I just finished writing a massive -- and I mean massive (8600 words) -- article for Backwoods Home Magazine called The Home Dairy. I was asked to write something fairly comprehensive (which explains the article length -- it's a huge topic) and to be sure to include cows AND goats.
Well I know plenty about milking cows, but goats? Not so much. I needed to find someone who milked goats. Preferably I wanted someone who wasn't a commercial dairyist (since the article is geared toward the home milker), but even in north Idaho this turned out to be surprisingly difficult.
After a few inquiries, I connected with a delightful woman named Susan who -- despite my phone call out of the blue from a perfect stranger -- graciously invited me over to see her goats and her setup.
My goodness, Susan absolutely loves her goats -- and it was easy to see why. "Goats are very personable," she said. "It's like having dogs." At the moment she has about 35 animals -- Alpine, Saanan, Oberhasli, La Mancha, Nigerian Dwarfs, and some crosses. She sells kids but does no butchering. She's worked with 4-H for about 25 years and helps many local kids get started with their animals.
The portion of the barn I saw had a large open pen at the end (pictured above), a milking stand, and a series of kidding pens.
This lady is one of the milkers, whom Susan obligingly kept in the barn until I arrived so she could show me how she milked.
This is their homemade milking stand. As with most stands for goats, it's elevated for easier milking. It has a feed box on the other side of the headpiece. Susan milks twice a day but keeps the kids on the does. She milks anywhere from two to four animals, depending on how much milk she needs.
The headpiece is an area where goats can be locked in by the neck so they don't move around during milking. Susan and her husband built a clever one that slides in place...
...and locks in with a nail.
Here's one goat in place.
And two goats.
Look at those beautiful udders! Two teats, not four (like a cow). Gotta get used to that.
Susan milks from the side, with her left wrist braced against the doe's hind leg to keep her from kicking. Couldn't do that with a cow!
The strong hands of an experienced milker.
Susan gets about a half-gallon per milking per animal, or about a gallon a day per doe.
After showing me her milking setup, Susan let the herd loose.
She has beautiful property with a small stream running through.
It was enchanting to watch these beautiful animals frolic in the spring sunshine.
This is a breed of dog called an Akbash. He's the herd guardian.
Goats, being goats, like to climb things, so Susan keeps the logs from this fallen tree in the pasture for their amusement.
This little fella is a La Mancha, a breed with tiny ears.
This is the herd sire, also a La Mancha.
It was delightful becoming more acquainted with these wonderful dairy animals. While I love my cows, it's easy to see why Susan is so taken with goats.
My thanks to Susan for graciously sharing her knowledge with me.