so funny because I also had my first lesson in goat milking this week. I also had one of those ok I think I'm getting this moments, only my girl was none too patient and began stomping for me to hurry up. Couldn't blame her really.

April 9, 2012 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I've been inspired by this! I'm not in the position to adopt or buy a goat right now, but I'd love to learn how to milk one. Now the task is to find a farm in my area that has one bouncing around (I say "bouncing" because I've seen so many bouncy goats compared to nonbouncy ones).

April 9, 2012 at 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay! So jealous. A dairy goat has been part of my backyard barn plan since the beginning. My dream is to make goat milk soap with milk and lavender from my backard. Unfortunately, I travel too much to be able to do the twice daily milkings. Until then, I'll live vicariously through you.

April 9, 2012 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

My Uncle raises these sheep, called Barbados Blackbelly Sheep. His sheep look just like this goat. I though he was raising goats for the longest time... :)

Good luck on your new venture!

April 9, 2012 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

downeast becca, I thought the same thing, that it was an Ober, but they assure me she's an alpine who happens to have those markings. Since alpines can be any color some look like toggs, obers, all sorts.

I hope she works out.

April 9, 2012 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Ohhhh my but you are funny! I rarely get a good belly laugh on Moday, but I sure did just now. Sounds like you're first date with Ms. Bonita (for some reason her name makes me want to add Ms. in front of it), was a hit, lip curled greeting and all! I always found milking (I milked a cow) to be so very relaxing- almost meditative. Also, if you find you have excess milk and get another pig, you could always suppliment their feedings with some milk. We did that with our pigs (mixed w ground corn), and it not only stretched their feedings but seemed to make for better pork (if that's possible?). Have fun and I'm thinkin Jasper will love his new bunkmate!

April 9, 2012 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

That thing she did with her lips and teeth when she met you--was it the flehmen response? It has to do with smell. Maybe she smelled your horse or sheep. My goat book says you can train a goat to do it on cue as a "smile" trick.

April 9, 2012 at 9:29 PM  
Anonymous MamaMoJo said...

Yay for you & Bonita! I love goats! I grew up on an Alpine dairy goat farm and milked around 30 does before and after school everyday. I haven't milked a goat in probably 20 years, but I still have forearms of steel! We had twin girls that looked just like Bonita...their names were Ying & Yang! Unfortunatley my Dad & stepmom went their separate ways when I was 12, but I cherish the memories I have of Silver Star Dairy!

April 9, 2012 at 9:37 PM  
Anonymous egirlwonder said...

Exciting! What a great way to cap off Easter weekend.

I hear that using surplus milk in pig feed is a really wonderful thing for them nutritionally and for end-result taste of their meat (e.g. Parma Ham!) - is this right?

April 9, 2012 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

"I hardly know this woman... Two can play at this game." You made me laugh so hard I snorted! You're gonna love milking! Will she have a caprine companion?

April 9, 2012 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Love it!!! I'm really wanting a dairy goat, so I'm hanging on your every word for this series! Thanks for sharing.

April 10, 2012 at 12:27 AM  
Blogger katiegirl said...

Alpines can be that same chamoisee color as Oberhaslis, as they're closely related. Oberhaslis are also known as Swiss Alpines. I have Oberhaslis and love them, they're the perfect goat for me. :)

April 10, 2012 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

You know what? I have not yet had to not allow a single comment! It is as if people saw I would be quietly reading them first before posting them, and that was enough.

I'm letting out a sigh of relief! Those things were killing me!

April 10, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Yay! That sounds like a lot of fun! Goats are charming, hilarious animals. I've always wanted to get a milking animal, but unfortunately I don't like goat milk.

Let us know how everything goes, Jenna! Best of luck for you and Bonita. :-)

April 10, 2012 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

By all means, give any excess milk, whey, yogurt, etc to your chickens and dogs! Pigs too, of course. This is also good for milk that you won't want to drink (like if she sticks a foot in it) rather than just dumping it out. Sounds like things are off to a good start! The only blanket advice I'll give is this: goats HATE change. They get over it of course, but it can be touch and go at first. They're so emotional!

P.S. I got a chuckle at "back teat" as well. :-)

April 10, 2012 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Fantastic Jenna! I can't wait to meet this girl! You made me laugh with your descriptions her "swimsuit place" so funny, conveys how awkward a first milking is to someone like me. I take it from comments that goats only have two teats? I have a feeling I'll get to learn all about it one day soon. Goat workshop anyone?

April 10, 2012 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger greendria said...

Your comments sections (since you began moderating) are back to what they used to be: good questions, good answers, others' stories and anecdotes, useful non-judgemental suggestions. I LOVE IT! Thank you so much. I'm excited about your milk goat adventure, I was just thinking of taking the milk goat plunge - your blog is always so synchronous for me.

April 10, 2012 at 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Violet said...

As someone who is a total goat nerd and who doesn't yet have her own farm (although I may have it within a year), and who screams with glee and damn near drives off the road if I pass a farm with baby goats... this post and the pictures made my heart sing.

April 20, 2012 at 10:11 PM  

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