Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If you’ve read the last post, Making Clean Raw Milk, Part 1: A Simple Guide for Small-Scale Dairies, you’ll know what clean milk is and how to find a healthy animal to start your herd. In this post I will describe how to milk your cow or goat and process that milk in a manner that keeps it clean.
Creating a Clean Space to Milk
There are many ways to lay out a milk parlor and each has pros and cons depending on the number of cows and style of milking (by hand or by machine). I milk two cows by hand in a 12-foot by 12-foot stall. Steve Judge, founder of Bob-White Systems, milks up to four cows in tie stalls with a machine and pipeline. However you lay out your milk parlor, make sure you have a method of keeping things clean. My cows stand on wood chips and are only in the stall for milking. I muck their stall daily. In barns with concrete floors, where cows tend to spend more time, there is often a manure trough behind the cows that sweeps manure outside onto a pile as often as you like. Whatever your method, removing manure and soiled bedding from the milk parlor is an important step to keeping the milking area clean. I also prefer a sand or dirt floor to allow moisture to drain away, but a concrete floor can be cleaned more easily if your cows are in there for many days. Airflow is also important to keep the buildup of dust and moisture to a minimum. Cows also like an open space and will more readily walk into your parlor if it doesn’t look like a dark dead-end.
It may be a bit of challenge and perhaps an issue of cost or spacing, but it’s best to keep all other animals out of the milking parlor. Chickens often carry campylobacter, a very common bacteria that causes gastrointestinal issues. Many illnesses associated with raw and pasteurized milk are from campylobacter and can be as mild as one case of diarrhea. But some can be life-threatening. It’s best to keep them out of the milking parlor.
Clean That Udder, Dip and Strip, Milk and Dip
After bringing my girls into their clean milk parlor and chaining them to a post, I inspect their udders. If they are dirty, I either brush them off or get a bucket of warm, soapy water and wash them properly. I then dry them with a clean towel. Check the teat-ends to make sure there isn’t a little dab of manure stuck in there. Once clean, pre-dip. An 80 percent reduction in total bacteria count can be obtained with an antibacterial pre-dip versus no pre-milking treatment. I use IO Dip but there are other non-iodine based dips too. Also get a Dip Cup to apply the dip. After dipping, wipe the teats dry with a clean rag. Only use the rag once per quarter per cow to avoid cross-contamination. You can use just one part of the rag for each quarter to save laundry.
After pre-dip, milk out the first 12 or so squirts into a strip cup from each quarter. The first few squirts of milk are the most heavily laden with bacteria and should be discarded. This makes a great treat for the well-behaved cat or dog watching you milk. If there is blood or significant chunks in the stripped milk, you’ll know something is wrong and you should set today’s milking aside. Might be time for another round of tests!
Once stripped, move in with your milk pail or connect your bucket milker and milk her all the way out. For hand milkers it’s important to massage each quarter and milk every last squirt. This will help avoid mastitis, gain a creamier product and give you a heads up if you find any hard or sensitive spots. Hand milkers also have the added challenge of protecting the pail of milk from dust and dirt; you can achieve this with a stainless screen. Additionally, if your cow steps in the pail, the milk will have to get fed to pigs or chickens. Machine milkers will find that, if their equipment is kept very clean, they will have very clean milk since it doesn’t come into contact with the open barn air or other potential contaminants. Furthermore, machine milking will only take 5-7 minutes, compared to the 30-45 minutes for hand milkers. After you finish milking, dip each teat once more and let that dry on the teat.
Milking is also a time to bond with your cow. The more comfortable she is with you, the more she trusts you, the more easily she will allow herself to be milked. If she kicks you away and tries to free herself, it might be best to simply let her go. Take a breath, calm yourself and try again from the start. If she has a scary experience in the milk parlor, she may not come back in. It’s also a good idea to give your cow a treat in the stall. I use high quality hay because I prefer 100 percent grass-fed milk, but it’s not uncommon to use grain or molasses. Giving them a treat in the parlor will help them realize milking time is a good time. Once they are tied up and calm, I sing to my cows, kiss their flanks and scratch their necks. Cows regularly lick each other and you can mimic that sensation by petting them. Don’t rush milking, it’s an opportunity to slow yourself down to their pace as well. If it’s not a joy, it may not be something for you.
After this, you should have a pail or bucket of warm, clean and delightfully creamy milk.
In my next post I’ll explain what to do next; filter, chill and clean up.
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