Nary an Udder the Same & Goat Happenings

As I milk the does each morning, it is always interesting to note the differences in their udders. It’s something I have experienced for years, but I didn’t think about sharing it with you until recently. Goats, just like people, each have their own special peculiarities that make them unique. And since I milk my goats, one of the things I pay particular attention to is their udders. Many goats udders are very similar, but the group of does I have right now don’t share many characteristics, and because of that, I thought I would explain the differences and what I think about them.

I’ll start off with One Stripe, our old lady goat. She is now seven years old and has been with us since she was five months old. I think she is starting to slow down a little, but for an old lady, she is doing quite well. Her udder is getting longer as she ages. It also has more mammary tissue that the other does. The first year or two I milked One Stripe, her udder was much firmer and more congested than the other does. She didn’t have mastitis, but either she wouldn’t let me have her milk or the mammary tissue took up so much room, she didn’t have much. I have always wondered if that has affected the size of her udder. It still never completely empties when I milk her, but she is a breeze to milk. One Stripe’s teats are straight, easy to handle and allow a good amount of milk with each squeeze. She and I have been doing this together for so long that sometimes she will turn her head around and nudge my shoulder when she is ready to leave, but I’m not finished.

Copper is One Stripe’s two year old daughter. Copper’s udder is even, and holds a nice capacity. She does not have the longer, type of udder her mother has. The teats are even, a little longer than some, and also allow a good amount of milk with each squeeze. Copper is a taller, longer goat than the other does I have. I scoot my chair closer to the end of the milk stand to reach her udder comfortably. Copper was an accidental single kid in the middle of winter, so she didn’t have anyone to play with when she was born. Consequently, she came back to the milk stand with One Stripe while I was milking. She has always been very tame and easy to handle, if sometimes a little onery.

Cricket and Lady Bug are twin sisters that are one year old. They each had their first kids this spring. It is always interesting to see how a doe will turn out on the milk stand. Ivory, their mother, was a great milker so I had high hopes for these two.

Cricket started off with very small teats. She was hard to milk and not at all interested in letting her milk down. After a few days I remembered that Ivory started off the same way. That gave me hope that Cricket’s teats and udder would develop well during her first lactation. So far so good. She is definitely easier to milk, and she will let her milk down for me now. One of the challenges of increasing her milk production is having her son continue to nurse through the fence. With the work on the barn and the addition of pigs, available space for weaning is limited for now.

Lady Bug started off too wound up for my taste. She was not relaxed, but furtive and anxious. Now, after almost three months she has calmed down nicely, and is very easy to milk. Surprisingly, her teats are much larger than her sisters. They are not as long as One Stripe’s or Copper’s, but they hold a good volume of milk per squeeze, making her very easy to milk. For a first freshener, Lady Bug also has a very good quantity of milk, even though Easter is still nursing some through the fence.

We sold Penny, who is Copper’s daughter, to Faith back in April. I wish I had remembered to take a picture of her udder before she left. She is the first doe I have had that had two different size teats. Noticeably different. One side is much easier to milk than the other. At first I wondered if it was because her twin bucks were nursing more on one side than the other, but Faith tells me they have continued to remain different sizes. She doesn’t have any trouble milking Penny, and has adjusted to the different techniques needed to get milk from each side.

Every milker has a preference for the type of udder and teat they prefer to milk. I know I do. As time has passed and my experience as a milker has increased, I am now much more particular about the animals we add to our herd. If we are looking for a new buck, I ask to see the mother’s udder in milk or at least pictures of it. If it is pendulous, or the teats are large and bulbous, I pass. If the teats are small, or the udder is poorly attached, I pass. Since I plan to milk our does, I want animals that have the genetic propensity to produce healthy, well formed, udders and teats. I don’t have to have an animal that will produce a gallon a day, but I would like to have a decent amount per animals.

Speaking of bucks, when the vet was out recently working on our new pigs, we also had him work on Bill’s horn scurs. Bill’s horn burning didn’t go well before we bought him. We knew he had some scurs when we brought him home, but we have never had any that grew
out like this. Bill had rubbed or caught the sideways scur that had gotten pretty long, and ripped it away from his skull, which caused it to bleed a little. The vet takes care of these types of scurs with large landscaping loppers. Scurs on goats don’t generally bleed a lot because they don’t develop the same type of blood supply that a regular horn has. This was true for Bill this time. The vet applied some standard blood stopper powder for good measure. While we had Bill in hand, we also wormed him and trimmed his hooves. We hadn’t caught Bill in a while, but he is usually tame enough when we feed. You can reach over and pat and scratch him then. But when I poured out the feed and took him by the collar, he jumped up on his hind feet, hollered and fought valiantly to get loose until the vet could take over. I was very happy to turn him over to someone else. If you had been standing around, the dance Bill and I did would probably have been somewhat comical. Luckily, it worked out okay.

We plan to turn One Stripe and Cricket in with Bill on July 1st, to begin our first breeding cycle. We hope they breed sometime in July to give us December babies. This will allow us to have plenty of milk through the winter. We tried this last summer, but Bill wasn’t mature enough to handle this responsibility at the time. If our breeding plans are successful, Cricket will dry up around the end of August or early September. One Stripe has already been dried up. Since she is older, I wanted her body to have a break before she becomes pregnant again. I will continue milking Copper and Lady Bug until late December or early January when One Stripe and Cricket are in milk again.

We will breed Copper, Lady Bug, Patch and Easter in November. This will provide us with the larger supply of milk in the spring so we can begin making next year’s cheese supply. Well, that’s the plan anyway. We will see how it goes.

We still need to butcher our older wethers. We hope, cross your fingers, to get that done in the next week or so. It will be nice to have our own meat in the freezer again. I want to figure out how to make a very simple jerky from our ground chevron. Most of the recipes I have read have more ingredients than I want to use. If you know of a very simple recipe that does not use liquid smoke or any sweeteners, I would be interested in looking at it. I would like to use little more than salt and pepper, but I don’t know if that would work or not. I need to do some more research on simple jerky recipes.

The over abundance of rain this spring and early summer has also caused an over abundance of worms this year. I have had to worm the goats more than usual. Even Pearl, our Great Pyrenees, has had difficulty with worms which she has never had before. The vet said the weather this year has caused a tremendous flush of worms for all of the animals he sees. It’s something good to learn and be aware of as we continue to learn the nuances of our location. We have been here seven years and in that time we have had two years of serious heat and drought and two years of incredible rain and flooding.

We continue to see our goats as vital to our homestead. They provide us with milk which we make into kefir, butter and cheese. The by product of whey is then fed to the chickens and pigs. The dog and cats also benefit from the milk everyday. The goats provide us with meat and the other animals with nutrition through the organs, fat and scraps from our table. We enjoy our goats. They are a good farm animal. But more than that, every animal on our homestead is here for a reason. They all have jobs to perform, and if they don’t meet the expectation or need that we have, we don’t keep them. Regardless of how much we may like them or want them, if they don’t perform adequately, or exhibit an undesirable behavior that we are unable to alter, then we don’t keep them. Some we eat, some we sell, some we give away with full disclosure of why we are getting rid of them. 

Homesteading is our way of life. Soon we feel it will be our survival. We continue to increase our skills, so that hopefully, we can depend on what we know, what we have, and what we can do, to see us through the hard times that will soon be upon us all. We would encourage you to do the same.

Until next time – Fern
 

The Ease of Training First Fresheners to Milk

I know the title of this article made some folks laugh. Especially those that have had the pleasure of training goats to milk. Sometimes it can be difficult at best, if not downright unbearable. I have a good friend that

milked a goat for several years and had to hobble her goat every time, even after a couple of years. That, I would find unbearable. We have always had Nubian milk goats, so I am not familiar with the personalities and idiosyncrasies of any other breed. We did raise a Boer goat once, and her baby, but they were a much more aggressive breed and did not fit in with our preferences in livestock. So we ate them. That is typically what happens to chickens and goats that don’t settle in and find their place in the scheme of things. Now we usually sell the does that just don’t work out, but we do it with full disclosure of why we are selling them to all potential buyers. The friend that had to hobble her goat bought Ivory, our screamer, back in the fall, knowing full well how loud her vocal cords could be. We had a laugh about it on the phone the other day. I guess she still hollers every time my friend goes outside, but is supposedly settling down some.

Back to training first fresheners. I commented to Frank the other day about how incredibly easy my three young does have been to milk this year. It has really surprised me. He told me it probably

Faith and one of Penny’s newborn babies

had something to do with my experience, and that after you do something for a long time you figure out how to work out the kinks. That was interesting, and got me to thinking. Why has it been so easy this year, and what can I pass along to others who are just getting started, or are having a hard time? I have also been giving our friend, Faith, milking lessons. You know, you’ve heard of piano lessons, painting lessons, driving lessons, and even cooking lessons, but it’s kind of weird to think of milking lessons. That has also made me stop and think about all of the little steps that have become an automatic part of my daily routine. I’ve been giving milking lessons because Penny, her two boys, and Copper’s girl, Buttons, who is Penny’s sister, will soon be going to Faith’s house.

This story starts back in 2010 when I first began milking here on this homestead. We had two does that I milked for a year or two back in the late 1990’s before we moved to Alaska, but I really don’t remember much about any techniques I used back then. When I started milking in 2010, we had 11 does. I know I didn’t train them all, because we sold some of them that spring after the babies were born. Some we sold with babies by their side and others individually. I think I trained five of them then, but I can’t be sure. I remember being so nervous, trying to make the goats happy and

The girls of 2010

stand still without putting their foot in the bucket and ruining the milk. I remember being frustrated and impatient with their noncompliant behavior. I remember trying to coax, then coerce, then force the behavior I was wanting and expecting. I remember some rather nervous does, because they weren’t real sure how I would be acting at a given time. I remember thinking I would never get a handle on how to get milk out of a teat without squirting it all over me, the doe, the milk stand, the ground, anywhere but inside the bucket. I remember fighting with Katy because she hated, really hated, having teat dip applied after I finished milking….for years. I finally started lifting her right hind leg way up by her hip so she couldn’t jump around while I applied the teat dip. It was much easier on me and quicker, too. I remember being on the last goat, almost finished, when she kicked the bucket over and spilled the milk from three goats, or stuck her foot in it and ruined the whole bucket full. I remember how good that first, fresh, raw milk tasted, too. It was wonderful!

I think the things I remember will bring a smile to your face if you’ve ever tried to train a goat to milk. If you are planning to train a milk goat, don’t be discouraged. It does get better. If you never have goats, I hope this is an interesting story.

The first challenge I had was how to get the goat on the milk stand. We have collars on all of the goats. If you take a goat by the collar and it tightens, even gently, under their chin on the neck, they will choke, very easily. At first, I worried about that, until I realized it doesn’t hurt them. I tried many, many things to get goats to

Copper, 2013

cooperate and willingly get on the milk stand….like they do now. I now start out bringing the young does in on the milk stand when they are young. I start around six months of age, usually not long after they have bred. It doesn’t happen everyday, but with gradual, occasional experience, the does begin to realize that coming into the barn and climbing on the milk stand will provide the rewards of a meal and a back scratch. Initially, I try coaxing the doe onto the stand voluntarily using a bowl of feed. I explained this technique when Copper was young, here. She has now had her second set of kids and gets on the stand with ease. She launches herself up from the side foregoing the steps everyone else uses. There have been a few times she slid when she landed on the stand, which caused her to fall. She was skittish for a few days, but then once again started launching herself on the stand.

With my first does, I didn’t start bringing them in to the milk stand until right after they had their first babies. This added one more thing to the list of new things these young mothers had to adjust to. They had just had

babies, they were sore, some of them were afraid of their babies and still didn’t have the nursing thing down, and now I’m taking them by the collar and bringing them to an unfamiliar place, trying to get them to step up on this platform thing while slightly choking from having their collar pulled on. Sound like fun? It didn’t work very well at all. This was the time of frustration for me and the goat. Now that I have started training the does to the stand well before they give birth, they are more than happy to come in and get on the stand for a meal. They already know what to expect, and I barely need to lead them at all. That takes care of the first hurdle. 

Next is the process of milking. Since I handled the does more and more as they come in on the stand, they didn’t even flinch when I started milking them the day after they gave birth. That was great! I could go into another one of those I remember stories, but I won’t. Lots of handling of the udder,

the belly area, scratching and patting, makes the goat more trusting of your care and handling. Use a firm, not timid hand, to maneuver a goat into the position you want them to be in. Penny tends to stand right on the outside edge of the stand. If she took one step to the right, she would fall right off. When you go to push her back towards the left side of the stand, which has a railing to keep her from falling off that side, she leans into your hand, making her even more off balance. At first I tried to slowly gently, get her to take a step to the left, only to have her really lean into me. That didn’t work, so now, I firmly and quickly push her, making her take a step or two to the left, and quickly remove my hands, causing her to regain her balance right where I want her. And since Penny is going to Faith’s house, she has practiced this as well.

Now that we have the goat on the milk stand happily eating, it’s time to wash the udder, squirt that first stream of milk into the strip cup and begin to milk. I’ve explained here the process we use along with our equipment, so I won’t go over that again. If you’ve never milked an animal, it can be difficult to ‘capture’ the milk in the teat so you can squirt it into the bucket instead of allowing it to escape back into the udder. There is a simple, yet

specific technique for this process that I cannot describe in words. You can get a standard, disposable medical glove, poke a tiny pin hole in the end of one finger, tie off the other fingers in a knot, fill it with water and practice ‘milking’. When I first started milking I was working so hard at it that I didn’t realize that the milk was squirting back into the udder instead of coming out into my bucket. Then I began to feel the milk going back up through my hand as I squeezed, kind of bubbly like. That’s when I realized that I had to have a good closure with my thumb and index finger to trap the milk in the teat before I squeezed with the rest of my hand. Even with a slow motion movie, this technique is hard to understand without trying it.

I remember trying to milk fast enough that I was finished before the doe finished her meal. That never happened in the beginning. Some of the

more docile does would turn around and look at me, and kind of nudge me on the arm with their head. Others would start kicking and dancing, even jumping both rear legs into the air as I continued to try to get that closure, squeeze and squirt technique perfected. Inevitably, some of those dancing feet ended up in the bucket, ruining the milk. Even now, when I have a definite rhythm to my milking, and am much faster, I don’t always finish before my first fresheners. We are now at one week since I started penning their babies up at night, so they have very full udders in the morning. 

I have found there is a honeymoon period when training all goats, with some it may last a few seconds and with others it may last a few weeks. But then, really, there are others that never give you a break from the first time you try to do anything with them. At first everything is kind of new and the goat seems a little oblivious to the whole milking process. Then after a few days, or even a few

They learn quickly where they are in the line up and when it is their turn.

weeks, they seem to wake up and think, “Hey, what are you doing?” and they begin to dance around or even kick a little. If the season has warmed enough for the flies to be out, that is a whole different issue. Goats hate flies on their legs anytime and will have to learn to raise their leg, stomp and knock off the flies, without hitting the bucket. Sound realistic? It does happen, but it takes a while. In time you will be able to read the body language of your goat. If they start to shift their weight on their back legs, it usually means they are getting ready to lift a leg or foot. I always milk with one hand and keep the other hand on the bucket just in case I need to move it quickly out of the way.

During Faith’s last milking lesson, I was talking a lot and not quite keeping up with my normal routine, so Cricket finished eating before I was finished milking. She decided since she was finished, I should be too. This is very typical. If you are a new milker, this is an area where you will have to establish who is boss. It doesn’t need to be in a mean way, but it does have to be in a very firm way. Most people use a head stanchion to hold their goats in place while they milk, so the goat can’t turn around or try to get off of the stand like mine do. If a goat gives me too much trouble, I will clip them to the fence with a leash. It works fine for me, but it’s different than most folks set up. I said this above, but I’ll say it again because I think it’s important to know. Most young does will go through an initial honeymoon period, but then almost always go through an onery or rebellious stage when they decide that it’s time for you to stop milking or else! They will kick at the bucket, try to bring all of their feet in close together to crowd you and the bucket out of the way, or even jump both back feet in the air at the same time, many times landing in the bucket if you’re not quick enough to pull it out of the way. Anytime they decide it is time to stop, even if I’m just about finished, I always continue to milking just a little bit longer to make them realize that I will stop when I am finished, not when they want me to. When I first started milking and this would happen, I would stop. I was unsure of myself and lacked the confidence I have now. These does would get worse and worse in their behavior, wanting me to quit earlier and earlier, or not milk all together. It’s kind of like a kid throwing a fit and getting their way. If it works once, it should work again. So I did myself a big favor, and learned to keep milking, even if all of the milk got spilled or kicked or both feet landed in it. I milked until I was finished. Period. Once I had retaught my does the correct behavior, instead of the behavior I had allowed to develop, things went much smoother. But it never went as smoothly with those goats that had to relearn correct behavior, as it has with those that never learned the wrong behavior to begin with.

And speaking of feet landing in the bucket. After ruining several almost full buckets of milk, I started bringing an extra bucket with me to the barn. I would milk one goat, pour her milk into the extra bucket, then milk the next goat. That way if a foot landed in the milk, it only ruined that one batch and not all of the milk. That saved a lot of milk as I was in the learning process. Any milk that was ruined by an errant foot was always set aside for the dog, cats and chickens.

While I was writing this article I called the friend that bought our screamer goat. I’m going to call her Hope. I told her I was writing about her and

the screamer, and we had a good laugh. Hope has milked both cows and goats for a number of years, so I asked her what she thought was the most important thing in training a first freshener. She has two of them that just had babies. Hope said that bringing the does in on the milk stand and handling them for several months before they kid is the most beneficial thing that you can do. She brings hers in and handles them all over, mimicking the act of milking each time. She has started milking her first young doe just a few days ago, and things are going very well. 

If you have any other techniques you use, or advice for the novice or veteran milker, please share them in the comment section. If you are new to milking or will be, and have questions, please share them as well. There are as many ways to milk as there are people, of that I am sure. I only milk with one hand at a time, due to my arthritis. I trade off hands and teats as each hand gets tired, so it probably takes me longer to milk than some. While I was in the barn this morning, milking our five does, I was trying

to estimate how many squeezes it took to milk them all. My first guess was about 300 to 500. Boy was I wrong! On the last doe I began to count how many times I squeezed each teat before I traded hands. That came to 50. Then I counted how many times I traded hands. The total came to just under 500 squeezes for the entire milking. 500! That really surprised me. And the last goat was a first freshener that isn’t up to full production, so I figure there are about 2500 to 3000 squeezes for a morning milking session for me. That doesn’t include milking the does again in the evening whose babies are being weaned. So, if you’re getting ready to start milking, you will be surprised at how much stronger your hands and forearms will get after a time.

Now that the screamer has gone to live with Hope, things are quieter, usually. Five goats are a few too many to milk each day, so before long Penny will be going to Faith’s house, and we will probably let One Stripe

dry up. She is seven years old now and still has strong healthy babies, but she isn’t producing as much milk this year as she has in the past. I plan to breed One Stripe and Cricket in July for December babies. This will give us a good milk supply through the winter. Then Copper, Lady Bug, Patch and Easter will be bred in November for April babies. Even with Penny gone and One Stripe not in milk, Copper, Lady Bug and Cricket will give us plenty of milk for drinking, making cheese, butter and feeding our kefir, dog, cats, chickens and pigs. We feed the whey from cheese making to the animals, and if there is too much of that, we use it to water the plants in the garden.

I really love my goats. I enjoy spending time milking them, training them and have really bonded with them, especially One Stripe, my old lady goat. Copper is her daughter, and she has a special place in my heart as well. We are also keeping One Stripe’s daughter Patch, who is already a very sweet, tame little doe. Not only do I simply get great pleasure from working with the goats, they perform their function very nicely by providing us with meat, milk, butter, whey and cheese. I hope this story has been entertaining, educational and useful. I will leave you with a rerun of a short video from The Sounds of a Peaceful Morning Milking.

Until next time – Fern

Goat Q & A

There have been some good questions and comments about milk goats that we wanted to combine into an article. We hope these answers will help out, or at least give some food for thought. 

From Mrs. T over at Redeeming the Time: I am hoping that dairy goats and cheese making will be in my future next year. We have a good friend nearby who raises dairy goats, so we may be able to purchase some in the spring. It looks like you milk them all by hand, rather than machine, true? If so, how long does it take you? I am willing to hand milk one or two does, but I’m not sure if I can handle more than that.

Fern: Yes, I milk by hand. The time it takes to milk a goat varies. It depends on the size of the udder, the size of the teat, how much milk you get with each squeeze, and the experience of the milker. I find that I am much faster than I was the first year I milked. It’s like driving, after a while it kind of becomes second nature, but it takes a while to get there. On average, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to milk a doe that is in full milk production. If I milk before I go to work, I don’t take my time. After work is another story. I can easily take an extra 15 minutes because I am not on a deadline. For maximum milk production you need to milk twice a day. But, you can also milk once a day and get less than maximum. A lot depends on you and your personality, and the personality of the goat.


From Mrs. T: I know that secure fencing is very important to contain goats. Could you please explain what type of fencing you use? Also, how many bales of hay do they go through in a winter? Forgive me for all the questions. In my part of Canada, they would be on hay from October to May, I believe. We harvested 21 round bales of hay (5 ft. diameter) from our few acres of pasture. Ideally, we would like to produce all of their food right here on our homestead, but I’m not sure how many goats that would feed. Thank you for your patience with my questions! 

Fern: Fencing is very important. We don’t have any problems with our goats getting out and that is due to good fences and plenty of pasture to graze. We use field fence that looks like this (some people call it by different names). It is a woven mesh. We also put a strand of barbed wire on the ground to discourage animals (like dogs) from digging under the fence, and two strands of barbed wire across the top (shown in the picture) to discourage animals from going over the fence (like dogs or our goats). 

Something to consider. A couple of years back we decided to let our goats grow horns because it is more natural and they can protect themselves better. Well, there are two trains of thought here – goats with horns, goats without horns. Even if an animal is not doing anything malicious, it can still turn it’s head quickly, jump upwards when it is scared, and easily result in a serious human

injury. Second, goats with horns have a tendency to get their heads stuck in the fence. You know the old saying, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?’ Well, that is true. We have never lost an animal because it’s head was stuck in the fence, but it could easily happen. So, now we burn all baby goats horn buds. It is a disgusting and revolting procedure, but one that we feel needs to be done. So our answer to the question, horns or not horns? We are a not horn place. But they do make great handles.

The amount of hay you would use in Canada would be vastly different than how much we use in southeastern Oklahoma. It is much colder there and your animals would have different dietary requirements just to keep warm, so I do not have any valid information for you on that question. Maybe there will be some readers from up north that can help you out. Also, ask your neighbor that has the goats how much they use. We use hay primarily for bedding. On those extended periods when it seems to rain everyday, the goats do not like to forage in the rain. Then we do put out hay in a manger in the barn. 

We know someday there is the possibility that commercial grains will not be available. We have been experimenting with other crops that livestock animals used to eat before the introduction of mechanized farming. We have and are experimenting with rutabagas, beets, turnips, carrots and these types of crops. Rutabagas and turnips at one time were the primary source of feed for livestock in this country. We have a neighbor that grows turnips in his pastures. He rotates his cows through these pastures when the turnip greens are ready to be harvested, in this case, the cows do the harvesting. He uses this method in place of hay. There is always something new to learn. There are commercial varieties of rutabagas and beets that are not used for human consumption, but for livestock feed. Cool, huh?


One thing we do for winter forage is leave one pasture growing most of the summer. This is what we call our ‘standing hay’. We brush hog each pasture about every other year. It helps keep down the really noxious weeds, the type with three inch thorns that cause abscesses. We let the natural weedy plants grow since that is what the goats prefer over grass. It is a more natural source of dietary fiber which keeps our animals healthier. We use no herbicides, pesticides or any chemicals on any of our pastures, or our garden for that matter. But there is the occasional homicide on butchering day. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!) Pasture rotation will also help prevent overgrazing and parasite build up. We supplement our goats’ diets with grain we purchase. There is a post about our feed mixing ration that explains the how’s and why’s.

Our herd is small. We are keeping four does this year. We will be butchering our wethers soon (that’s when the homicides occur) and our buck will be going to the sale barn. So far, four does seem to be a good number for us. This summer when we were milking three does we were swimming in milk, so even though we have kept four does, I don’t know if we will be milking all of them.

From Sandra over at Clearwater Farm: I have been lucky to only have one or two goats really give me grief about milking. I do have a Toggenburg now that does great until she runs out of food. When she is out, she flips the feeder onto the ground, my cue that the kicking will commence. If she isn’t getting anything out of the deal, neither am I. 

Fern: We will tolerate a certain amount of obstinate behavior from an animal, but after a while, either the animal comes around or leaves. We find that attaching the feed pan to the milk stand has worked out well. Our first milk stand had a place to put the feed bowl, but I like this set up better. I have also had a few goats that would let me milk for a while then start kicking and sometimes putting their foot in the milk bucket. I have found that after a few corrections with the back of my hand, they usually come around and stand nicely until I am finished. Not always, but usually. The other thing I have finally figured out is to learn the body language of the goat. If the doe is standing, relaxed and eating while I milk, then they are not going to kick. It’s when they have a subtle shift of the weight on their back legs when I know a foot is getting ready to come up. I can usually pull the bucket back out of the way in time, but again, not always! Then that milk turns into supper for the dog or the chickens. Chickens love milk!

From Kathi over at Oak Hill Homestead: I completely agree that raising your own is the best way; they are just easier to milk. I can’t wait till we have milk again, it’s been two years now, but my three current does are due in December, all first-fresheners. (I lost my entire herd in a barn fire last year. My current girls came to live here as tiny bottle babies, I hope they won’t give me any trouble.) 

Fern: Kathi, I am sorry you lost your herd in a fire. I can’t imagine. That would be really hard. It’s too bad you have been two years without milk, too. We are so used to it, I would hate to do without. On occasion, we buy store bought milk, and I’m glad at this time that we can. It sounds like you are expecting kids soon. Have you started training your does to the milk stand? Since they are bottle babies, they should be much easier to handle. I only have one ‘first-timer’, Copper, in the picture above. She was a single when there were no other kids to play with, and she is One Stripe’s daughter. One Stripe is very sweet and easy to handle and I am grateful her daughter is following suit. I can’t wait to see what kind of mom she will be. But you know what? I can’t wait to have baby goats again! I just love baby goats. So I look forward to hearing about the progress yours make. We handle our baby goats a lot, everyday, from the minute they are born. This makes all the difference in training. So your bottle fed babies should train comfortably.

Raising goats can be an experience full of wonder, frustration, heartbreak, laughter and food! There are many types of goats to be had. We have always had Nubians, well, except for one Boer goat we bought. She was okay, but turned out to be somewhat of a bully to the other girls. So we ate her. Some of you will think that is mean and some of you will think that is funny. It’s just the way it is here. If an animal works into our scheme of things, they stick around for a while. If not, they either get sold or find their way into the cook pot. 

Besides the fact that we really like how Nubians look with their long, floppy ears, the primary reason we chose them is because they are warm weather goats. Other milk goats have characteristics and features that are made for more northern climates. Do some research, look around, talk to people experienced at raising goats in your area. Milk goats are not real popular, so it may be difficult to find what you are looking for. You might need to drive a few miles to find some quality animals. Don’t forget Craigslist. A good source to help find just about any animal is your agriculture teacher, and don’t forget the vet.

All of the animals have a job to perform. The goats provide us with milk and meat, and we hope someday they will also provide us with hides or leather. But that is a ways down the road, if ever. Our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, is a great protector for the goats. She is a jewel. The cats are for varmint control. The chickens are for meat and eggs. It’s the nature of things and it works well for us.

We will continue to share the adventures of our animals. They teach us new things all the time. One Stripe will soon have her fifth set of kids. She is getting ‘big as a barn’. She is one of these goats that gets just about as wide as she is long. I can’t wait! I love baby goats!

Until next time – Fern

Just How Many Goats Do We Need?

We have debated this question many times. In the last few years we have had as many as twelve does and as few as four. Our ideal number revolves around milk and meat production. We try to logically consider what factors may affect the sustained production of these items and our dietary needs. 

How many do you milk? This year we had three milkers and we had so much milk we couldn’t use it up fast enough even though we were feeding it to the dog, cats and chickens. The chickens would only drink so much milk. And Frank is a milk drinker, everyday. So we cut back to milking the three of them once a day. That helped some, but we still had an over abundance of milk. 
 

Cheddar

After we made all of the cheese we wanted we dried up one of the does. Then we found out that One Stripe had 

Chevre

bred in July like we wanted her to, and was farther along than we thought. She starts drying up about two months after she breeds and that left us with only one goat to milk. Since that wasn’t giving us as much milk as we wanted, we went back to milking her twice a day in the hopes she would

Mozzarella

increase her milk production again, but that hasn’t really worked. We are just barely getting by and are dipping into our frozen milk reserves for Pearl and the kittens.

Special note: Some people will ask, “Why don’t you sell the milk?” The reason is that it is illegal to sell raw milk. You have to be a registered dairy to sell milk. And then, some would say, “Barter for the milk.” It doesn’t make any difference. If we barter, sell or give milk away and someone gets sick, whether it is from the milk or not, we can lose everything we have and do jail time. Therefore, we do not sell, barter or give milk away for any human consumption. And that’s it. 

If we keep the four does we have right now, next year we will have four milking goats. So we thought, why not go down to three? Three milking goats, as we mentioned earlier, will give us an abundance of milk. So, why not let one of them dry up early, which is a very good idea. Then you have two full-time milking goats and an abundance of milk. Here are the delimmas. If you want to have fresh milk year round, then you can’t have them all breed at the same time. Goats need to dry up a few months before they birth. The reason for our messed up breeding schedule is because that is what we tried to do this year, was have separate breeding times for different goats, and it just didn’t work.

We don’t have a good answer for this situation. We have tried freezing milk. It’s okay, but as long as the grocery store continues to sell milk, it is much better. We have tried canning milk. As Frank has been known to say, “I’m not putting that stuff in my mouth.” But the chickens will drink it and you can cook with it. We store powdered milk as part of our food storage and it is just fine. But someday, it will run out. Our nine years in Alaska we drank powdered milk. Remember, Frank is a milk drinker.

We have not come across a sure fire way to solve the problem of being able to have fresh milk year round. There is a chance, because of our mixed up breeding schedule, that we might actually have fresh milk all year. We’ll let you know in about January or February. Right now we have been getting fresh milk since January, so it will be close.

Okay, so getting back to the question of how many goats? We are probably going to stay with four. But then, what if one of the does has beautiful kid? Okay…..maybe five goats. We talked about going down to three does, but if one of them got sick or had problems that would only leave us with two to milk and that may or may not be enough. So we’re going to stick with four, for now. But that doesn’t mean that we are going to keep the four we have. We have one doe that keeps everybody stirred up all the time, she just spooks at anything and everything. She is a nice looking goat, good udder, good teats and a great milker, but she just keeps everybody on edge all the time. Remember, goats are herd animals, and if one animal spooks, they all run. You know, kind of like sheeple.

There are many factors that come into the decision making process in keeping a doe or putting her up for sale. Here is a list of some of the determining factors:

  • Milkablity (Frank’s new word) which is volume of milk; udder conformation (the shape of the bag); and teat size; not to mention attitude about being milked and ease of training
  • Cooperation within the herd; ease of handling
  • Healthy kids; ease of, or problems birthing; attentive mother or not; looks – no one wants an ugly goat
  • Over all good or bad habits 
  • Family tree; don’t keep too many from the same parents even if they produce desired characteristics – like Teddy – he is a big strong, good looking, healthy male that is easy to handle and a solid breeder. But when the girls are in heat, his attitude changes sharply and he can be dangerous. So he is leaving, dead or alive.
  • And one of the major deciding factors is Fern. If she likes a goat we will usually keep it, for a while anyway. The exception to the rule of selling off older stock on our place is One Stripe who will live out her days here. She is a great goat, good attitude, wonderful milker, excellent mother and Fern just loves her. So she stays until the end of her days. This is not always a good idea, but it is the plan for just this one.

 

One Stripe

In the birthing process, we have about half doe and half buck kids. On average, healthy adult does have twins or triplets. This year we will probably have four does and four buck kids. The plan is to keep one doe

kid to replace the one we are selling. But remember, plans can change.

We will sell the three remaining doe kids and that will leave us with four bucks. Young bucks in the industry are considered to be ‘a dime a dozen’. It is rare that you keep a buck to become a new breeding billy. So, therefore, we may have four young bucks that we will castrate and one year later will butcher. These are called wethers, which is pronounced like ‘weather’. This is part of our food supply. Now remember, it takes one billy to service 10 to 20 does, therefore, bucks are not in high demand. So that is where our meat comes from. All the wethers have the same name – Meat. One time Fern named them Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Teddy and the wethers, Meat, Meat and Meat

So, how many goats do we need? Four does and one billy will keep us in milk and meat and then some. The key is balancing them out so that we are not overrun with either. That is the plan anyway. So if you’re thinking about goats, this is the way we do it. Hope this helps.

That’s the news from the farm.

Frank and Fern
 

Fixing a Baby Goat’s Ear

We raise Nubian milk goats and they have long floppy ears and they are beautiful, of course. Just ask Ivory.

When the kids are born their ears are folded shut. They usually open out flat in a short period of time, but not always.

One Stripe had a single doe kid (from an accidental breeding i.e. the billy goat got the gate open in July for a few hours) in January. 
 

One of her ears stayed folded over like this. This is Copper. Frank named her. See the copper colored rings around her eyes? 

The fix for this ear called for scissors, a piece of cardboard from a cereal box and some duct tape. We cut a piece of cardboard about the same width as the tape and long enough to fold over and cover both sides of her ear. The tape will only have to stick to some of the hair on the outside of her ear. She is only a few days old and we don’t want the tape to irritate the flesh on the under side of her ear or tear the flesh when we take it off. So we are very careful. If we can get her to leave it on for 24 hours, the ear should be flat.

Here she is, all taped up.

The next day, when we took the cardboard off, she looked great. Two nice flat ears.

Since Copper was born about a month before any other kids, she got to do things a little different. When I started milking One Stripe, I would bring Copper in and let her play on the milk stand

as long as she didn’t mess with my milk bucket. Then she graduated to running around under my chair and playing with Pearl, our Great Pyrenees. They became good friends. Copper is one of my favorites, next to her mom.

Copper is ready to breed now and will have her own kids in December, or so we plan. Obviously, our efforts to control the breeding of our does doesn’t always go according to plan. 

 

I have high hopes for Copper as a milk goat since her mom and sister, Velvet, are great milkers. It’s always fun to see how things turn out. This is Velvet. She had her first kid this March and is a promising milk goat.

Every year is another learning experience when it comes to breeding and birthing goats. It is a very satisfying way of life. Not always easy or smooth or enjoyable, but very satisfying. We will keep you updated on how all of the goats progress. They are an everyday part of our lives.

Until next time – Fern