It may be hard to believe when you look outside right now, but spring is coming and with that, kidding season has begun. With that comes all the excitement of milking and getting to enjoy all the products of your home dairy! If it’s your first time milking, here’s a basic guide to get you started.
Supplies You’ll Need for Milking Goats
Before you start milking, you’re going to need some basic supplies. You’ll find affiliate links at the below for some of the specific items from Amazon, but there are lots of places you can buy these items. Try your local farm store, Tractor Supply, Jeffers, or Caprine Supply to name a few. For
Here are a few things I recommend for a basic hand-milking kit to get started:
You may have encountered photos or videos of people squatted down in the middle of a field leisurely milking a goat while it was nibbling on some grass or a nearby shrub. While this is a lovely image to admire, it is thoroughly impractical. Firstly, most goats are not nearly that patient while being milked (especially if you are a first-timer), and second, who wants to be outside on the ground getting bugs and dirt in their milk that you’ve worked so hard to collect? A milk stand is an investment that will serve you well time and time again for milking, trimming hooves, administering vaccines, and while grooming. You can purchase a pre-made stand or build your own. I’ve heard very good things about the price and quality of this stand from Ozark Genetics, or here are some options from Caprine Supply. One nice thing about many of the stands you can purchase is that they are collapsible. If you are limited on space or plan to travel to show your goats a collapsible stand comes in handy! If you choose to build your own, you can Google and find lots of photos and plans online. Ours was built by my husband and loosely based on this design from Fiasco Farms. One other thing to consider is the material. Metal is much more easily sanitized than wood, so factor that into your decision making.
Stainless steel milk bucket.
You’ll need a vessel to milk into. I like
Personally, I consider this optional. I have a strip cup but you can just as easily use any small container or even an extra baby wipe. (I’ll explain more below in the “how to” section.)
You’ll need something to clean off the udder and teats before you begin milking. I personally like to use unscented baby wipes. Clean rags and a bucket of water with a mild soap added also work well, especially if your goat has been out in the mud and is particularly dirty!
Cleanliness is absolutely essential in milking. Whether you choose to pasteurize your milk or use it raw, it’s still important to keep all of your materials and your hands clean! I wash my hands multiple times before and after milking, and I always keep a big, pump-top bottle of hand sanitizer next to my milk stand so that I can keep re-applying it as I work and switch between goats.
Fight Bac® teat spray.
Not everyone uses this particular product, but I personally swear by it! After milking, the orifice is left open and bacteria can enter the udder and potentially cause issues like mastitis. Fight Bac® is an antibacterial spray applied after milking to help prevent issues like this. You can read more about the product here.
Half-Gallon or Gallon Mason Jars with Lids.
After you milk, you’ll need something to put the milk into for storage. I like to use half gallon mason jars. Gallon jars are also nice if you are storing a lot of milk, but I find them a lot more unwieldy to pour from, so I don’t typically use them. For storage, I use these plastic wide mouth lids on my half gallon jars. They’re one piece (easier to handle than lids with rings) and I can write the date on them with a dry erase marker. For the milk that I have in the fridge for “everyday use”, I put a reCap POUR lid on them because my kids find this much easier to pour from without spilling (plus they have an obvious indicator on which milk to use first without having to read dates on lids). Obviously fancy lids aren’t a necessity, but I wanted to share what I’ve found works well for us!
Milk Strainer and Filters.
No matter how clean and careful you are with milking, inevitably you will get a stray hair or dirt particle that falls into your milk bucket. So before storing your milk, you should always pour it through a strainer. Look for a strainer that will sit securely on top of a wide mouth mason jar. I personally prefer to use filters specifically made for straining
When to Begin Milking Your Goat
When a dairy goat (or cow for that matter) gives birth, it is called freshening. When a doe gives birth for the very first time in her life, it’s said to be her first freshening. The next time she has babies (or kids), it is called her second freshening, and so on. For the first several days after freshening, the goat will produce colostrum to give her babies a healthy start. After that point, her body will switch over to producing regular milk.
It is a personal choice when you want to start milking on your farm.
One option is to pull the kids and bottle feed them from the start. If you do this, know that it will be a big time commitment for both bottle-feeding throughout the day as well as milking every 12 hours. When milking for the first two to three days, you’ll be collecting mostly colostrum. You can bottle feed this to the babies or freeze it for use later. (It’s always good to have an emergency supply on hand!) Once kids are on the bottle and past the first 24 hours (when you’ll be bottle feeding colostrum–either from their mothers or powdered replacer–exclusively), you can choose to bottle-feed the goat milk from their mothers, use whole cow’s milk, or use the recipe that can be found here. There are also powdered milk replacers, but I do not recommend them.
Another option is to share milking duties by part-time dam-raising the kids. Once kids are approximately 3 to 4 weeks old and gaining weight steadily, they should be able to go overnight (approximately 8 hours) without nursing. You can set up a separate pen for your kids away from their mothers, milk the mother in the morning, then allow the moms and kids to be back together to nurse throughout the day. You won’t get as much milk this way (does tend to “hold back” a bit when you do this, and you won’t get a full 12-hour fill), but this is also much easier if you work a day job and can’t juggle a busy schedule of bottle-feeding.
Whichever option you choose, around 8 to 10 weeks old the kids can be weaned and you’ll be on full-time milking duty. At this point, you’ll be milking every twelve hours and getting to enjoy lots of yummy goat milk!
How to Hand-Milk a Goat
Once you have your supplies and you’ve decided when to begin milking, you’re ready for the actual procedure. Please note everyone does this a little differently. There is no exact right or wrong way and you’ll find your own systems that work for YOU over time. Even after three years of milking (which is nothing compared to some of my mentors who have been milking for decades), I am still refining what I do. Don’t be afraid to read or ask your mentors for tips and tricks they use, and experiment with
- Prep your supplies. Before leaving the house, I gather my supplies. I get my washed and sanitized milk bucket and one or two wide mouth mason jars with lids. If I’m using cloths and soapy water for udder-washing, I also run a bucket of warm water to carry to the milk room. Lastly, before I leave the house, I make sure to wash my hands thoroughly.
- Set up the milking stand. We are fortunate to have a room attached to our barn that I’ve taken over as my milk room. I have my milk stand set up here with a comfortable chair next to it, and a 3-tired cart (similar to this one) off to the side that holds my hand sanitizer, baby wipes, Fight Bac® spray, and other supplies. I typically use a broom to brush off any debris on my milk stand, then I set my milk bucket and jars at the back of my milk stand or onto the cart out of the way. Then I pour a little grain into the trough attached to the milk stand.
- Get your goat. By this time, the girls have heard me and are right at the door waiting to be let in. Here’s a protip: Goats like routine, so always milk them in the same order, morning and night, every day. If you mix up the order or change things around (like moving your stand to a new spot), it will goof them up for days. For our herd, I’ve always found it best to milk our herd queen (our oldest Nigerian, Candy) first, then work my way backward from oldest does who have freshened the most times to the younger does and first-fresheners. It’s a pecking-order sort of thing. Again, you’ll find what works for you and your herd, and once you do, stick with that order consistently. Get your first goat up onto the stand, lock her head in place, and let her enjoy nibbling on some grain while you work. (Note: If you’re dealing with a first freshener or a goat that’s not trained to the milk stand, this step may be a little more complicated; but that’s a topic for another day!)
- Wash the udder. At this point, I like to use some hand sanitizer because although I washed my hands, I’ve also touched the goat while getting her into the stand. After that, I use baby wipes to clean the udder and teats. First, I wipe down the entire udder with one cloth. Then I get a fresh baby wipe to wipe off each teat individually. Take your time doing this and don’t be afraid to use some pressure. This mimics the “bumps” from baby goats and helps to trigger the milk to let down.
- Check for any issues using a strip cup. Before you begin milking, you always want to spray the first 2 or 3 squirts of milk from each teat into a strip cup. This serves two purposes: First, if there are any bacteria in the orifice, you’re getting rid of that. Second, you can examine the milk for any lumps or blood that may indicate an issue like mastitis. Personally, I own a strip cup and never use it because it’s just one more thing to wash and sanitize. Instead, when I finish wiping an individual teat with a baby wipe, I spray the first two squirts of milk onto the wipe to examine. You can also use any small plastic container, preferably white in color so you can easily identify any discoloration.
- Begin milking. Once you’ve cleaned the udder and teats and cleared the orifices, you’re ready to begin milking. Hand-milking is not difficult, but it does take practice to build hand strength and speed. You may find that your fingers and wrists ache the first few days. Goats with smaller teats, such as some Nigerian Dwarfs, can be particularly challenging. Stick with it and I promise it will get easier! Technique-wise, you’ll place your hand around the teat and use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the milk-flow, then use your remaining fingers to squeeze the milk downward to the orifice, squirting the milk into your bucket. Release your fingers, allow the milk to flow back to the teat, then pinch and squeeze again to repeat. Many people have the idea that you are pulling on the teats, and that’s not the case at all. It’s a gentle squeezing motion. If you are squeezing and nothing comes out, it is usually because you’re not pinching off at the top hard enough, and when you squeeze the milk is flowing back UP into the udder instead of DOWN toward the orifice. I highly recommend checking out YouTube for some great detailed videos on doing this. It will feel awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can build speed and rhythm. Another misconception I’ve encountered is that some people think you have to milk with both hands, in an alternating fashion. Though many people do this, it isn’t necessary. You can milk one-handed if you like (particularly if your non-dominant hand gets tired quickly), and if you do milk with both hands, you can milk both teats at the same time or alternate. It all gets the job done, so long as it works for you and for your goat!
- Finishing milking. As you milk, you’ll feel the goat’s udder begin to soften and empty. Make a fist and use the back of your hand to gently but firmly “bump” the udder a few times, and continue to milk out the last few drops. Again, this simulates the same things that goat kids do (using their heads, of course) to encourage their moms to let down more milk. Once the kids are weaned and you are the only one doing the milking, it is important that you get as much milk as possible out of your doe at each milking. Leaving her too full can lead to health issues like mastitis, or minimally it can decrease her production.
- Milk handling. As soon as I’m doing
before I touch anything else, I pour the milk from the bucket into a glass mason jar and screw on the lid. Ideally, for safety and for producing the best-tasting milk, you want to get the milk COLD as fast as possible. I have a freezer right next to my milk stand, so in the past, I set the jar into the freezer while I move on and milk the next goat. Alternatively, you can keep a small cooler half-full of water next to your milk stand, and a couple 2-liter bottles of water in your freezer. Create an ice bath by placing the frozen 2-liter bottles into the water in the cooler before you begin milking. Then you can set your mason jars in there as well and cool them quickly. (Ice baths cool faster than a freezer, so this is likely a better solution and something I plan to implement this year!) milking,
- Clean the udder again, then move on to the next goat. Once my milk is safely out of the way, I spray each teat with Fight Bac®. Then I release my doe to go outside with the herd, and I bring in the next gal to be milked starting over at step 4 above.
- Filtering and storing milk. Once all your goats have been milked and turned out to pasture, gather your supplies and bring them inside. At this point, I set up a strainer with a clean mason jar, and pour the milk through to catch any debris. I put on a lid and write the date on the top with a dry erase marker. Then I place the new jar(s) of milk into the freezer for another 20 minutes or so to continue chilling before I move them to the fridge.
- Clean your supplies. Finally, I put my milk bucket, strainer, and jars all into the dish washer and run it on the high-heat sanitize setting to clean everything.
An important note: if you are milking multiple goats, NEVER pour warm milk into milk that is already chilling! Either bring enough individual jars to the barn for each goat or, once you are able to milk fast enough, don’t begin chilling the individual jars until they are full. So for example, it usually takes two of my Nigerian Dwarf goats to fill a half gallon mason jar, so I’ll milk the first one and pour her milk into the jar, put the lid on and set it aside but NOT into the freezer or cold water bath. Then I’ll quickly milk the second goat, add her milk to the jar of still-warm milk from the first doe, THEN put the full half gallon jar into the freezer or cold water bath to begin chilling. It’s nice to have fewer jars to wash, BUT the trade-off is that you can’t begin chilling the milk as quickly so you may sacrifice quality or safety. Only YOU can decide what is right for you.
Don’t Get Discouraged; Don’t Give Up
When we purchased our very first goats, we got a mother and daughter pair. The mother, Candy, was a first freshener and her kids had been dam-raised, so she had never been milked. I did a lot of research, gathered all my supplies, and got my husband to build me a beautiful milking stand.
I’ll never forget that first morning. I had separated Reese, her doeling, the night before. I got Candy onto the stand and she was quite happy and enjoying her grain … till I tried to touch her udder. She kicked over the bucket. She stepped INTO the bucket. She finally SAT ON MY HANDS with her udder IN THE BUCKET.
I didn’t know what I was doing. There I was, responsible for this poor goat who was obviously very uncomfortable with a very full udder, and I couldn’t help her. It reminded me of when I cried trying to learn to nurse my own son, years before. I felt so much sympathy for the
I was SO grateful at that point that her little doeling wasn’t weaned yet. I was able to turn Candy out with her baby, and she enjoyed a VERY large breakfast that morning, I think. She was my crutch that first week. Each morning, I’d try my best to milk Candy, then let her little doeling take care of whatever I couldn’t do. Each day it got a little easier, and I got a little more milk in my bucket. By the time little Reese was ready to be weaned, Candy and I were doing pretty well. I was certainly a lot more confident, and Candy had become tolerant of our daily routine. (Even though it was a beat-the-clock race to get her all milked out before she finished her grain, otherwise PLUNK she would sit her furry butt down right down on the stand and drop her udder in the bucket!)
I like to say that she and I learned how to milk together. To this day, Candy is probably my most favorite goat because of what we went through that first season. I find that when you hand-milk, you really have time to bond with your animal. I catch myself laying my head against their side while we listen to the radio and rhythmically fill the bucket. Sure, the milk machine can be faster and more efficient, but I think there’s a lot to be said for taking the time to hand-milk and it’s something I highly recommend to beginners instead of jumping right into expensive machinery.