Jun 3 2010

How to Milk a Goat in 35 Steps

For my first blog post ever, I thought I’d channel the master: little Catherine.  For those who don’t know, Catherine used to keep obsessive, hyper-literal journals that explained –  in precise detail – what she was doing or how something worked.  She had a particular fancy for toilets.  Yesterday’s toilets are today’s goats – so here, in careful detail, is how to milk 90 liters of milk out of 27 goats in about 65 minutes:

1)  Walk to the washing/sanitary machine in the milk shed.  Nod to Jean Claude, who will smile and say something you don’t understand in French as he milks the cows.  Laugh like you understand what he said.

2)  Attach the rubber washer that will eventually rest between the milk jug lid and the jug itself to the jug’s lid.

3)  Remove the milk hoses from the washing machine valves and attach them to the nozzles on the lid of the milk jug.  If the Americans were the ones to last attach the hoses to the machine, untangle the knot of hoses.

4)  Place the lid on the milk jug.

5)  Attach a bungee cord with a simple hitch to one of the jug’s handles and hook the ends of the cord to the other handle.  The various positions of the cords, with their attendant advantages and disadvantages, are a dissertation to themselves.  I’ll stick to the basics.

6)  On the other end of the hoses are vacuum cups.  There are two cups per hose and two hoses per jug.  Loop the hoses around the hooks on the top the milk jug to keep the hoses and cups off the ground.   Think to yourself: why are we so concerned with the cups touching the ground when we don’t wash the udders before milking?

The Setup

7)  (Repeat steps 2 through 6 on second jug.)

8 )  Bring the wheel barrow to the milk shed.

9)  Places jugs on the wheel barrow and wheel them to the goat milking shed.

10)  “The milking shed has a large vacuum, which is connected to a set of pipes.  There is a long pipe that runs along the milking stand, which has three valves.  There is a compressor on the lid of the milk jug that has a hose.  Attach the hose of the first milk jug to the first valve on the vacuum pipe; attach the hose of the second to the third valve.”  This is a direct quote from one of Catherine’s toilet journals.

11)  There are eighteen goat stations: put one scoop of feed in each station.

12)  Herd the goats into the pen that is nearest to the milking station.  Ignore the 54 horns you must push past to get back to milking station.  Ignore the stare from the bearded goat that knows you’re a rookie.

Come on, gals, please?

The Goat Whisperer

I'm going to eat your cap.

13)  Open the door that leads from the pens to the milking platform, allowing only a few goats in at a time.  The milking station has a nifty locking system: as a goat put her neck down to eat the feed, she simultaneously locks herself in and opens the gate for the next goat – who repeats the process.  Unless it’s the small, black goat, who doesn’t like the idea of getting her head locked in a feeding trough, and likes to turn around in a panic and try to push her way back into the pen. Swat her on the bottom with a plastic tube.

14)   Turn on the master vacuum.

15)  Once the first eighteen goats are locked in and eating away, place the first two vacuum cups of the first jug on the first goat and the second two vacuum cups on the fifth goat.  (Cows have four udders; goats have two.)  Repeat in mirror image with the second jug.  To place the cups on the udders, hold the first cup between your thumb and index finger and the second cup between your index finger and middle finger.  Carefully align the first cup with tip of the right udder.   (An improperly placed cup can force the tip of the udder to fold in on itself – a“kinked nipple,” one might say — which blocks the milk.)  Align the second cup with the tip of the second udder.   Appreciate the satisfying “thomp” that accompanies a goat teat being sucked into a pneumatic tube.

The Usual Suspects

16)  The jugs’ compressors switch the vacuum force from one cup to the other with each cup recieving about a second of primary force per suck.  Suck; switch; suck; switch; . . .  Check the clear tubes that emerge from the cups to make sure that milk is coming from each udder.  If there is no milk, grab the udders in both hands and pull the milk down toward the cups.  Be surprised at how clean the udders are. Unless you touch the warm crusty spot between the two udders. That’s different.

17)  Wait for the milking to complete.  This takes approximately 2 minutes per goat.   You can tell when the udders are dry based on their size and whether milk can be seen in the clear tubing.  Each goat produces about three liters of milk per milking.  (The goats are milked twice a day: at around 8 a.m. and at around 7:00 p.m.)

Thomp, Thomp!

18)  Move the hoses from the first goat to the second and from the fifth to the sixth, repeating the process down the line until all of the goats are milked.

Almost there

19)  Wait for the goats to finish eating if they have not already finished.  They’ll cause trouble if you don’t.  Trust me.

20)  Open the door to the outer pen.

21)  Release the master lock on the locking mechanism.  The goats will lift their heads and proceed in a less-than-orderly fashion out the door to the outer pen.  Be ready for the black goat that thinks heaven exists on the other side of the milking station and invariably tries to spring from the herd.

22)  Repeat the process with the second set of goats.  Since there are only 27 milking goats on the farm, the second set includes only nine goats.  Move the jug that was attached to the third valve on the vacuum piping to the second valve.  Attach the cups to every other goat – moving each set of cups toward the middle of the line of goats.

Let me at that cap!

23)  Once the milking is complete, detach the compressor hoses from the valves.

24)  Turn off the master vacuum.

25)  Place the full jugs on the wheelbarrow, and wheel them either to the cheese lab; or back to the milking shed.

26)  If in the milking shed, place three strainers over the opening of the milk vat.  Place a paper filter between the first and second strainer.  Detach the lid and pour the milk in the vat.  Laugh with Jean Claude, knowingly.

27)  If in the cheese lab, place a thin strainer over the large plastic milk container before pouring in the milk.  (Each container holds about 100 liters of milk.)  Wink to the cute girl in the window putting labels on the yogurt containers.

(Or, in this case, herding goats.)

28)  Place the lids of the milk jugs near the washing/sanitary machine and attach the hoses that had been attached to the lids onto the valves of the washing machine.  Remove the washers.

29)  Place the cups (pointed down) into the bin near the washing machine and arrange the tubes in a way so as not to tangle them for next time.   Watch as they tangle.

30)  Scrub the lids with soap, using a pipe cleaner or tooth brush for the valves.  (The washing machine hook up is to wash the inside of the hoses and the cups – not the lid or the jug itself.)

31)  Rinse the lids.

32)  Scrub the inside and outside of the jugs, rinsing at least twice to remove all of the soap.

33)  Place the jugs upside down on the drying rack.

34)  Scrub the floor.

35)  Return the wheelbarrow.

Easy peasy!

I was feeling pretty cocky after drafting this post.  I went to milk the goats with a swagger.  The primary goat tender – Elder – gave me a thumbs up as he checked over my work before turning on the master vacuum.  He gave a puzzled look and cocked his head.  One of the jugs was hissing.  I had forgotten the washer – the very first step after walking to the shed.  Très embarrassing.  I shook my head with disappointment, “Ah, Katrine.”