by Debbie Dahl DairyDoll@Juno.com or DebDahl@aol.com
It was 1990 when I first set foot inside a dairy barn, in this case a cow dairy, and had my first lesson in milking procedures. The dairyman was more than willing to teach me the proper procedures, and in return I offered to help during milking time. After a few months, I began thinking how easy it would be to milk goats, and my husband surprised me one weekend by coming home from an auction with several pieces of Surge milking equipment. After consulting with the Surge representative, we were able to put together a working milking machine, adaptable to milk cows or goats. And so our adventure into the world of machine milking had begun.
From my limited experience with the cow dairy, I knew that dealing with mechanical parts would inevitably lead to a few minor breakdowns. The pump itself was quite old, and somewhat temperamental for a piece of machinery. But the pulsator was complicated; it was like a muscle; it had to be kept working on a daily (or at least weekly) basis to be reliable. Some of the experienced dairyman we talked to recommended that we keep the pump and tubing outside in the barn, but bring the pail (pulsator included) into the house during cold weather. They explained that it didn't take kindly to quick changes in temperature, a fact that I could relate to on a cold winter morning when milking time came around and I was tempted to stay snuggled in my warm bed.
As I had not planned on going into the milking business, I didn't have a milking stand built yet, and quickly made a simple two-goat stand which sat on the floor of our horse trailer- the only enclosed (and portable) building I could reasonably keep cleaned. The divider in the middle allowed me to gather all the milking does in the back half, then let them out, two at a time, to the front half. After milking, they were released out the side door to return to pasture grazing. I must have milked about two months before rationalizing that there had to be a better place and we could build a raised milking stand for the procedure.
So the old barn on our place was to hear the first sounds of hammering, nailing and sawing inside its empty stalls in over ten years, starting with a raised milking stand. As I intended to have large-framed goats, we made the two standing areas a bit wider than what was recommended, figuring on training heavily pregnant does to be comfortable with the procedures before they freshened. My husband found an old door and we nailed short cross-boards as steps every six inches, all the way up, putting hinges where it met the milking stand so it could be raised and lowered like a drawbridge on a castle. Built entirely out of two by fours, the structure could hold a lot of weight because I reasoned that sooner or later I would have to encourage a doe or two to come up the ramp, leading her myself.
Some of the first-time freshening does looked like their teats were too small to fit into a teat cup, but once they had filled up with milk, the milking cups fit. Apparently this is a problem when hand milking too, because my neighbor commented that his doe had to "udder up" before his hand fit to milk her out also.
It didn't take long to come up with a mixed blessing. Although the equipment took only a few minutes to clean properly after each milking, the five-gallon metal "pail" was too heavy to carry when it was full. As I pride myself on the sanitary advantages of machine milking (no more hooves in the pail or kicked over buckets of milk), I decided to live with the inconvenience. (In other words, I let my husband do it!)
The other option was to divide the milk halfway during milking by pouring two or three gallons into a waiting bucket, but that would mean an open source of contamination during pouring, and having to put up a table just for this purpose only. Not to mention having another area to keep clean. So I simply pushed the pail from one side to the other, sliding it on the floor of the milking stand, from one goat having just been milked to the other one still full-uddered.
A few of the biggest does were fairly short-legged, allowing the teats to be closer to the floor than the others, and it was necessary to put a cement brick under their back feet, raising the back end of the animal a few inches, so that the angle of the cups, once attached, was good for a proper fitting.
My husband said it was possible to milk two at the same time, with only minimal adjustment (adding more tubing and a shut-off valve), and when I start milking ten does twice a day, it will speed up the milking process considerably. For now the few that are milked do not take up much time, and I enjoy looking over each individual doe while she is milking, as my hands are free once the teat cups are working. This gives me time to check for signs of heat, stress, or illness, not to mention that it's convenient to trim hooves from this side position, with the hoof easily reached at hip-level.
Grooming is much easier on those hard to reach places, too, like under the tummy and around the udder, and my knees are saved from constant bending over to view the underside of the goats. The teats are easily examined (provided you have proper lighting), and the goats are eye-to-eye with you, the milker. I can't help but wonder if the goats feel prouder, being raised to this "equal" position with their owner.
In my opinion, there is no other way to milk so easily. Plus the fact that my hands are basically useless after handmilking only two quarts, and each of my does gives much more than that amount at each milking. As a matter of fact, two quarts as a total daily accumulation is my signal to dry up a doe once the hottest part of summer is past.
As with any dairy goat herd, the twice-a-day milking can become routine after a while, but I'm always quick to remind myself that it's a blessing. There could be a never-before- milked doe, new to the herd, to train on the milking stand, stamping and squirming around, side-stepping the milking pot, which is directly beneath the doe's belly. The weight of the pail keeps it from being knocked over, and the pulsator located on the top has a protected metal piece to avoid damaging the internal workings. Because the handle of the milking pail curves back over the pulsator and goes all the way to the other side, it makes it difficult for a newly-trained doe to sit down during milking.
Most of my goats have collars (also a mixed blessing) with round loops to fasten a lead rope to, so I simply latch their collars with a clasp, allowing fairly controlled head movement on the milking stand. Somehow the keyhole head manger never seemed like a good idea, as a few of the older goats purchased had eight-inch long horns, so the clasp seemed the logical answer.
The noise of the milk pump was considerably louder than expected, but that was easily adjusted by either placing the pump on the other side of the wall and running the clear tubing through a round hole or in between boards to run to the milk stand. A cover-up box could have been made to lessen the humming sound almost as easily. Most of the experienced milking does didn't seem to mind the added noise very much. It was the new milkers, the first-timers, that were already timid and reacted slightly, stopping their munching to glance around and wonder at the sound before being coaxed to continue eating by more grain in the feed dish.
Most of the older milking "ladies" race to be the first one on the milking stand, jumping right up and eager to start letting down their milk, knowing that they get first pickings at the feed bowl. A few of them willingly stand to be milked without ever having their head tied, and back up or duck under the side board to move and let the next doe come up for milking. But as a safety precaution to avoid injury, their heads are looped with a lead rope if they don't have a collar to fasten to.
A chain or bar on the back of the milking stand keeps the doe from trying to back out too far, and keeps the other does from pushing from behind to crowd the does being milked. Because I made the milking stalls so wide, two smaller does could stand side by side easily while eating.
There are a few ways I could think of to improve the whole milking procedure, given the unlimited financial means to change them. Like an electronic milker that automatically leads each doe to the stand, reads her laser-coded tag, distributes the proper amount of feed, cleans off each teat with solution, sets up the milking cups to align with each teat and raises to attach, then knows precisely when to stop the pulsing inflation and releases and lowers to go on to the next doe.
But what would be the point? Isn't the point to milking goats the fact that we enjoy their presence, their companionship and friendliness? What's the point to even having goats if the whole procedure is mechanical? We put up with the occasional stomped foot in the pail, the kicked over bucket, because we understand it some times tickles or catches them offguard. And the milk is only part of the reward. The joy of seeing kids kick up their heels and frolic at short sprints around the yard is also an excellent source of entertainment. It makes us laugh and we truly feel like a kid again-that is, the two-legged kind.
Dairy Doll Registered Nubians
Boer, Spanish, Meat & Dairy Goats
AKC Great Pyrenees Guardian Dogs
Debbie & Richard Dahl
Route 1, Box 147-2
Colcord, Oklahoma 74338
Telephone (918) 326-4291