How to Hand Milk a Jenny

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Photo by Elayne Sears

Putting It All to Use

If you’re seeking an unusual and lucrative way to make money with donkeys, consider niche-marketing donkey milk as a beverage or as an ingredient in specialty soaps and skin conditioners.

Before marketing donkey milk as a beverage, investigate your state’s dairy regulations in detail. Ask your County Extension agent which agency oversees dairy operations in your state; regulations vary widely from state to state.

Keep in mind that jennies don’t give a lot of milk per milking, so they must be milked more frequently than cows or goats. Most European donkey dairies milk three times a day. Also, some jennies refuse to let down their milk unless their foals are present, so you may have to share with her baby. To do this, pen the foal separately but within sight of his dam overnight, and milk Mama first thing in the morning; however, be sure that the foal is readily consuming his own feed of hay and grain before you begin milking his dam. The average Standard-size jenny gives one pint to two quarts of milk per day.

How-To Hand Milk a Jenny

Milking a jenny is like milking a goat except that her teats are smaller and harder to reach. Some jennies initially (and vigorously) object to being milked, but if you persist (clicker training or treats for good behavior win most jennies’ cooperation), most adapt to the process surprisingly quickly.

Hand milking is a team effort between a milker and the creature that he milks. When the milker preps his animal by washing her udder, the hypothalamus in her brain signals her posterior pituitary gland to release oxytocin into her bloodstream, causing tiny muscles around those milk-holding alveoli to contract. In other words, she “lets down her milk.” Milk letdown usually lasts for five to eight minutes, and milking should be completed during that time.

However, if the animal becomes excited or frightened, or experiences pain, her adrenal gland secretes adrenaline, which constricts blood vessels and capillaries in her udder and blocks the flow of oxytocin needed for effective milk letdown. Therefore, good hand milkers are efficient and patient. They approach milking in a low-key manner, and they practice good milking technique. Whether milking a jenny, goat, sheep, or cow, the same basic protocol applies. You will need:

  • Squeaky-clean hands with short fingernails
  • A recently sterilized, seamless, stainless-steel milking pail
  • Udder wash and paper towels (or unscented baby wipes)
  • Teat dip and a teat dip cup (or an aerosol post-milking spray like Fight Bac)
  • A strip cup with a dark, perforated insert or a screen
  • A clean milking area with a token feeding of grain waiting in the feed box

Here’s what you do:

  1. Secure the jenny in the milking area.
  2. Wash her udder using your favorite prepping product. Make sure that her udder is dry, then massage it for 30 seconds to facilitate milk
  3. letdown.
  4. Squirt the first few streams of milk from each teat into your strip cup and examine it for strings, lumps, or a watery consistency that might indicate mastitis. This is rare in donkeys, but you simply can’t be too careful.
  5. Sit or squat beside the jenny holding your milking container in one hand while milking the jenny, one teat at a time, with the other hand.
  6. Trap milk in the teat by wrapping your thumb and forefinger around its base. Squeeze with your middle finger, then your ring finger (or just your middle finger if the jenny’s teats are really small), in one smooth, successive motion to force milk trapped in the teat cistern out into your pail (never pull on a donkey’s teats!). Relax your grip to allow the cistern to refill and do it again.
  7. As each teat deflates and becomes increasingly more flaccid, gently bump or massage the udder to encourage additional milk letdown. Don’t finish by stripping the teats between your thumb and first two fingers; this hurts and annoys the jenny, possibly causing her to kick.
  8. Pour enough teat dip into the teat cup to dip each teat in fresh solution, and allow the teats to air dry. Alternately, spritz the end of each teat with Fight Bac.

You’ll probably milk your jennies by hand, although there are options. A group of Italian scientists who authored Composition and Characteristics of Ass’s Milk describe milking jennies using a wheeled trolley-type commercial milking unit with a sheep cluster set at vacuum level 42 kPA, pulse ratio 50 percent, and pulse rate of 120 cycles per minute.

Cover Courtesy of Storey Publishing

Excerpted from The Donkey Companion © Sue Weaver, illustrations by © Elayne Sears, used with permission from Storey Publishing.