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A Dairy Adventure
Generations: The first picture is my grandmother, Ree. The second picture is of me and our herd queen, Hebe.
Over the many years of owning, breeding, and showing pygmy goats, one question kept coming up, "What do you do with them?". Fair goers, co-workers, and prospective goat owners have asked this question of us many times. The American Goat Society, the first registry to recognize the pygmy goat in America, defined the pygmy as a miniature dairy goat. Several long time breeders and founders of the National Pygmy Goat Association tout the milk quality and milking ability of pygmy goats. This aside, we still toyed with the idea of getting a dairy goat for the milk. But why? Are pygmies good milk goats or aren't they? During the summer of 2001, we decided to give it a try.
Here's my set up in our portable garage. On nice days the stand is just outside the door to catch a breeze.
In the past I had messed around with hand milking our tiny-teated darlings and had gotten pretty good at it. We had sampled yogurt, cream cheese and ice cream made with our pygmies' milk. But with those "itty bitty titties" my hands, more specifically, my thumbs and first two fingers would get worn out by the third or fourth doe. So I decided to buy a milking machine. With the popularity of the Nigerian Dwarf I knew that it was possible to get inflations (the part that goes on the teat) sized to fit miniature goats.
We set up the "milking parlor" in the front of a portable garage next to the doe's barn and chose three does to begin with: Hebe, our opinionated herd queen; Passion, a first time freshener with a very capacious but lopsided udder; and Myrrah, a shy first timer with a small but beautiful udder. These does had recently been weaned from their kids and would have usually been allowed to dry off. They were not in peak lactation and I wasn't expecting much but they would be good practice. Later we added Unadilla, a late season freshener to see how much we could expect to get from a doe who was nursing a kid.
The results were amazing! The girls took to it like old pros. Hebe never batted an eye. Passion was soon meeting us at the gate and putting herself on the stand. Myrrah took some convincing and gentle persuasion. She didn't care for udder washing ("You're getting me wet!") but stood quietly for milking, Unadilla insisted on having her baby held in front of her for the first three weeks. We banked a bounty of Unadilla's extra colostrum, more than I've ever gotten by hand milking a newly freshened doe.
I use an asparagus pot for my milk pail. It's the perfect size, stainless steel and fits into a stock pot for pasteurization.
I have made vinegar cheese, feta, ricotta and yogurt until it came out of my ears. We have fed a few bottle babies with the milk. Dan has it on his breakfast cereal and I love to drink it straight. We've made pudding and I want to try fudge, but I hear it is so good it's addicting! Next year I hope to make colby, monterey jack, brie and cheddar cheese when we have about 20 does fresh.
We have no delusions of "going commercial" with our pygmy goat dairy. We plan on using a once a day milking schedule so our does will be able to raise their own kids, as pygmies should. But we have already realized some nice benefits of having "working girls". We will have all the colostrum we can use and some to spare for the local Veterinary College. We will have plenty of real pygmy milk for kids needing to be bottle raised. We can fine tune our feeding program with individual attention and take care of quite a few husbandry chores during daily milking. But most of all is the special bond formed between human and animal. It is a willing, working partnership. The does and I get to know each other on a personal trusting level as never before. I get to know each girl's quirks, habits, the softness of her fur, and the hardness of her hooves! She learns to completely trust me to handle her with respect and gentleness.
When the does freshen next spring I will begin keeping production records for each one. I feel confident they will exceed my expectations and open a few eyes when I share that information on this website. And I also feel sure I will finally have a great answer for that famous question,
"What do you do with a Pygmy Goat?"
Milk them, of course!"
The kids "practicing" their milking doe stance
Spring 2002, And the Story Continues.....
The girls started kidding the latter part of February. So I cranked up the milking machine and put those gals to work! The first timers have been the easiest to milk, usually taking only one or two times to get the hang of "sharing the wealth", but even my shyest touchiest doe is coming around to my way of thinking. All but one of the does are raising their own kids, Olympia unfortunately lost both her bucklings. It looks like we will freshen 18 does this spring.
I am not currently measuring individual doe's milk output, I'll start doing that as the kids are weaned. Instead I am keeping records on who I milk each day and the total output. I do keep notes on how much I seem to be getting from each doe. The does with twins of course don't give very much right now with the kids growing so fast and with their dams all the time. But I consider the few drops I'm getting now to be good training for the future when the kids are less dependent, and after weaning. The does with single kids seem to be reliably giving about a half a pound each day in a single milking and their udders are staying nice and evenly balanced. Production seems to be increasing little by little. I bought a large Safegard Pastuerizer so now even that step is easier.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this all works out. My sister has started to grow herbs for all the cheese I will be making, and the bottle babies are getting just what nature intended with real pygmy goat milk. I truly understand what other goat keepers love about their dairy goats. This is a very special relationship with your does, I urge all pygmy goat breeders to try it!
Early Summer Update
Let the cheesemaking begin! The babies are reaching weaning age so that means I don't have to share the bounty as much! I have yogurt by the pound and a nice herbed goat cheese in the works right now. I am getting about a gallon of milk a day in one milking, from 9 milkers right now. All but 2 are still nursing a kid. I will be starting to keep individual production records on the kidless does this week. My sister in Florida has sent the first batch of herbs, I'm looking forward to sending her a batch of cheese.
The does are so lead broke I know that showing them will be much easier and I can touch them anywhere and they don't flinch. Dan recently took one of the milkers to a big show in Georgia. She's a nice doe, maybe not the last word in pygmies but her outstanding udder got her placed high in the milking doe class. I have never seen such pretty udders so late in the kid season. I promise I will get a good "udder shot" soon.
End Of the Year Update
The first winter storm has come and mostly gone. Most of the does are dry now and bred for spring kids. I still have three recently kidded does milking, but I am letting the kids do the work for now. My freezer is stocked with about 40 pounds of goat cheese spread for Christmas presents. I never got around to measuring each goat's output, but I got an average of nearly a pound from each doe, at peak, on a once a day milking schedule. Definitely more milk than I knew what to do with! I did try my hand at making cheddar cheese with not much success, so next year I will concentrate on feta cheese in herbed oil and several different flavors of chevre spread. Both of these were very easy and a big hit with friends and family. Using the plain chevre I made a couple of stupendous cheesecakes, too. My family is expecting one for the buffet at Christmas.
My recommendation? Drink pygmy goat milk! You'll feel like a little kid again!
Lastly, I promised an udder shot of some of my pretty girls and here it is. I put this on the backs of a couple of sweatshirts for my sister and me to wear while showing at the North Carolina State Fair this year. It was quite a hit!
And the Milk Keeps Flowing...
We never really stopped kidding from the 2002 season. Hebe freshened in September, and Gingerale in November. I started milking them again in late January. Several does freshened in January and we were off and running again. Hebe did her part and I recently dried her off after a very good 7 month lactation. Her daughter and grand daughter, Firefly and Candy Kisses, carry on for her very nicely! I am currently milking 7. I am making lots of feta and soft goat cheese, big hits with the new chefs at work (I work in a corporate dining facility) and of course my family and friends. Looks like milking chores have become part of the daily routine.
Most of the first timers from last year have freshened again this year and they are showing their dairy goat characteristics of improved production in subsequent lactations. Kisses is amazing! Now if she would just give me a doe kid.....Classy is still nursing two big doelings and still has a contribution every evening, Bailey too! Camilla recently kidded with her first, a 4 pound buckling, and is getting the hang of milking.
I realized another nice side benefit from this routine, well trained goats! White Diamond, who freshened last year for her first time, had been extremely difficult to handle in the ring. She hated being on a leash and particularly hated being touched under there, she would pitch a fit. She got over it, because I was determined to milk her, she produced like a milk cow! She has really turned out to be a spectacular 3 year old doe. We recently took her to a show and because she was so relaxed with being led and handled she placed very well and took a Reserve Senior Championship. I don't think she would have done as well if she hadn't been one of my "working girls" last summer. Fellow breeders, you really need to give milking a try! Now I understand why those dairy goats are so well behaved. Some of my shyest goats have really come around. No amount of leading, scratching or treats have produced these kind of results. Now if you could only "milk" bucks.......
...and we are STILL milking in 2013!