Adventures in Goat Milking

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ERIC ISSELEE
Milking a goat is not always as easy as it sounds.

Glamorous Greta is a goat. She has languid brown eyes,
two-inch-long eyelashes, and droopy, white-tipped ears
that frame her face like Cleopatra’s hairdo.

Greta is an aristocrat by birth. Her family background is
far better than ours and she never misses an opportunity
to remind us of the fact. She never begs to be petted …
she allows us to rub her head. When we call, she
never comes running up the hill with the rest of the
goats … she ambles our way leisurely, as if by
accident.

We bought Greta at our price–by
default–because her dam was bred out of season.
That made her an “only” kid and people who raise large
herds of goats don’t like to make all those long trips
out to the barn just to feed one kid. But we didn’t mind.
We enjoyed the trips to the barn because we knew
that each one took us just a little closer to the time
when Greta would repay us with rich Nubian milk.

And she does. Greta now manufactures copious amounts of
creamy milk. But she doesn’t “give” it. Greta doesn’t
“give” anybody anything. She manufactures milk
and the rest is up to you. If you want it, you must take
it by force.

For despite her regal bloodlines and her aloof manner,
Greta has one small flaw that makes milking her a
twice-a-day struggle. Certain parts of her body are
ticklish. Incredibly, ridiculously ticklish.

Greta will stand quietly with her Roman nose in the air
and allow you to rub her ears. She’ll even stretch in
ecstasy as we scratch her neck. And she loves to have her
back brushed. But one touch of the human hand anywhere on
the underside of her body and she’s off in kicking,
yelping hysterics.

But I didn’t know that until I first tried to milk her.
Which would have been bad enough with an unticklish goat
because, at the time, I had never milked one of the
animals before and I was more concerned with the
inadequacies of the milker than of the milkee.

Did you ever notice that there’s no place close to your
farm where you can go to learn to milk a goat? I began to
notice that . . . right after we bought Greta.

How do You Milk a Goat?

There are schools which offer courses in sewing, radio
repair, and how to make rugs out of scraps of cloth.
There are training programs that will teach you to handle
dogs and horses. There are books on building backyard
barbecues. But if you want to learn to milk a goat,
you’re on your own.

So, while Greta and I awaited the arrival of her
firstborn, I checked the libraries, the bookstores, the
magazine racks. I even searched through the goat
publications. Every one assumed that I already knew how
to milk.

I finally asked a nearby dairy farmer for lessons and he
demonstrated his milking technique on a docile,
cud chewing brown and white cow. She never moved a muscle
as he, with what seemed effortless ease, guided a stream
of milk into the pail.

It looked easy, so I sat down on the stool … and
suddenly realized, from that angle, that the cow was
huge (by far the largest animal I had ever sat
under). I gingerly took hold of two teats (ole Bossy
stopped chewing her cud and turned to look at me). I
squeezed (nothing happened). I squeezed again (I could
feel milk being forced back up into the udder). Bossy’s
left leg jerked. I got up! “You just need some practice,”
said the farmer. “You won’t have any trouble. Anyone can
do it.”

I wasn’t as confident as my adviser … so I searched
through every book on goats that I could find. Each
talked about sanitation, about the layout of the milking
room, about whether or not to feed an animal during
milking, about chilling and straining the milk. And each
ended with a variation of the same theme: “Attach milking
machine at this time.”

Finally, in an ancient and very elementary volume
(written for youngsters) about the care of a family cow,
I found what I was looking for. It was only one small
paragraph, but it was enough to get me started. “With
reasonable pressure with the right hand,” the book said,
“squeeze in the second finger, then the third, and then
the little finger. Relax and repeat the action with the
left hand.”

Now I at least knew what I was supposed to do … but I
had nothing to practice on. So–whenever I was alone
and thought no one was looking–I wrapped my hands
around the teats of an imaginary goat and squeezed …
second finger, third finger, little finger. First one
hand and then the other. It became a reflex action.

And then the Great Day came. I went out one morning and
there, in Greta’s stall beside her, was the most
beautiful little buck kid I had ever seen. His ears were
long and spotted with white. His coat was like velvet. He
had lashes that stood out an inch from his face and he
loved to nuzzle chins. We had our herd sire. Besides
that, It was time to milk Greta! Time to try out
my newly learned skill!

Everything was ready . . . the freshly painted milking
stand, the shiny new stainless steel milking pan, the
spotless milk pail and its cover. I drew a container of
warm water, picked up a cleaning cloth, and headed for
the barn.

Greta had a Mind of Her Own

My favorite goat book had said, “The goat will eagerly
jump up on the milking stand.” But, apparently, Greta
hadn’t read the book. After fifteen minutes of coaxing,
pushing, and finally–bodily lifting her, however, I
did manage to get Greta up on that stand. Then I set a
bowl of grain in front of her and watched as she
cautiously inserted her head through the keyhole
stanchion. Greta sniffed the grain suspiciously … then
took a bite.

This was more like it! I sat down on the milking stool,
dipped my cloth in the warm water, and began to wash the
goat’s udder just as my book had instructed.

Yipes! One touch of my hands and Greta pulled her head
back through the keyhole, jumped off the stand, and ran
yelping down the aisle of the barn!

So I caught her, lugged her back, lifted her up on the
stand again, and tied her securely so she
couldn’t jump down again. But she jumped off anyway, and
pulled the milking stand over as she went.

By the time I had Greta on the stand for the third time,
I had decided that milking a goat was definitely not a
one-woman operation. So I brought in two assistants and
stationed one at each end of the milking stand to hold
Greta where I wanted her. (We were both trembling with
frustration by this time.) Then I sat down, pail in hand,
for the Main Event.

Now I’ve never been dexterous (I was the only child in my
kindergarten class who couldn’t master the “pat your head
and rub your tummy” trick) and I haven’t improved with
age. Although my right hand did fairly well with the
“squeeze in the second finger, then the third, then the
little finger” routine … my left one just couldn’t seem
to get the hang of it. It could squeeze out the milk all
right … but it had trouble hitting the bucket. Instead,
it rather vaguely aimed its stream across the room, into
my eyes, and onto various parts of the new milking stand.

And with every squeeze, Greta jumped three feet into the
air and came down kicking. At the end of 45 minutes, she
was exhausted and I had less than half a cup of very
dirty milk in my pail. But I had won! Greta was milked.

We’re doing better now, of course. Greta has learned to
accept the ritual with resignation, if not with grace.
Maybe it’s because I’ve rewritten the instructions on
milking. They now go something like this:

“In case the goat is ticklish, fasten her collar securely
to the wall –not the milking
stand–so she cannot jump down. Then grasp both hind
legs firmly with the left hand and butt her against the
wall with your head. Hold her there. Then, using the
right hand only, squeeze in the second finger, the third
finger, and the little finger. Relax and repeat the
action.”