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    Thoughts from the Milkmaid

    March 12, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is only our second time through kidding and freshening, so I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, comma, I do enjoy documenting our learning experiences and, besides, I’ve got goats on the brain today. My beloved, precious goats. They really are amazing animals…even my wild and crazy Charlotte.

    I love this passage from Proverbs. It has a special place in my heart because my children have trouble digesting conventional dairy products. Keeping a herd and learning to milk has been a real provision for our family from the Lord — real maintenance for our maidens, so to speak. Keeping one goat {in milk and even with a baby on her} for one month costs less than a week’s worth of raw cow’s milk used to cost me, and I was rationing that milk to make it last the week.

    I tried organic milk, I tried nonhomogenized milk. I tried everything to avoid that high milk bill, but nothing worked. The result was always the inevitable tummy problems {and more}. I’d like to say it’s a simple lactose problem, but addition of the lactase digestive enzyme also did not help. I don’t know what it is; I only know that raw cow’s milk is expensive and it was almost all they could drink.

    They always did well with goat milk. Q-Age-Six drank goat milk exclusively until she was two. But over the years the price of goat milk skyrocketed to the point where it costs the same as raw cow milk, but it is pasteurized, which introduces some of the digestive issues.

    So, long story short, here we are. We keep goats. It’s not always easy and, frankly, I miss sleeping in. But it’s the life we’ve built and most of the time I really like it. I enjoy it. The children benefit in more ways than just the milk. My husband says herd animals are relaxing to observe, and he’s right.

    But this Proverbs passage points to something we have to keep in mind:

    Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds…

    Contextually, this is a reference to goats, though of course this is wisdom regardless of what sort of animal. Why do we watch them so closely?

    …for riches are not for ever…

    Goats can turn really quickly. One moment, they’re leaping across the pasture, the next minute they are in their death throes. What I have read tells me that goats are very, very sensitive to mineral deficiencies. Chances are, this is the way with most animals, and goats are particularly mineral-demanding. One of my goat care books even says that behind every vitamin deficiency in goats is a mineral deficiency. They need their minerals … or they start to shut down, and then they die.

    In addition to this, they are, like many animals, prone to worms. And then, with dairy animals, there is also concern about mastitis.

    The Bible tells us to diligently watch our flocks, to know their state, because riches are not forever. In other words, sloppy keeping of the herd sometimes means death to the flock, or at least part of it. This is one reason why I haven’t turned over the milking to my children. They have asked, but milking is the main way I stay in close contact with the goats, the way that I know if the goats are okay. If I didn’t milk them, I wouldn’t see much of them, and that would be dangerous for their health.


    Milking Issues

    With our first kidding, Reece gave birth to twins, and even though they seemed to be constantly nursing, she was dripping all over the place. This is a sign of engorgement. Kelly, who I pester into telling me what to do via email, was kind enough to tell me that if Reece was leaking, I should milk her out. And so I did.

    When Charlotte had only one kid, then, I was very careful. I checked her throughout the day the first few days. She looked extremely full, but the kid was nursing a lot, and I never saw any dripping. So I left her. I didn’t want to take the colostrum from Patch.

    On the third day, I was beginning to get concerned. By the afternoon, I noticed that her teats were beginning to look inflamed. I thought about harassing Kelly, but I decided that I knew what she would tell me, that I needed to milk her out. And so I did.

    It was hard to get this milk out, so hard that I think I understand why the baby wouldn’t nurse for very long at a time. I think he grabbed what drops he could, and then gave up after that. From what I’ve read, some goats can get so engorged that no milk will come out, even though they want it to.

    It took at least half an hour. I didn’t have peppermint essential oil or oxytocin or any of the other suggestions I’ve since read about for encouraging let down. I just slowly and carefully worked with her, bumping her udder the way baby goats do, and feeding her grain to keep her happy.

    I got a quart before I called it quits. I definitely didn’t get all of it, but frankly she was starting to jump around on the table, my arms — out of shape from six weeks of not milking — were tired, and I felt like I’d done all I could do.

    The next morning, her teats looked better {less red}, the baby seemed happier and looked a little better {hard to explain, but suffice it to say I don’t think he was getting enough milk until after I milked her out}, and most importantly, when I milked her, I only got about a pint. The baby had finally been able to really nurse! That was exciting, and even more so later in the day when I watched and saw a significant difference in the length of individual nursing times.

    She’s producing a lot of milk {shock: she’s a dairy goat}, and she has only one baby to get it out, so I’m milking her morning and night, especially since she seems to need this for her udder health. Her milk has come in now, so we’re enjoying the taste{more on that soon} and I’m no longer throwing it out. We’re getting about five cups per day, which is a lot since she’s never away from her baby, and he’s happy as can be. I’m satisfied.


    Milk Taste

    It was Friday when I noticed that the milk had changed from colostrum to real milk. But it still tasted a little funny. This could have been residual colostrum, I suppose, but I was concerned because Reece’s milk had had a strong taste at the end of her last freshening, and I was afraid we’d be disappointed in the taste. We chose this breed because the taste of the milk was supposed to be so perfect — like cow milk, but even better. When we taste tested it at a breeder’s it really did taste that good.

    But the breeder kept her goats penned up all day and therefore had absolute control over feedings. We, on the other hand, allow our goats to wander and eat up our pasture grass, weeds, whatever they can find. This keeps down feed cost and adds more variety to their forage, which is more in line with how goats are designed to eat, how they eat in the wild. The result has been hit and miss on taste. Or so I thought.

    I was reading up on goats when I found a tip from someone who heard a tip from a very old woman {I wish I could remember the source}. This woman swore that the key to perfect tasting goat milk was one tablespoon of baking soda per day, added to their feed. This helps keep their rumen at the correct Ph, and the result is good tasting milk. Well, I already had ad lib baking soda available in their pen, but adding it to their feed meant I could make them take more than they might on their own, so I did it. I am all for inexpensive solutions from little old women who grew up with goats. Awesome.

    Even more awesome? It seems to work! The milk changed within 24 hours of adding the baking soda to a perfect taste — even my husband, who always refused Reece’s milk, likes it — and no variation in taste from milking to milking. I already add dolomite powder and copper sulfate, why not baking soda?


    What About Bucks?

    One of you asked in the comments what we do with the baby boy goats. This is only our second time, as I said before, so it is hard to say that we really have a system. Last time, we did not wether {castrate} the baby bucks, and sold them both on Craigslist to a man who was starting his own herd for his little son and wanted a smaller goat. {Kinders — real Kinders, not the strange combinations you might see out there — are smaller than Nubians but bigger than Pygmies.}

    We actually plan to list Patch this weekend and see if we get any bites. He won’t be ready to leave his mother for another six weeks or so, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to reserve him, they can also let us know if they want him wethered. That is what we plan to do with Reece’s kids, too, if she has bucks. Frankly, I hope we get at least one doe this time around, but we’ll see. I just read that feeding lots of cider vinegar before breeding is important for getting females. Something about the potassium. I’m trying it next time!

    So, in short: we get rid of the bucks. Butchering isn’t something we’d refuse to do, but we are really doing this for the milk, not the meat, and if we can make a little cash by selling a buck, that is the route we’d rather take at this point.


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  • Reply Katie@SimpleFoody May 6, 2015 at 7:03 am

    Thanks for the tips. I’m going to try the baking soda trick and see if it helps with the flavor of our doe’s milk.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 6, 2015 at 7:17 am

      I hope it works for you! It’s been a miracle for us. 🙂

  • Reply Rahime March 14, 2013 at 5:54 am

    Now I’m dying to try your goat’s milk. I haven’t ever really acquired a taste for goat milk, but I like goat cheese and yogurt.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Rahime, I think if you are going to every like goat milk, it’d be from a breed like ours. The original breeder we spoke with claimed that Swiss breeds (like the Alpine) were more likely to taste goaty that the desert breeds (like Nubian, Pygmy, Kinder, etc.). I don’t know how true that is, but I know that fresh milk *always* tastes less goaty that older milk, which is probably why the store brands taste so terrible! 🙂

    • Reply Rahime March 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      I actually haven’t really tried store-bought goat milk–I’ve smelled it a few times, but the idea of drinking it kinda makes my stomach churn, though I know it shouldn’t. What I’ve had a few times was “super-fresh” (straight out of the goat)….still warm (this was in Russia). I drank it, just didn’t love how strong it was. But I’m sure differences in breed as well feed has an impact on the taste of the milk. I don’t think we’re allowed to have goats anyways, so I shouldn’t worry about it, but it would be soooo nice to have a little control over our milk supply.

  • Reply walking March 13, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Goats are a lot of work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply Kelly March 13, 2013 at 3:58 am

    I’ve never heard that cider vinegar tip before — hopefully I’ll remember it next time we breed ours. Glad everything’s going so well for you!

  • Reply sara March 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    That is SO interesting. Maybe one day you can pay forward the pestering bit by taking my questions. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Well, I can certainly try my best! 🙂

    • Reply sara March 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      Don’t worry, I’m starting with chickens.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 13, 2013 at 12:20 am

      I need a like button for that comment. 🙂

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