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

It Was a Very Good Day

I guess I could say our day started at 2:00am when I went to the barn to check on Lady Bug to see if she was in labor. She wasn’t. It always takes a little while to get back to sleep after a nighttime trek to the barn. I intended to get up at 6:00am to check on her again, but I just couldn’t talk myself into it. We’ve been at this middle of the night routine for three nights now with no end in sight. It does wear me down. Anyway, I rolled out at 7:00am, got the milk buckets ready, enjoyed a swift cup of coffee and headed out to the barn and the morning.

One Stripe and Copper enjoyed their typical morning routine. Penny now likes to stand around and talk very loudly to anyone that will listen. I hope she becomes more content soon because she has an irritating voice, and she needs to turn the volume down. Especially in the morning. But this morning was especially noisy because once I finished milking One Stripe and Copper, I did not let their babies out of the baby pen. They remained there awaiting their move to the weaning pen.

Penny was next up on the milk stand and so far has been very cooperative. She was followed by Cricket who is doing well at day two post delivery. I have some concerns about her boy I will share in a few days after I see how things work out. Lady Bug got to eat in her birthing pen, the lone pregnant doe now. She is pretty interested in the other babies. 

After the milk was strained and breakfast was cooked I debated about starting a batch of bread and a batch of cheese. I’ve been waiting for Lady Bug to deliver so I won’t have to worry about cheese sitting in the pot too long, or not being able to work or bake the bread when needed. Today we decided we had been waiting long enough. The sourdough starter has been out on the cabinet being fed for at least a week in preparation to make bread, and the frig was overflowing with over five gallons of milk.

So I ground some wheat and stirred up the sourdough bread and set it to proof on top of the frig where it’s warm. Then we started a double batch of cheddar cheese using up four gallons of milk. One thing about cheddar, is it needs attention in frequent intervals all day long. It’s now set to press for 24 hours and will be ready to remove from the presses tomorrow evening to dry for a few days before it is waxed. This is our first cheddar of the season. It won’t be ready to eat until about the middle of July at the earliest, for a very mild cheddar flavor. 

Making cheese means washing all of those jars the milk was in.

And washing up the cheese press that hasn’t been used in a while.

After the cheese reached the point that we had about a 30 minute window, we went up to the barn and moved the babies into the weaning pen. There was still some commotion, but not a whole lot. We have weaned babies before that screamed and hollered for their mommas until they were so hoarse they didn’t hardly have a voice left. These guys were running around playing some of the time and didn’t seem to be very stressed, which is great.

Frank drilled a couple of holes in each of these so the rain would drain out.

Frank had a great epiphany recently about the garden. We have kept enough room between the garden and the house to drive around the house if we needed or wanted to. He was standing outside looking at something the other day and thought, why don’t we forget about driving around the house and expand the garden into that area? It will make the garden a third again as big and allow us to grow a whole lot more food for us and the animals. Great idea! We have been thinking about how to incorporate an ‘animal garden’ into one of the pastures, but we use them pretty regularly. We have four pastures that connect to the corral at the barn and right now there are goats in three of them. When we add pigs to the mix, that will use them even more. Frank’s idea of increasing the garden size where it is will give us another way of increasing food production now.

This green grassy area is now becoming part of the garden. 2014 picture

So with that in mind, as we were leaving the barn, Frank brought the tractor down to start tilling up the ‘new’ garden spot. Right off the bat the shear pin broke on the tiller. So we replaced it. He went back around to start tilling one end of the garden which is very, very rocky, and immediately broke the shear pin. So we replaced it. This time he started at the other end of the garden down by the herb bed. He made it the whole length of the garden back into the rocky area just fine. Then he turned around to come back down the other way and immediately broke the shear pin. That’s when he announced that he was finished with the tiller for the day. We still have at least one, but now we need to get some more shear pins.

While Frank was busy breaking shear pins instead of the soil, I was trying to get some manure tea started. There is a new piece of garden we have already tilled up in front of the herb bed where I planted turnips, spinach, lettuce and swiss chard. This area has not had all of the great barnyard, ashes and such added to it, so it is not very rich in nutrients compared to the garden. Some of the spinach leaves are turning yellow. I wanted to give this bed a boost, so I took a couple of five gallon buckets to the chicken house, collected a deposit of manure and hay, filled the buckets with water, put on the lids and set them out in the herb bed where I will be using them. I’ll let them steep for a number of days before I begin side dressing the plants with tea. I won’t water them directly with this tea because I don’t want to burn the plants. I will also give them some wood ashes we have saved in the ash can from the woodstove, and some whey. 

After about 35 years of mowing our lawn with a push mower, we finally broke down and got a riding mower, which is a pretty green color and runs like a deere. It arrived yesterday but we were too busy to do anything with it then, and it was trying to rain. Today after Frank returned the tractor to the barn, he brought the mower down to try it out. In the meantime, I’m in the house working the cheese again. When I got to the point that I had a few minutes to go outside, I tried out the mower as well. It’s interesting, and since we have never had one before, it’s different. I do like it though. It will make it easier to keep some areas from becoming a jungle and needing to be brush hogged with the tractor in the summer. So I played on the mower for a while. Then I went back in and worked the cheese. Then I mowed a little more, returned it to the barn, checked on Lady Bug who refuses to have babies, and went back to the house to work the cheese.

Now one of my goals today was to get some more things planted. I didn’t. It’s all still sitting there waiting on me with rain coming tonight and tomorrow, and a chance of more every day this week until Friday. But maybe I can still get a few things planted over the next few days if it doesn’t get too wet.

Since we are weaning the older babies that means I will now be milking One Stripe and Copper twice a day and getting two gallons of milk a day instead of one. That means every two days I will have enough milk to make a double batch of cheese. But I still need to get things planted…… And then when Penny, Cricket and Lady Bug’s kids, if she ever has them, are two weeks old and I start penning them up at night, we will get more like three gallons of milk a day. Am I sure I need or want to milk five goats every day? Hmm……something to think about. But before long we hope to get those pigs and they will be happy to drink milk or whey everyday.

The old way to store whey.

And speaking of whey. Frank had a great idea. In the past when we made cheese, we put the whey in old peanut butter jars and sat them on the floor in the kitchen. There is way too much to fit in the frig with all the milk coming in. We feed one jar to the dog and cats each day, and two jars to the chickens morning and evening. Frank recommended we get out the water bath canner and just put all of the whey in it and dip it out into a jar as we need it. Great idea. Simplifies things. If we get overrun with whey, I will use it to water some of the garden plants. They love it, too.

So, now the animals are fed and tucked into bed, the cheese is doing it’s thing in the press, the bread is baked and sampled, and this blog post is now written. It has been a very good day. We enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine, each other’s company, the quiet peace of a country life and the blessings that work brings. Peace, joy and contentment. We pray that the season of Easter, with the renewal of life, brings much joy and happiness to you and yours.

Until next time – Fern

The Sounds of a Peaceful Morning Milking

I’ve told you before how much I enjoy milking in the mornings. Listening to the birds, the goats, and just watching the world wake up for the day. Well, recently I took the camera with me and recorded a few more short videos. Just for you. So, without further ado, A Peaceful Morning Milking.

You will notice a metalic kind of sound in this video. I have just begun to milk, and the bucket is empty. Copper fusses at me every morning because she has to wait and be second in line. She just doesn’t see any reason she should have to wait for her mother, One Stripe, to be milked first. If you milk more than one doe, and are consistent with your line up, you will find that they figure out their place in line, although at first the goats new to the milking routine will try to cut line. 

Now the sounds of milking have changed and Copper is on the stand. I was surprised at how well the sounds came out while taking these videos with my camera. Interesting. By the time I am about half way through milking Copper, the babies start to get restless because they know that they will get to have breakfast soon.

This was the first morning I noticed one of the kids up on their ‘dog house’ playing. This was originally our Great Pyrenees, Pearl’s, doghouse when she was a puppy. Now we use it for the kids when we pen them up away from their moms at night. The first fresheners are still fussing at me because I didn’t feed them out in the feed trough like I do on most mornings. This morning, I brought them in on the milk stand to eat individually. I have been doing this off and on for a few weeks now.

This video shows the kids ‘escaping’ the pen for breakfast. It’s a little shaky here and there, but shows you the routine.

Now I have Lady Bug on the stand and I’m showing you how I feel the babies kicking. You can usually, but not always, feel the babies moving around when the does are about three months into their gestation. At first the babies are higher up on the side and up closer to the rib cage. Since all of the young does are due next week, their babies have dropped down and moved back closer to the udder. All of their tail bone ligaments are very loose, and their udders are growing out nicely. I handle the does a lot when they are on the stand. I want them to be comfortable so when it comes time to be milked, that will be the only new thing added to this routine. I show you how I get them comfortable standing with a little wider stance. This gives more room for the milk bucket and for me to comfortably reach their teats to milk. It is a matter of patience and repetition. After a while they will be comfortable and not resist the repositioning of their leg. 

This is Cricket. Here I show you how much I handle the does. At first they kind of cringe with all of this attention since they are a little skittish about being on the stand at all. But by this time they know they will get to eat while I mess with them. I’ve also trimmed their hooves once since I started bringing them in. It’s much easier for me to have the milk stand hold the goat, and I don’t have to bend over as much making it easier on my back.

Now for the switch over. I will take Cricket out and let Penny in. Penny is the most hesitant to come in to the stand, so sometimes I have to bring her in, but she’s doing better. At first when these young does left the stand they were kind of lost and didn’t know which way to go, but now they have figured it out for the most part. Penny is also like her mother, Copper. She will usually come in, turn in a circle, then jump up on the stand. It’s funny how that runs in families.

I had to find an application to shorten the videos I had originally taken before Blogger would upload them. First I had to learn how to do the video on my camera, now I am having to learn how to alter them to fit into the blog format. You know, if we had never started this blog, we wouldn’t have bought a new camera a year ago, and I wouldn’t be learning any of this stuff. So, thank you for encouraging us in our blogging endeavors. We continue to learn much all of the time.

As I try to think of the things we do and have learned about goats so I can share them with you, it helps me to really think through everything. I guess that can go for just about anything we do. We have felt all along that the purpose of this blog is to share what we have learned so that it might benefit others in some way. I hope that is the case.

Until next time – Fern

Meet Patch, And More Goat Lore

We had a very pleasant surprise yesterday! One Stripe had lively, healthy twins. We had a little concern, since according to my records 150 days of her gestation would fall on Tuesday, February 9th. Most goat books I have read indicate that kidding before the 150th day can mean there is a problem, unless the doe has triplets or quadruplets. As I posted before, One Stripe had attained her classic waddle, but remained very healthy and active, to the point of still trying to trot, she was too big to run, in from the pasture when I showed up at the barn.

Friday night when we went up to feed, everything was normal. One Stripe came into the barn and got up on the milk stand to eat. Saturday morning, she came into the barn, put her front feet up on the blocks to get on the milk stand, then just stopped and looked at me. She obviously wanted to eat, but wouldn’t attempt to go any further. After a little coaxing, I realized something was up, but I figured she was just getting too heavy, so I put her feed in a bowl on the floor and she ate just fine. But, after I turned her out I realized her walk had changed. She didn’t go far before stopping and it appeared that one of the babies had moved back to the point One Stripe almost had to swing her back legs out and around the baby just to take a step. It now took her much longer just to go out to the pasture, with many stops, and she no longer kept up with the herd. I hoped this wasn’t an indication of pre-delivery problems.

After watching her for a bit, I radioed Frank to tell him we needed to get the birthing pens set up and ready, that we might be having babies today (Saturday) instead of Tuesday like predicted. So, we got in gear, cleaned out the barn and got everything set up. We put hay in the back of the pens, so the does wouldn’t stick their heads through to eat it, washed out the water buckets and checked the tote with the birthing supplies one more time. Then I went out in the pasture to bring in the girls. It took One Stripe about 10 minutes, with many stops, to walk the distance she usually covers in less than a minute. She didn’t appear to be sick or stressed accept that she didn’t take too many steps before pausing for a break, some longer than others.

When we got to the barn and I opened the gate to her birthing pen, she just walked right in, right at home. This has been her routine for the last six years, so she knows what is going on and is very comfortable there. That is very nice. No stress for her, no having to make her go in, no hollering for the other goats, just peaceful readiness for babies. By the way, the other does that fought tooth and nail against going in and bellowed from the time they were put in, have gone on to other pastures. That is part of the way we maintain a calm, peaceful, easy-to-handle herd. It is part of breeding in the characteristics of what we want in a goat, or cat, or dog, or chicken. We only keep those animals that meet our requirements, and One Stripe is an excellent example of a great goat.

Saturday night came and went with no babies, which was good. That would be day number 147 in my books, and just too early. Then came Sunday, day number 148. After her breakfast, I let One Stripe out of the pen for a bit, and pulled up a chair. She didn’t go far at all, just across the barn and back. I could tell by how hollow her hips and tailbone were, along with a very small amount of discharge, that this would be the day for babies. But since it was only day number 148, I wondered if she would have triplets. It also occurred to me that if I had caught her breeding activity at the end of her 24 hour standing heat cycle, that my estimation could be about 24 hours off, which would put her at 149 days, but still a day early. The other factor is One Stripe’s age. She will be seven in May, which is older for a breeding, producing doe. Most folks would have already sold her off as an older doe. But, for those of you that haven’t read about my plans for One Stripe already, she will be staying here all the days of her life. She is one of those special goats that is calm and gentle, a great mom, a good milker, and has stole my heart. I can’t claim that with any of the others, but I can with her. So, here she stays, all of her days.

One Stripe was nice enough to have her babies in the middle of the afternoon, on a sunny, 75* February day. It was short sleeve weather with no worries about cold babies, a picture perfect day. We have two friends that are interested in goats and the birthing process that I contacted when I knew for sure we had babies coming. Faith [a pseudonym] arrived in time to see the second baby born. She is hoping to buy Penny after her kids are born and I train her to milk, so she is wanting all the firsthand experiences she can get under her belt before she takes her first goat home. After the kids were born Grace [another pseudonym] and her husband came over to see them. So we ended up with a barn full of talking a laughter. Another plus on this fine February day. Plus, Frank and I got to share some of our experience and knowledge which we always enjoy. One Stripe had no difficulty birthing at all. Just like always. She started ‘talking’ to her stomach after a while, like she was telling the babies to hurry up and come out. That made me laugh.

Patch was born first in the classic, front feet, nose, head position. In less than two hours, Patch was trying to jump around, like baby goats do. But then she would fall over, making me laugh. That is when Grace told me that Frank and I have a great life. She is right. It is a great life, and we are very blessed. Patch is a very active, vigorous baby girl, with beautiful dark brown ears, which Frank likes. We may just have to keep her.

Breakfast, yes, we named her brother breakfast because that is what he will be, was born back feet first. When the amniotic sack appeared and stayed unbroken, I thought something looked odd and kept trying to see if the head was following the feet. It didn’t take long for him to be born, and my only concern was that final push or two when most of his body was out, but his head was not. I wanted to make sure he was out and able to breathe well. But he came out fine and all was well.

When the kids are born, if I get to be there, I swipe the mucous from their mouths so they can start coughing and breathing well. Depending on the temperature, I may dry them off some with a towel. Since the weather was so nice yesterday, I didn’t dry them, but left them to their mother’s attention. Another huge benefit of having tame, easy to handle animals is that they don’t mind having you in the birthing pen with them when the time comes. We have had does that ran to the back of the pen like cornered animals, or does that tried to ram and run out of the gate when I went in, especially first fresheners. We did not keep them. It makes it much harder to help the kids if they need it or make sure they are nursing. It also makes for wilder kids that are difficult to handle as well.

It wasn’t long before both kids were dry and fed. We clipped their umbilical cords and applied a strong 7% iodine to cauterize and sterilize them. While all of this was going on, Faith described markings on the first baby, a girl, and said something like, “That white square looks like a patch. That would make a good name.” And it stuck. So, meet Patch.

Upon discovering the second kid was a boy, Frank said to Faith, “His name is Breakfast.” We have a running joke that all bucks born here have the name of Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner. Some folks think that’s funny and some don’t, but all males born here are destined to be meat for our table, unless by chance, someone comes by that needs a new billy goat. But that doesn’t happen very often. We had chevron patties for supper last night, but it wasn’t Breakfast. It tastes great.

Faith and Patch

I milked out about a quart of colostrum from One Stripe last night. It makes it easier for the babies to nurse, and begins the stimulation for One Stripe to produce more milk. This morning I brought her in on the milk stand to eat. It gives her some movement, lets her eat in a normal location, and makes it much easier for me to milk her, sitting in a chair instead of kneeling in a crowded birthing pen.

Copper with her ears out

It was a great day. Easy birth, great weather, good company and beautiful babies. It doesn’t always go that way, and since One Stripe aborted last year, she had many prayers for a successful pregnancy this year. Now, to wait a few more days for Copper to kid. Yesterday afternoon as she lay out in the corral, I noticed her ears were out. That is usually a sign of listening, but at this stage, it is also a sign of discomfort. According to my records she will reach 150 days on Wednesday, two days from now. But we watched her closely because we have had does go into labor right after another one gave birth. Something about the sight, sounds and smells of birth can bring on labor in another animal that is close to her due date. For the farmer it can mean turning around to help another goat for a few hours, just when you thought you were finished for the day. We had that happen once about 10:30 at night. Just finishing up and making sure babies and mother were all settled and doing well, only to realize the goat in the next pen was laying down pushing. That was a long night indeed.

One Stripe is doing great this morning.

This morning Copper hasn’t shown any signs of birthing. But the day is young, we will see what it brings. Today is forecast to be sunny, 65* and light winds. Another great day to have more baby goats. But then, for me, just about any day is another great day to have baby goats.

Good morning, Breakfast.

Good morning, Patch.

We look forward to having some fresh milk in a few days. We will wait until Friday to start keeping the milk for ourselves. In the meantime, I will be milking One Stripe, and Copper after she kids, twice a day. This milk will go to the chickens, cats and dog. Later on when Cricket, Lady Bug and Penny birth and I am training them to be milkers, we hope to have some pigs that can benefit from some extra milk as well. By then the garden will be half planted and spring will be well on the way. The seasons change, and this time of year brings new life on the homestead and blessings to our lives.

Until next time – Fern

The Goat Stork Flies Again

In 24 days, on February 10th, One Stripe is due to provide us with some new baby goats. Then in 25 days, on February 11th, Copper is scheduled to do the same. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to have been reading here for very long, you already realize how much I love baby goats and FRESH MILK. We have been long without our own fresh milk and really, really look forward to the day that we no longer need to buy milk from the store.

I have been slowly increasing One Stripe and Copper’s feed ration during the last month of gestation when much of the kids’ growth occurs. This will be the first time we’ve had kids since we changed up the feed ration and removed the corn because of GMO. Now the feed contains oats, sweet feed (for the molasses), wheat bran, sunflower seeds and alfalfa pellets. We feed a loose goat mineral ration free choice and try to keep some out all the time, especially while the does are pregnant. They all appear to be healthy and doing very well. Their hips are starting to spread and their udders continue to slowly fill out. I have been watching One Stripe extra close since she aborted a few weeks early last year. Even though she lost her babies then, in the past she has been an excellent, attentive doe with big, strong babies. She was never in ill health, so the vet figured it was for mechanical reasons. She got butted hard in the side by another goat, or ran into something hard enough to cause her to go into labor. This year, so far, so good.

When I bring One Stripe and Copper in to eat on the milk stand, it gives me an opportunity to check them over and see how they are doing. That’s why I know their hips are spreading. I also check their udders to make sure there is no hardness or signs of mastitis. Copper has gone through some briars sometime recently, because she has some sore places on her udder. I have a salve I am treating her with to get everything healed up before the kids arrive. At this point in the gestation, I can feel the kids kicking. This always makes me laugh out loud and puts a big smile on my face, even though the dog is the only one to notice.

When the young does are about six weeks to a month from kidding, I will start bringing them in on the milk stand to eat as well. They won’t like it for a while, and will dance and complain. But they will get used to it, especially since there is some food there to distract them while I train them to be milkers. I have found this makes the actual milking go much smoother. There is not so many new things all at once. After they give birth they will already know how to get on the milk stand, that there is some food there waiting for them, and that they are safe and will not be hurt. They will still be very nervous first time mothers, but will be performing a normal routine behavior. When I changed to training them to the milk stand before giving birth instead of after, it made it easier for them and me.

Our three young does are now half way through their gestation. They were bred the beginning of November and are due the first week in April. They will all be first fresheners, or what we call first timers, having their first babies this year. All three of them were born here last spring, and are developing very nicely. Our three young does will be 13 months old when they give birth. We’ll see how they do.

One Stripe is our old lady goat. She will be seven in May. She is definitely in the waddling stage now. Her udder will be almost twice this big before she gives birth.

Copper is One Stripe’s daughter, and this will be her second batch of kids. She was two in December. She has added a new twist to how she gets up on the milk stand. When I milked her last she would just kind of launch herself up from the side of the stand. Well, she still does that, but now she comes in the barn, twirls in a circle, then launches herself on the stand. It’s kinda funny, really. She had a little mucous discharge this evening when we were feeding. It’s not unusual for does to have some discharge off and on for a few weeks before giving birth. She also didn’t finish all of her food tonight. That is not that unusual since the kids are taking up more and more room, but I will keep a close eye on her to make sure she is getting enough to eat.

Penny is Copper’s daughter from last spring. She will have the same long body and slender legs her mother has. And she is a beautiful dark red color.

Cricket is filling out nicely. I’m already guessing she will have twins. She has a stockier build than Penny, and I think she will be the biggest young doe we have. We sold her mother Ivory back in the fall.

Lady Bug is Cricket’s sister. She is about the same size as Penny, just not as long. For quite a while she was very shy and wouldn’t have anything to do with us. Now I can pet her all over. She isn’t as friendly as Penny, Copper and One Stripe, but I’m very glad she has tamed down. She is a beautiful fawn color.

I had a goat question today I would like to include here. How many days after birth should you start milking and how do you know when there is no more colostrum in the goats udder?

I start milking right after the kids are born. I do this for two reasons. One, I want to make sure the wax plug is removed from the end of the teat and the milk is flowing freely, making it easier for the newborns to suck. Two, when the kids are born, many times the doe’s udder is engorged with milk making their teats full and tight. Sometimes the kids struggle to get the enlarged teat in their mouth. 

Helping a weak quadruplet 2012 kid get their first drink

I also want the does to start producing a lot of milk, enough for the kids and for us. The first time I milk them is in the birthing pen into peanut butter jars. I don’t take all of their milk, but I do take a lot of it. It also gives me some colostrum just in case I need it for any reason. The next day I will start bringing the does into the barn to feed and milk them on the milk stand. I keep all of what I call the colostrum milk for five days and feed it to the dog, cats and chickens. They all love it. Five days is considered to be the standard time frame for the colostrum to pass. Then I will start keeping it for us. That means on or about February 15th we will be drinking FRESH MILK! You can’t tell I’m excited, right? I hope this answers your question.


The miracle of birth and life is always a fascinating thing to watch. I always hope to catch the does in labor so I can watch the whole process. It never gets old. I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time – Fern

How We Built Our Milk Stand

Hello, Frank here.

Well, we had a problem. We had goats that needed to be milked, and since a goat’s udder and teats are a lot closer to the ground than a cow’s, we needed a milk stand. We looked in all of the traditional goat catalogs, and found the vast majority of goat milking stands were of a portable type nature. Then there were those that were made for grooming show goats, which were also portable. Both of these types being portable, just did not meet our need. Even though they worked for their intended purpose, we needed something that says, “Take a licking and keep on ticking.” In other words, it needed to be hard rock durable. 

So, we started looking around at what people used for milk stands. There were a handful of articles about how to build them, but in most of the information we found, the milk stand was a secondary part of the picture. The milk goat itself was the primary part of the picture. So, Fern sat down in a chair, which was going to be her milking chair and pretended like she was milking a goat. We measured how far her hands were from the floor, then we roughly guess-timated how far a goat’s teat is from the surface it’s standing on. Now we had our elevation.

Other things to  consider. How long is a goat? That was pretty easy. How wide does the goat stand need to be? Don’t forget that when you milk a goat, you open their back legs just a little bit extra. You certainly don’t want the goat stand too narrow, but then you don’t want it too wide, because the goat will naturally move away from you. 

I guess last is how high do you put their feed bucket? And do you use a feed bucket? With that thought in mind, do you make the feed stand adjustable? Does it need to move up and down? Well, you can see in the picture that we went with a stationary feeder and decided not to use a bucket at all.

In the world we live in now days everything is specified by it’s minimum requirements. I don’t support this concept. I think there should be a maximum requirement. You always milk from the same side of the goat all of the time, which is normally the right side. So we started building our milk stand. All of the lumber is treated, there are no nails, all screws were used. There is no building or safety reason for this, it’s just that my elbows will not drive nails anymore, so I chose to use screws. So, this is how we did it. Enjoy the pictures.

If you have any questions or comments, or you need clarification, please either put it in the comments, or send us an email. If your goats are bigger, modify the plans. If you’re milking Pygmies, I feel sorry for you. I especially feel sorry for your fingers, but each to their own. I assure you, I can stand on this milk stand and jump up and down and it is not going to budge. As I mentioned earlier about the milk stand, avoid minimum requirements in life.

We’ll talk more later. Frank

Milk Goat Training & Other Lore

Copper is the only first freshener I have this year, so she is new to the milking routine. The great thing about training her to milk is that she is very, very tame. Compared to some of the other goats I have trained she has been a breeze. There are a few tricks I have learned along the way that I want to share with you.

Begin training early. Bring your first fresheners into the area where you will be milking when they are young or at least a few months before they are in milk. Use patience instead of force to get them up on the milk stand. 

In the past, I would take a goat by the collar and tail and force them up on the stand. That was a lot of work and frustration for both me and them. Now, I will take a bowl of feed and gradually coax them onto the stand a little at a time, trying to increase their comfort level each time. It doesn’t hurt to use their tail to help them make that final jump up onto the platform when they’re almost there but are still unsure. It will usually cause them to jump, then they find themselves on the stand right at the feed bowl. After they calm down a little and find out there is a reward of a meal for climbing on this platform thing, they don’t mind it so much. I talk to them a lot during this process as a means of reassurance. Scratching their shoulder blades doesn’t hurt any either, they really like that.

Once your goat is used to the milk stand, you are ready for them to give birth. After the kids are born, start milking the doe within 24 hours. I find that my does will produce a very large amount of milk during the first 48 hours after freshening. I will milk them out almost completely about 12 hours after the babies are born. One, it makes them more comfortable, and two, it makes

it easier for the babies to nurse when the teats are not enlarged with so much milk. To do this, I bring the does to the milk stand. Some of them are a little anxious about leaving their babies in the birthing pen, but they are ready to have that extra milk removed. There have been occasions that a doe was just too anxious about leaving her babies. Then I bring the babies with her to the milk stand and work around them. It only takes a time or two, then the doe is comfortable with leaving the kids for a short time. I think this is a sign of a good mother, so it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t keep this milk for human consumption since it is full of colostrum. This is kept in old peanut butter jars to be given to the dog, cats and chickens. Five days after kidding, I will begin keeping the milk for us.

The first time I brought Copper in after she had given birth I expected her to fuss and kick a little. She just stood there like I had been milking her for years. I was amazed. Then I thought, this is just the honeymoon period and she will put up a protest later on. She never did. She has been the easiest goat to milk I have ever trained. I attribute this to two things. One, she was very, very tame to begin with and I have been handling her a lot since she was born. And two, she was a single that had no other kids to play with for over a month when she was born, so she played with us. She has always been very trusting of us and very easy to handle.

One of the things I train the does to do, that makes it easier for me to milk, is to move their right leg out and back a little. It gives me more room for the bucket and makes it easier to reach both sides of the udder for cleaning and milking.

This is not the natural position they care to stand in, but it is not uncomfortable either. It is more of the stance they take when their kids are nursing. To get them to stand this way I used to take hold of their ankle area and move their foot to the desired position.

Then they would move it back, then I would move it again, then they would move it back, and so on. This got old and frustrating at times. Now I gently push against the leg just above the joint to get them to move the leg back.

They usually hold their leg up for a bit, then gradually let it down and it ends up where I want it instead of where they want it. After a while, I can just nudge them on the flank and they move the leg out of the way for me.

Many of the tricks learned during milking are specific to the animal. There are just small differences that come with each different personality. Basic techniques are used with all of my does, but they each have their own preferences as well. Take getting on the milk stand for instance. One Stripe will pause on the cement blocks and get her footing just right before she jumps on up, and she doesn’t like to be hurried through this process.


Copper, on the other hand, avoids the block steps altogether and just launches herself up from the side of the stand, usually after walking in a circle. 

Here Copper and Ivory are trading places. Each doe knows when it is their turn in line and will usually wait their turn. I always find that to be fascinating. When Ivory comes in, she will use the block steps and quickly jump right on the the stand. But if I don’t walk in right behind her fast enough for her liking, she will turn around and come right back down the steps, turn around and come right back up again. Each has their own way of approaching the stand, but once they are there, the behavior is very similar.

Once a doe is on the stand, I walk by pat them on the flank or side, and talk to them. As I sit down to milk, I pat them on the underside of their stomach and talk to them. Even if I am not keeping the milk and only milking into a peanut butter jar, I will massage the udder a bit

to them know I am going to start milking, otherwise they jump a little. The best thing I can do for successful milking is to keep a routine. I don’t always milk at the same time of day, which is a recommended practice. If I did, it would increase the does milk production. But I do usually perform the task of milking in a very routine manner, which seems to keep the does relaxed and agreeable.

I enjoy milking my goats and I think that adds to the atmosphere of this task. If I didn’t enjoy it, there are many little things that I would probably find very frustrating and annoying. But I don’t. Milking early in the morning is a very peaceful, relaxing chore for me. I get to spend time with my animals, observing their behavior to see if there are any needs we should address. I get to listen to the world wake up as the rooster starts to crow and the song birds sing to the morning. For many years I have considered the song of the birds to be a gift from God. He bathes us with these beautiful songs, telling us how much He loves us and gives us a gift of peace. Stop and enjoy them. Listen. Be still. You are blessed.

Until next time – Fern