When we obtained our first dairy goats, it was thanks to my sister. As young children, she and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with our small herd of brush goats, which were mostly of Spanish and Kiko descent. This slightly wild and very colorful group gave us a love of goats that's persisted for many years.
No doubt about it, dairy goats bring more than delicious milk to the homestead. They also add plenty of character to the barnyard, and it stands to reason that a bit of that aforementioned character naturally shows up when it's time to embark upon their education.
I'm going to share with you our goat training process, which is simple yet effective. I'll also discuss the basics of nurturing a baby doeling to well-behaved adulthood, as well as important considerations for buying a doe that's already milking.
How to win the goat rodeo
When a goat kids and freshens for the first time, she's surrounded by new things and experiences, and a little anxiety on her part is understandable. When she's ready to be milked for the first time, she may respond with absolute refusal. If you attempt to duke it out with her, this only strengthens her desire to resist and it may end with injury to you or her. So, it's best to have someone strong with you when you're milking a first-timer.
I encourage you to have your milking setup ready and waiting, making room for a milking stand with a stanchion to hold her securely. In time, this will become a comfortable place for her while she's being milked, and it's a safe way to begin her training.
When she's in the stanchion with feed in front of her, have your helper firmly hold her back legs to restrict her movement. No matter what happens when you start milking, just keep going until you're done. She may lunge, stamp, kick, holler, or lie down. Just keep milking as calmly and rhythmically as possible. Speak softly and soothingly to her; sometimes I sing while milking. As you treat her fairly and firmly, you're encouraging trust and safety. Be sure to reward her with some loving attention.
You'll probably have to repeat this exercise for several days, if not a week or more, until she learns that being milked isn't a threat to her safety and that resistance won't work. At this point, congratulations! You're on the right side of the training process and on the road to happy milking.
One thing to bear in mind during this training is that this is more than just a pet/owner relationship. This is a working partnership where both sides work together and respect one another. You, as the farmer of the outfit, need to be in charge and your doe must learn to respect your rules and work by your schedule.
A goat that's spoiled, aggressive toward people, or stubborn can make life miserable, whereas the happy doe that works well with you will be fun, rewarding, and a great asset to the homestead. Consistency and patience on your part go a long way toward making this a reality.
Probably the best way to ensure you have a gentle milk goat that loves and respects you is to establish a solid foundation by raising her yourself. When I'm out with little goats, I try to always have some kind of treat or a handful of lush grass. They often come "check me out" and get to enjoy a snack.
In general, goats don't like their feet to be touched, nor do they like you reaching around their middle, which can make milking tricky. Start this as soon as you can, making contact with your young goat softly, yet deliberately — especially her udder area. This is particularly effective when done while she's standing on the stanchion having a little snack. If you keep this up, it will make milking come much easier. To enhance bonding, we try to be present when our does kid, and have found that it really makes a difference.
Also, emphasize good manners by not allowing your doeling to bite you, ram you, suck on fingers or clothes, rear up, or jump all over you. Even though it's cute when they're little, trust me, this can become a real problem when your baby weighs 150 pounds.
Get your goat
You may prefer to obtain a doe that's already established and milking instead of starting off with a young doeling. In either case, I encourage you to sit down and do some research to decide what breed is best for your location and situation. This is a big step.
For example, Nubians, our breed of choice, have wonderful, sweet, creamy milk. Nubians are on the larger end of the spectrum for goat bodies, and their coats have a wide variety of color patterns. However, Nubians are also very vocal, something that wouldn't be kindly received if you have close neighbors.
I also recommend taking the time to find an established breeder in your area, as they'll be a great source of information if you're a first-time goat owner and milker. Some great questions to ask a breeder about a milking doe you're considering include: Do you test for John's, CAE (caprine arthritis encephalitis), or brucellosis? Does this doe have a history with mastitis? How much milk does she typically produce? Has she been milked by hand or by machine? A breeder who takes their animals seriously will make your experience a positive one. Also, if you're just starting your herd, purchasing at least two goats would be preferable, ideally from the same breeder. Having a familiar companion will help them settle in easier.
We started preparing before we ever brought our first milker home. Our stanchion was made from plans we found online and topped with a thick rubber mat to prevent slips. We scoured the livestock supply catalogs and bought many supplies — some we later found to be unnecessary.
One of the first things you'll realize is that every goat definitely has a distinct personality, with her own likes, dislikes, quirks, and expectations. If she's had a previous owner, she'll also be trained to their setup, schedule, and methods.
Our first milker, for instance, expected to be rewarded with a cookie after being milked. Thankfully, her previous owner had told us this, so we knew what was expected. We eventually weaned her off this treat after learning how impatient a doe can be while anticipating her reward. Just remember to ask the breeder about your new goat's personality and take advantage of any hints they give you.
We've also found that even an established doe that's performing beautifully for her current owner will need adjustment and re-training as she relocates and begins testing her boundaries. If you meet a doe that's kick-happy, simply use one hand to gently squeeze her back leg right above the hock, which makes it difficult for her to move it. This is much more effective than hobbling. In our experience, hobbling only encourages stamping with both back feet, instead of just one.
We've also had goats that loved to practically sit down on the stand, to the point we could hardly milk them. Have your helper hold her up while you milk, and in time she'll get past this. Sometimes a doe will also "forget"that she's supposed to jump up on the stand to be milked. Use a collar to lead her up onto the stand, or simply wait to feed her until she's on the stand like a well-behaved girl. Again, this habit will eventually become natural to her.
Most of all, start building that working relationship with her from the get-go by being consistent and patient.
A little encouragement
I find that after my goats have taken their winter hiatus from milking, I need to reinforce the rules a couple of times when we begin milking again. Usually this simple follow-up only requires a little pop on the rump and a firm verbal rebuke. After all, they already know not to stamp around, and their little test should quickly show them that it's still bad manners to do so.
It's a very rewarding experience to watch a doe you've raised blossom into a fun, well-trained dairy goat, and it's definitely worth the effort. With a foundation of trust and training, you and your goat should enjoy many happy milking seasons working together as a team. I recall the first time I milked my doe, Victoria, whom I raised from about 5 weeks of age. I was ready for a struggle, but I don't think she gave a single kick. That's a joy, folks! Have fun with your goats!
Maggie Bullington lives in beautiful rural Alabama, and is blessed to be part of a family of craftsmen and homesteaders. She enjoys assisting with several home businesses, milking goats, sewing, experimenting with sourdough bread, and writing. You can find Maggie on her family's website, http://www.tinyranch.com/.