Improve hand milking cleanliness for small ruminants with these few simple techniques
By Miriah Reynolds
The morning sun sneaks up and over the tall peak of the mountains as I open up the barn door. I am greeted by squinting eyes and eager faces. Pepper, my Saanen doe stretches and curls her upper lip, grunting in the process. She’s not a morning goat, and needs to be motivated out of the barn. Star, my older milker, races out of the barn, grabs a mouthful of alfalfa, and waits quietly at the gate. Milking twice a day I suppose is my farm girl ritual; feed, water, milk, repeat. Offer a few good scratches and maybe a treat in the methodical movements of my routine. This year my goal was to revamp my cleanliness during milking to an even higher standard. Each day I challenge myself on improving efficiency and obtain the cleanest, purest milk possible. I will share my insight on my method of hand milking; where it begins in the barn to the conclusion in the kitchen. Keep in mind I have small herd that I milk by hand for my own consumption. My goats are not a business, but a passion and hobby. Still, many of these lessons are useful at any scale of milking.
It all begins in the barn
Clean milk starts with healthy goats and a tidy barn. My husband will tell you that one of my favorite things to do around our farm is clean the barn. Yes, I’ll admit that my obsession for keeping the barn odor, manure, pest, and clutter free is a bit excessive. However; I believe that the barn is a major factor in a healthy herd and cleanly milk. Proper ventilation, good lighting, and adequate bedding are very important. My goats have 24/7 access to quality hay, clean water, and mineral. I use pine shavings as bedding in their stalls. Every morning the barn is ‘spot’ cleaned and allowed to air dry. In the evening fresh shavings are added. For me, the cost of ‘spot’ cleaning daily is more effective than cleaning once in a while and replacing all the bedding. By doing such, I have almost eliminated any manure that may stick to the goats’ udder or body.
Stainless steel equipment is necessary for optimal milk handling. It is easy to clean, sanitize, and does not harbor odors like plastic. Stainless steel doesn’t alter the taste of milk and is very durable. I use a stainless steel 5 quart milking pail, an 8 quart milking tote (with lid), and a strainer. There are dozens of styles and sizes of milking equipment that will meet the needs of most any herd size. I milk into the pail and filter into the tote. All milking equipment is cleaned in the dishwasher on the sanitize setting. Stainless steel is corrosion resistant so pails and other equipment will last for years if taken care of properly. Having the right equipment makes the milking process so much simpler and effective for a reasonable initial investment.
In the milking stand
Chores start with feeding the goats individually outside the barn. By separate feeding, I am able to monitor consumption and have zero grain wasted. The goats can take their time munching away while I clean the barn and fill waters. Once in the milking stand, my girls stand peacefully chewing their cud. Brushing swift whisks over the entire body removes a tremendous amount of dirt, loose hair, and debris. The milking stand is set up to where I can walk completely around it, giving the opportunity to see all sides of the goats. I look at her eyes and give a loving face brushing. I make mental notes of her nose, rear, and attitude. It’s rewarding to do a brief evaluation of my goats and spending a few quality moments with them before milking. Star worships the attention while Pepper appears unenthused. After brushing, the udder is gently washed with a clean cloth soaked in a chlorhexidine based udder wash. Once her udder is clean and dry, I wash my hands. One simple trick is placing a cloth underneath the milk pail. It works wonderful because anything that maybe on the milking stand does not stick to the bottom of the bucket, and later end up on the kitchen counter! It’s important to keep the handle of the milk pail towards the front of the goat and not by her dirty back hooves. Discard the first couple squirts and then milk normally. I filter the milk into the 8qt stainless steel tote and secure the lid. By filtering the milk immediately up at the barn, it doesn’t sit with any missed debris for more than a couple minutes. The closed milk tote does wonderful at keeping any pesky bugs or pollen from falling in. It’s important to use a clean cloth for each goat to reduce contamination between udders. Cloths can be washed with bleach on an as needed basis. The does are returned to their paddock, relieved and ready for the day. They migrate over to the hay and casually bicker. Dust, snorts and quick glimpses of running kids ensure that they are happy causing havoc on the hillside. They seem content for now, and this evening the whole process with be repeated.
In the kitchen
My adorable goat barn is quite a ways from my house, so it’s a long, dusty hike down the hill with a full pail of milk. The milk tote was one of the best investments in advancing milk handling because now it actually makes it to the house and not spilled into my boots! Once at the house, all counters are disinfected, and the glass jars have been sanitized. The milk is filtered a second time into ½ gallon glass jars and refrigerated immediately. I prefer the half gallon jars because from my experience the milk cools faster. Cooling of the milk is crucial for taste and reducing bacteria growth.
The goat milk from my little heavenly farm is so delicious and even better when transformed into cheeses, yogurts, caramel, and other delectable creations. I am excited to keep improving my technique and share it along the way. These simple steps can drastically reduce the amount of debris in milk. I invite you to evaluate your own milking routine and find simple ways of improving cleanliness. As a wise Montana rancher once told me “Goat farming is a process, not an event!”
About the Author
I graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Animal Science and have the most amazing herd of dairy goats. Goats, agriculture, and sharing my stories is truly my passion. I was raised on the Reynolds Barn goat dairy in Rhode Island. I love to hear from readers; Miriah Reynolds Bitterwind Ranch at email@example.com.
This article was also published in Goat Keeper magazine in Canada. October 2018.