When thinking milking goats or even milking cow, what should you be thinking of to select the best dairy milking animal?
Milking is a fair commitment and there are plenty of things to consider, but the payoff of having lovely fresh raw milk is well worth it.
Having your own milking goats or milking cow is a great way to get daily access to lovely, health giving raw milk that is otherwise very hard to come by.
Due to health regulations all milk destined for human stomachs must be pasteurized. Raw milk can not be legally supplied to customers as food in many parts of the world, including Australia and the US.
The fact remains that pasteurized milk is a processed food. All the health giving enzymes in it are denatured by super high heat treatment. As a consequence, the milk you get at your local store is not a healthy, whole food.
Raw milk on the other hand, is a wonderful health food with proven benefits – provided of course that it is clean and free of pathogens. In the 1930s the scientist Pottenger set up an experiment using cats that basically showed that those fed raw milk were healthy, whereas those fed pasteurized milk were not.
Milking Goats or Milking Cow?
Milking goats offer many practical advantages over having a milking cow, size for one. They are small enough to manhandle, you don’t need heavy duty yards for them, and they are unlikely to hurt you badly.
Another plus of milking goats is that once they have a kid, they will give milk continuously until you stop daily milking. The milking cow on the other hand needs to have a calf every year in order for her milk production to continue indefinitely. Unless you own a bull or have one close at hand that is a hassle. You could always artificially inseminate her of course, though if you only have one cow, telling exactly when she is ready to inseminate may be problematic.
On the plus side for the milking cow, the taste of cow’s milk is superior to that of milking goats’ for most people. The flavor of goat’s milk can be improved by consistent access to the right kind of fresh green forage, and by prompt chilling and using it quickly. Many people (including my kids) however find it unappealing.
The amount of milk you get daily from the typical milking goat is only in the order of two to four pints (a litre or two) after the initial postnatal flush. If you are just drinking it, that may be enough. When we had three milking goats on the go at the same time we used to make cheese, but if you just have one milker then you’re not going to get enough for cheesemaking to be worth the trouble.
Your milking cow on the other hand is likely to give you so much milk you will have to do something more than drinking it with it. And the higher volume also means it’s going to take longer to milk her. If you have a cow milking machine, not a problem but if you’re milking by hand it might be a different story.
Choosing Milking Goats or Your Milking Cow
The first decision to make is the breed. Though there will be big variations between individual animals, different breeds generally produce milk of different quality and quantity. Anglo Nubian goats for example typically give creamier milk in lower volume to for example Saanens, British Alpines or Toggenburgs.
Breeds (and individual milking goats or cows) can also have markedly different udder and teat conformation that affects the ease of hand milking. Ideally your milker’s teats should be well-defined from the udder and long enough to grasp in your fist so you can easily hand strip the milk out.
While always going for a nicely shaped udder, I tend to steer away from top quality milking animals. The reason is that they are high producing animals with high nutritional requirements and need to be fed carefully accordingly. They will give milk at the expense of their own well-being and easily succumb to less than ideal conditions.
If you are wanting to run your dairy milking animal on normal pasture – with its natural seasonal variation – for most of its diet, then you are better off getting a hardy cross bred in my opinion. The little bit of supplementary feeding of concentrate (e.g. oats and lupins) that get your dairy animal happily munching on the milk stand while you milk isn’t going to be enough for the top performing milkers. On top of generous hand feeding you need to add carefully balanced supplements plus provide access to good irrigated pastures all year round. So the lesser quality milking goats or milking cow – providing they have good udder confirmation – are in my opinion your best bet. Even an animal with a bit of meat breed in it can be ideal as a home dairy milking animal.
Milking Goats or Milking Cow Selection
When assessing a likely candidate for your dairy milking animal, first find out why she’s being sold in the first place. Be warned that farmers with lots of animals who are selling just a few are probably offloading their culls. Cull animals are best kept as someone else’s problem rather than your own! Try to work out the motivation for selling through observation and asking questions. She may be an escape artist, for example, or reject her babies.
Ask to have her put in a milking stand and have a squeeze of her nipples. Is she calm or stroppy? Give her udder a gentle feel throughout its depth and have a good look at it. If there are lumps, scars, painful bits, or any red patches she may either have or be prone to mastitis – something to avoid at all costs. If you are relying on her being pregnant, either have her tested or negotiate a free return to the seller’s male if she proves not to be.
Managing Milking Goats or Your Milking Cow
Owning a dairy milking animal does not necessarily mean you are going to have to milk her every single day. Consider sharing her with a neighbor and getting them to cover milking when you can’t be around. Another option is to simply leave her kid or calf with her. When you want milk you can just lock the young one up separate from its mum overnight and take the milk the next morning before letting them back out in the paddock together. When you don’t want to milk you simply leave them together.