Twice a day we milk our goats – at 6am and 3pm. The goats are more routine than us; well before it’s time to bring them up to the dairy, the herd will have made their way towards the milking shed – unless they’ve found a particularly luscious spot of feed, or a cool spot to spell in at the height of summer – and almost always in the same order. The goats are very predictable, once you get to know them. Of our milkers, you will always find Lola leading the first group up the race to be milked. You can guarantee that Lilac will be the goat to be the last on the line and it is always Circa who is out the back being picked on by Aphra. Just like kids!
Milking is also an important time for us to be with the goats, to observe their behavior, monitor their health and condition, and pick up any minor issues before they become evident. With goats, early prevention is critical because when you first notice a problem, the likelihood is that they are already very unwell. Goats are stoic and don’t tend to complain. So we keep a careful eye on our herd, especially at milking. If need be we will treat minor issues with vitamins, herbal remedies and homeopathics, We maintain a diary to communicate amongst our staff to keep a watch on certain animals.
Udders and feet (and stomachs) are the most important ‘machinery’ on our farm. We ensure that they are in top condition. The udder is obvious – and we know every goat by name, just by looking at their udder in the line up. Every udder is different, just like humans. It is crucial to notice and act on any change including inflammation or hardness. Mastitis can be a problem in dairy herds. We don’t use antibiotics and good knowledge of each individual milker makes sure we act quickly if there are any changes
Goats’ feet need regular trimming to ensure soundness. A goat with sore feet won’t be able to forage and eat. Goats have a rapid metabolism and must keep eating to survive. We trim about every 3 – 4 months. Milking time gives us an opportunity to trim and inspect hooves. We use sharp secateurs/trimmers and and tie the goat to a fence in the milking yard for her manicure. A mature goat weighs 80-100kg so it’s important that trimming is as effortless as possible. Having (mostly) quiet, amenable goats help. But our goats also associate the milking shed with food, companionship and having that heavy load of milk taken down. A 10 year old goat may have had her hooves trimmed more than 35 times in her life
Twelve goats mount the milking stand at a time so it takes 2.5 hours to milk our 85 goats. As they come up on the line they are given a ration of grain, chaff and minerals (freshly mixed and specific to the time of year and their nutritional needs) and the milking cups are attached. Did you know that goats only have two teats? After milking, they receive a drink of whey from a trough on the way out. We have found that our goats love the whey and it is a cheap way of providing some extra energy, protein and minerals and it also turns dairy ‘waste’ into a valuable resource. Whey is produced when the milk is separated, curdled and strained to make cheese.
More about what happens to the milk when it leaves the udders next month… but take a look at milking….