Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Milking a Pygmy Goat

When we bought Betsy & Jimmy, Jimmy was about 3 months old and still nursing. We had difficulty getting anywhere near Betsy unless we captured Jimmy first; and Jimmy wasn't easy either. We didn't have a pen, we didn't have anything in place. We caught her once or twice and tried milking her, but never really pursued it. We thought, give her some time, next batch of babies she'll be much gentler because she'll know us better.

As this winter progressed, hubby was fairly certain she was pregnant again, but I wasn't. Everything I have read so far has said it was impossible to tell if goats were pregnant - you had to plan it so you'd know. Well, her son was the only male she had access to, and they were together for a year during which she didn't get pregnant. Just this week I was surprised to fine two beautiful kids (baby goats) that had died.

Death. I always thought that is was silly to have to intervene with the birth of animals. They're animals, they have instincts... both my dog & cat had babies without complications without my intervention. My chickens managed to hatch some babies without intervention. But yes, there is almost always death with the life. I thought I would get used to that - the death. But still anytime I see another animal, especially a baby, I am saddened and I now understand better why people try to control birth a little more. It is very cold outside in Minnesota - it is definitely not ideal for babies.

All that has led to this, a mother goat without kids but with milk! Eureka! I don't have to worry about taking too much milk from the baby, I can just milk her and not worry... Sites I've read say twice a day, 12 hours apart. My first milking was in our basement where we had brought Betsy to clean her up post birth - I did a few pulls, she struggled, hubby helped hold her. We didn't try long.

We kept her in overnight, and the next day hubby let her out because she was only crying. He didn't try to milk her. That evening I trapped her under the rabbit hutch and tried to milk her again. She kept sitting down, and fighting me. Got a little - mostly dirty from the struggle - gave it to the dogs.

Here begins the comedy that is my life:

Stubborn goat + Inexperienced milker/farmer + creativity = the oddest milking set up ever.

Betsy doesn't like people. All my other goats will eat out of my hand - except her. It's nearly impossible to catch her, and like I mentioned before, I don't have pens. During the winter (post harvest to planting season) they are free range. All my animals currently bed down in the summer kitchen - 3 goats, 1 sheep, 1 turkey, 5 chickens, and 2 rabbits in a hutch. The best way I've discovered to catch Betsy is to give them some corn or oats & while she's eating grab her horns. Then once I've got her horns, I can attach a leash to her collar and drag her places. Yes drag. It is impossible to get her to follow me. Even if I shake corn in front of her, or tempt her with bread, she still won't really walk. So between her horns & the leash I drag her across the snowy, icy yard, up a flight of steep steps into our mud room.

Yes, the mud room. After chasing her around the "barn" and catching her, and trying to get her to behave under the rabbit hutch, but not having enough light, and then trying to get her to stand on some boxes in the corner where there is light, I remembered the one place that was fairly small, contained, and a little warm.

I hooked the leash up, around, and through some nails on the wall, put a plastic coffee can under her bum, and put a jar under her. We struggled, we fought, I pushed and I yelled and I gave her treats to get her to stand still. We got a little more milk - it was 5:30 am. That evening I automatically dragged her to the house. The first difference, I have two monkeys following me around, trying to sled a little, and play while I dragged. Daughter's crying because I haven't waited for her. Hubby's trying to leave for work. I get her in the porch, start gathering things together, Daughter comes in then Son. They can't decide if they want to be inside or out...

I was struggling to keep her still on the porch, the coffee can wasn't tall enough, I was crouching down on the floor - these are really short goats, kids were going in & out, hubby left, dogs were fighting and scaring the goat. I tried one of our kitchen chairs to put her food on, and to tie her to, to try to get her to stay - she got her head stuck and started throwing the chair around. I dragged her into the house and tried getting her to stand on two chairs, having the kids help hold the leash, keeping her on the chairs - she kicked and fought until the two chairs separated and she lost her feet in the gap. I was grumpy, and frustrated.

We went back into the mudroom. We tried a different corner - you usually milk from the right, and I had been doing the left. I put food under her nose, I found a taller pot that fit perfectly under her bum, shoved the chair up behind the pot to keep it in place, managed to get a little more milk. YEAH!

This has been our setup ever since. It's been a week since she lost the babies and I still have to drag her up the hill to the mudroom at 5 am & pm. She's giving more milk and we're getting a little better at the milking. She still fights me if I move away from her, so I push myself up against her body and milk by feel only. I am figuring it out - it's easy to milk now when she's full. I milk a little beyond when she's dry to try to stimulate more. On the fourth day we all sampled it, and then I put some in my coffee, and used the remainder for the irish soda bread we had for dinner. I hope to someday be able to make goat cheese, if I can just get enough. I think I'm getting about 1/3 of a cup per milking now.

Oh, and now that I feel like we've got a rhythm and are figuring it out. I find out a friend is bringing us a milking stand. We'll see how it goes.

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