Friday, November 19, 2010

Got milk?

When we got our first goat, a Nigerian dwarf doe with her 4 day old doeling, I wasn't thinking too much about what to actually do with the milk.  I had dreams of making cheeses and yogurts and having fresh drinking milk of course but I hadn't given too much thought to how to treat the fresh milk right from the animal.  How to strain it, should I pasteurize it, what special equipment did I need, how to cool it etc. I was more concerned with how to get the milk out of her at that point.   She fought me about being milked, she didn't seem to have much and what she had didn't taste good.  In reality, I didn't know what I was doing.  It was a steep learning curve.  I had never had any kind of livestock before and I was learning about fences, hay, grain, shelters, predators, parasites and the list went on.

None the less I loved having a goat.   I did want more milk than the mere cup or two I was getting though so within a month with a little help from some kind person on the Internet dairy goat group I was on I found a French Alpine in milk for sale locally.   I went from a pittance to over a gallon a day.  At that point I got earnest about milk.

So here is what I wish someone had shared with me that first year of milking.  This is all my opinion only.  I'm sure every dairy goat owner has their own list as well as their own opinions but here is mine.

How to take care of fresh goats milk

Don't expect to be able to drink your milk right away when your goat first kids.  It doesn't taste good for a few weeks.  Initially it's the colostrum and then slowly it becomes something more palatable to humans.  We try ours about 3 weeks in and if it's still not great we give it another week. 

How you treat your milk will  be a big factor in taste and how safe your milk is to drink after that first few weeks.  Cleaning off your doe correctly prior to milking is a good start for both your sake.  I use baby wipes both before and after milking. I also use Fight Bac after to help seal up the teat.  

I milk into a stainless steel container.  I pay attention to the first few squirts from each teat, checking for off color or anything else unusual in it.   I used my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl at first but finally broke down and got a real milking bucket with a lid.  The lid is nice for when your done milking but still need to do one or two things before you take the milk in.  That said, the sooner you get your milk in the house the better.   
Next you'll need to strain your milk. Straining your milk will get out any hairs or anything else that may have inadvertently gotten into it outside.  You can buy items from Hoeggers specifically for this or you can use things you may already have on hand.  I store my milk in 1/2 gallon ball jars I get from Ace Hardware (they'll order them for you if they don't have them on hand) so I like to strain right into them.  

I use a wide mouth stainless steel funnel for canning with a small stainless steel strainer with the handle removed inside it to strain my milk right into the ball jars.  I use a coffee filter inside the strainer but some people use clean hankies or pieces of sheet cut up dedicated for this purpose only.  I like the convenience  of coffee filters and they are pretty inexpensive.  When done I use the white plastic lids made by ball to cap the jars.  Because I don't usually pasteurize my milk I date it.  I put a small piece of clear duct tape on my lids to write on with a sharpie.  

To pasteurize or not to pasteurize ....that is the question.

Raw milk is a controversial topic to be sure and there are very strict laws about it.  Because there are  those laws we know there is a reason to be careful about it.  Being careful about our milk is a good thing.  Being paranoid, in my opinion is not.   The one thing I was actually concerned with when I bought my first goat in terms of the milk was if it was safe to drink without it being pasteurized first.  I had a few weeks before she came home, while I was waiting for her to freshen, to mull this over and do a bit of research on the subject. 

Depending on which side of the fence you sat, raw milk was either a gift from the gods or something that would, or at least could,  make you very very sick.   I read as much as I could about the dangers of raw milk and hygiene seem to be a huge factor in whether or not it was safe to drink it raw.  If your clean about your self, about your goats udders, about the utensils you use (hence the reason for so much stainless steel),  about cooling your milk down rapidly after straining etc. then you are probably going to be fine.  The other big factor was whether or not your goats are healthy.  If you bought healthy goats from a reputable breeder, you are probably going to be fine.  My Alpines have been purchased from reputable herds that sell their goat cheese.  Was that a guarantee their milk couldn't make me sick?  No, but the odds are pretty darn good.  I didn't feel as confident about my Nigerian goat but soon after getting her I had her tested for TB which is a free test in Virginia for goats.  She too was clean.  

A bit of common sense went a long way here too.   People drank milk for eons without pasteurization and the majority of them were fine. And of the ones that did get sick poor hygiene was most likely a factor in the majority of those cases.  Sick or diseased animals was on the short list. And even there,  if your buying healthy animals from like minded people that are drinking their own milk raw, the odds are pretty minuscule of you getting sick if your being clean about your milk practices.  And if there is a question about your animals health have them tested.    This was my process for me  in making this decision.   I would say to anyone else pondering this question, do your research and look at all the factors in your situation and in your animals and within yourself.  If your going to be uncomfortable drinking it raw don't do it.  It's too much work to not enjoy the fruits of your labor to the fullest.

So when do I pasteurize?  I do for yogurt making because of the long incubation time at elevated temperatures although I am reading that it is not necessary here either.  Still, I'm not ready to give it a try yet.   I also pasteurize in the summer if I start having problems with my soft goat cheeses.    It rarely happens  now that I have a reliable recipe that works for me consistently.  On the few occasions it has I have problems pasteurizing has helped.  

The other difference pasteurizing makes is your milk will last longer for drinking.   This is why I date my milk.  Although goats milk lasts quite some time in the fridge it does begin to acquire a taste most people describe as "bucky" after just a few days in the fridge.  I just use that older milk for making cheeses and in recipes saving  the freshest for drinking.  Dating it helps me rotate it more efficiently in the fridge in those times milk quantity gets ahead of my time to do something with it.  

So here, milk gets cooled right after straining.   The faster you cool it the longer it will last in the fridge both for drinking and for cheese making.   Initially I would put the container in the freezer for 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour to cool it down but I learned putting the jar into a container of very cold or icy water brings the temperature down faster.   I will give it a stir 1/2 way through to get the warm milk in the center of the jar out to the sides and in contact with the glass to help it cool faster if convenient.   I've also not had time to do that and just put the whole thing in the fridge when done straining.    

Happy milking.



  1. Another very informative post Elizabeth. When we add goats to the farm, we've wondered, with just two of us, how we'd use all the milk. Yogurts and cheeses are on our list of things to make of course, but I'm not sure we could get through all the fresh milk, but we'll see. With the goats I've cared for before (not my own), you're right. Teat health and cleanliness is critical...same for cows too really. I so can't wait to get goats ;)

  2. What a great post, it really hits on many of the fears and questions that I have. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. You get pigs.

    They thrive on pasture or hay and milk and/or whey. They rototill your garden, eat scrapes and any weeds and garden debris and as a bonus keep varmints under control too including snakes. And of course they are tasty too!

    That's how these old farmers did it. They always had a pig around. And it all makes so much sense once you get started how it all fits together to become a system. It's cheaper to feed a pig milk and a goat grain, especially if you have to buy it at a feed strore rather than producing it on the farm. Feeding grain to a pig would be very expensive.

    That was the why of getting our second Alpine. 4 Gals. a day isn't useable here even making cheeses but the pigs love it and it's the protein they need to supplement forage and pasture. Goats eat a small amount of grain (compared to pigs) and forage and hay and turn it into great pig food.

    Plus you have lots of eggs I would imagine from your brood of chickens that could also be pig food. We just got the smaller AGH's rather than their full sized cousins.

  4. Chai Chai, I know how you feel because I felt the same way. I am glad I could help you in your decision making process by sharing my thoughts and experience.

  5. Those are great tips. You must be learning a lot from this process!

  6. Great post. I'm hoping my does are pregnant so we can have fresh milk next spring. I bought some of those half gallon mason jars just to store milk. They are perfect for that. I still have to get a milking pail and strainer. I used to love milking and loved goat milk. Like you, I'll be glad to have a milk source for yogurt, also yogurt cheese and whey. We use a lot of whey. DH is a cheese lover too.

  7. Elizabeth I always read your posts with great interest even though I know my lot in life isn't to live on a farm. I do love to read about all that you do and am always so impressed. Have a Happy Thanksgiving sweet blogging friend! You are blessed with so much.

  8. Meemsnyc, I have learned a lot, that's for sure.

    Leigh, I'll keep my fingers crossed for you that your does are bred. Your ahead of the game having milking experience for sure. Just a matter of getting back in the groove of that daily commitment.

    Carolyn, Malia and visit your site as well and always enjoy your wonderful photography as well as your wonderfully written words. Someday I hope to take photo's like you do but I'm not there yet.

  9. Elizabeth, I enoy your blog ... and your honesty :)!

    As a keeper of Nigerian goats for 2 years now, I agree with everything you said. I practice the same -- cleanliness of me, the udder and equipment (I recommend the dairy solutions from Caprine supply for daily and weekly cleaning of equipment); drink raw milk, pasteurize milk made into yogurt (as a part of the yogurt recipe),have a dating system to know which is freshest, get it into the fridge ASAP. I put the milk on the lowest shelf and have a thermometer in the fridge just to make sure the temp is at least < 45. My 3 does are all pregnant, so we are currently without the precious white libation ... as I let their bodies concentrate on making babies. Due Feb 20th!


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