Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Goat coming out to be milked.
Many assume that a “good milker” means an animal with high milk yields. In fact, the milk yield forms only one part of the milker quality equation, the other two parts being the state of the goat’s udder and teats, and the animal’s temperament.
A Tale of Two Does
To illustrate this, there was a time when I was milking two does, one of whom was the most sweet-tempered, patient goat imaginable - and she gave plenty of milk, too. However, she had a pair of teeny tiny teats which were extremely uncomfortable to handle, and my thumb muscle would be completely seized up by the time I’ve finished milking her. Milking took a long, long time, too, and if this goat hadn’t been obliging enough to stand calmly and patiently for me until I was finished with her, there’s no way it would have worked out.
The other doe had a very nicely shaped udder and comfortable-sized teats with large orifices. I could finish milking her in a couple of minutes – if she stood still, which she never seemed to be ready to do, even with a bucket of grain in front of her. She was skittish, nervous, and jumpy, and a kicker into the bargain. Eventually, with lots of petting and treats, her personality evened out a bit, but she was still a lot of work, and if it weren’t for her wonderful udder, I wouldn’t bother milking her at all.
Ideally, of course, a good family milking goat should combine all these benefits: an easy temper, a nicely shaped udder and teats, and a high milk yield. But personally, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have a goat that isn’t a super-high-yield milker but is friendly and easy to milk and handle, than a goat that produces a lot of milk but has a faulty-shaped udder and a nasty temper.
How to Choose a Milking Goat
So practically, when buying a milking goat, how do you know if you’re getting a good bargain?
In a goat that has already kidded, look at the shape of the udder. A good udder has a firm, round, symmetrical shape and is positioned close to the body. An udder that is hanging low indicates faulty connective ligaments and is a problem. It is prone to injury and makes milking, or even suckling for the kids, inconvenient.
The teats should be long enough for convenient hand-grasp. The size of the orifice matters too – it determines milk flow and, therefore, how fast milking will go.
If possible and if the goat you are looking at is "in milk", request to milk her and see how it goes. Keep in mind that if a goat is skittish around you, it may be because she doesn’t know you and this can be overcome in time.
If this is a doe that hasn’t kidded yet, ask to take a look at her mother and sisters and evaluate their udders. A good breeder will always be upfront and open and willing to provide any information you request. If you encounter a goat breeder who is evasive and defensive when you ask questions, run for the hills, even if the price is tempting. The quality of your livestock is everything – animals with problems are worse than no animals, and it makes sense to wait until you can purchase the best quality available.
The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.