Milking Problems and Problem Milkers
Phyllis Vallette, missionary in Djibo, Burkina Faso, wrote me: "At our semi-desert latitude, the Africans manage their cattle and goats with absolutely no barns, and very limited use of pens. The Fulanis here do make a calf-pen, which they use at milking time—they corral the calves, then a child is posted to let them out one at a time on call. The calf starts to nurse, then the milker-woman takes it off the udder and ties its neck to the cow's front leg (both an anchor and a distraction to keep her occupied). She squats, no stool, and milks into a wooden bowl, then lets the calf free to finish off—and calls for the next calf. If a cow is likely to gouge, a second person holds the head with a long stick and loop around the horns. Goats are milked by taking a hind leg and tucking it into the crook of your knee as you squat! The Fulanis keep the kids around the house and yard all day while the adults are sent off to the bush (without a goatherd, usually) to browse. They cut small branches of leaves to bring to the kids as necessary. About 5 pm the goats return, and the air is filled with the high and low bleats of the kids and goats as they reunite. The Mauritani-ans keep all the kids and goats together, but they fashion a little bag for the udder and tie it over the back when they want to limit the kids' nursing!"
- Barnkeeping. Milking stimulates contractions of other
760 parts. Be prepared when your cow spreads her legs and
Changing a Milking Schedule: If you bought a cow that is used to being milked at 6 am and you sleep until 9 am, that's okay. Milk her 15 minutes to a half hour later each morning and evening until you get her on the schedule you want to keep. That way you minimize the drying-up tendency And give her lots of grain in the meantime to help keep up the milk production. Milk Production Factors: Lots of things can affect her milk production. If she is standing out in a cold rain with no shelter, not only might she get pneumonia but her milk production will go down. Goats must have shelter available. If she isn't getting a variety of good food—ample brushy range and a little grain supplement in summer; hay, grain, and vegetables in winter—her milk production will go down. She's a wonderful conversion machine. Grass goes in one end and meat, milk, and garden manure come out at various other points, but if you don't supply her with adequate raw materials, she can't do her thing.
The biggest effect on her production is reliable, by-the-clock milking. Her ability to give milk is a long-term investment, and if you skip a milking she starts to dry up—to say nothing of her suffering and pain. If you don't milk her regularly, or if you don't milk her completely dry each milking, you trigger partial drying up. Nature makes automatic adjustments for the "baby's" demands. If you milk your cow completely dry regularly (twice a day), Nature says to that udder that her baby is growing and hungry—he's eating all you have and wants more, so keep making that much, and more if you can. So she produces as much milk as she possibly can. On the other hand, if milk is left in the udder, Nature says to her the baby is eating other food and isn't so hungry now: make less milk. So the next day she produces less milk.
Teat and Udder Size. The speed with which you can milk a goat is—other factors being equal (her state of mind and the quantity of milk)—probably directly proportionate to the size, both length and width, of her teat. It takes a long time to milk a yearling or a goat that hasn't been hand-milked before because her teats aren't enlarged. A good family milker isn't a natural thing. Her udder is abnormally large to cope with saving all that milk for 12 hours when nature meant her to feed her calf or kid much more frequently. Her teats are long and large from hours of being pulled on during hand-milking. So when you see a goat with a big udder and big long teats, she'll probably be a good family milk goat. One reason she's so expensive is because she didn't get like that overnight. Extra Teats. A 3-teated goat—with 1 normal side and the other with 2 nipples instead of 1—isn't uncommon. Nor is a 4-teater with 2 nipples on each side. You can use them just for brood goats. That means you let them rear kids and don't try to milk them, or you can try to make them into a family milk goat anyway. The third nipple may or may not release milk. If it does, you may have to develop a special way of milking that double-teat to compensate for the problem of 2 nozzles. I had one that I milked from behind, between her legs, because somehow when I grabbed her from that angle I had more luck getting both squirts in the bucket. I wouldn't use the son of such a goat for a breeding billy for fear the trait could be passed on through him. Nervous Milkers. Nerves can really affect the amount of milk she gives you. You may get some, but not as much as you'd expect. Feel her udder. You can tell if it's still round and not slack as it should be when emptied. Try milking into food-grade plastic because it is less noisy. Keep everything routine and keep children and strangers away from her, especially at milking time. If other animals are harassing her, isolate her. Speak softly to her, if at all, and be patient. An animal gives milk when a brain signal results in the release of the hormone oxytocin into their system. (Same as humans.)
How to Turn On a Reluctant Milker. Sharon Koskela, Troy, MT, wrote me: "Did you ever have a problem cow that no matter what you do, she just won't let her milk down? We have to inject her with oxytocin every milking—that means no breeding back until she's off that. We've tried milking 4 times a day, bag balm, and hot packs, massage, etc., all to no avail. Just wonder if you've any suggestions. Sure could use some!!!"
A cow that gets a shot of oxytocin to turn her on is going to be less likely to have a normal let-down because the injection has become the let-down stimulus instead of the normal routine of udder washing, gentle massage, and squeezing (sucking). The oxytocin should never have been started.
So how do you turn on a goat or cow that doesn't want to be milked? The answer is: You seduce her. Do a good job with your warm water and cloth washing of her udder and teats. The combination of warmth, wetness, and manipulation (like the baby that would naturally push on her udder) goes a long way toward overcoming hostility and nervousness. If that didn't work—you're still squeezing and nothing is coming out and you're afraid she's going to dry up—I know an absolutely surefire way to get her to relax and let that milk down. Maybe she's upset because she's new in your family, or has just been separated from an old buddy, or because you just knocked her kids in the head and she heard them cry out.
Just take the teat in your own mouth and suck a little. She can't resist that—it's too real. Nature will get her and the milk will come. Once the bag contraction is started, you'll have no need to resort to that again. If you'd rather find some more artificial technique, use a syringe from a snakebite kit, and it will have somewhat the same effect. So as soon as you taste the milk coming or can tell it's started, just go ahead and finish the regular way.
But some cows never get easy to milk. You have to squeeze hard and work hard for each stream of milk instead of having a good let-down contraction helping you. She's called a "hard milker" and should be sold off or eaten up and replaced.
Switching a Goat with an Older Kid to Hand-Milking. If somebody sells you a doe with a kid 6 weeks old and keeps the kid, you are going to have a very hard time switching her over to hand-milking. It's much better to plan ahead and do it all one way or the other. The doe with kid at side probably gets milked out a minimum of 8 times a day. By the time the kid is 6 weeks old she is producing a lot of milk, but she never has very much in her udder at any one time. Her teats are short and small because that works fine for the kid. He sucks it out instead of manipulating it out
Possible Reasons for Off-Flavors in Milk
1. Did you use something other than seamless stainless steel, food-grade plastic, or glass to milk into, strain into, or store milk in?
2. Was there exposure to sunlight or fluorescent light? That causes oxidation and off-flavor.
3. Is the drinking water for your milker extra high in iron or copper?
4. Did you add warm milk to chilled milk or let chilled milk turn warm?
5. Is it late in your milker's lactation?
6. Did you feed onions, garlic, cabbage, turnip, or other strong-flavored vegetables or silage closer than 7 hours to milking time? Most of those foods work fine to feed if given right after a milking. But don't ever feed onions or garlic!
7. Are there other strong-tasting weeds in your animal's pasture that she's eating?
8. Did the doe smell strong odors within the few hours before milking, such as from a buck? Or was the buck near the milk?
9. Are you milking in a dirty, manure-filled, ammonia-reeking barn? (The milking place is best separated from more fragrant parts of your barn by doors.)
10. Did any manure, dirt, or hair get into the milk? (It helps to brush your milker before you milk.)
11. Did you wash your hands and her udder and teats, then dry them, before you started milking?
12. Are you smoking around the milk?
13. Do you daily wash milk containers with homemade soap, then rinse with boiling water? Do you boil your straining cheesecloths in water with a little lye before reusing, or else dry them at high heat in a dryer?
14. Are you getting your milk cooled to 40°F or less within an hour after milking and then keeping it cool?
15. Did you serve the milk within 24 hours?
16. Is there something wrong with your milker's health?
the way we have to. If you try suddenly to milk her every 12 hours, she's almost certain to abscess on you or at least be terribly sore and miserable. Her udder isn't used to holding all that milk that long. By the time you're ready to milk, she'll be so tight and sore her teats will be hard as rock, and she'll jump and tremble every time you touch her. By the time you've tried to milk out a half gallon, 10 cc at a time, she'll be bruised—and have a very bad attitude. If it has to be done, phase her over gradually by milking rather frequently at first and then making it less and less often all the time. It's a good idea to plan on milking 1 or 2 new nans every year, along with the rest of your herd. It takes about 6 months to get them well broken in. Then let them conceive and kid again, and you'll have a good milk goat. Yearling Milkers. Dynah Geissal says: "Some does start off slowly, and for the health of the [not yet full-grown] goat, I think this may be best. A yearling milker may give only V2 gal. and 3A gal. a year later. That's O.K. She'll come around later. The best doe I've ever had produced a stillborn kid her first pregnancy. I tried milking her, but her teats were half the size of my little finger and her milk supply was meager. I kept her because her mother had been a fantastic milker and this doeling had excellent conformation. Her second pregnancy produced live kids and a decent supply of milk. Also her teats had grown to small but manageable size. Her third lactation was excellent and her fourth incredible. She's eleven now, only producing one (healthy) kid a year, but producing milk in excellent quantities for 10 months a year. From ages 4 through 8 her production was phenomenal. You can coax a young goat into producing huge quantities of milk by feeding lots of grain, but it makes no sense financially and is probably harmful to her health." Training an Inexperienced Milker. It helps if, even before the first birthing, you teach the animal to enter the stanchion to get a treat in her manger and then shut her in there and handle her for a bit. Put her through the grooming and udder-washing routine. Gently touch her udder and teats enough to help her get used to the idea of it. Goats soon learn to jump up on the milking stand. All animals learn to put their heads through the stanchion opening without a struggle. Once their bags are filling with milk they learn that going to the stanchion spells R-E-L-I-E-F from the pressure plus a food treat—and so meet you there happily. How to Dry Her Up. Usually your milker will gradually dry herself up, but some generous animals will go on and on until you make them stop. If you want annual kidding, then you dry her up after 10 months of milking. But you don't have to. You could continue milking her until she dries herself up. My friend Imogene has milked goats as long as 3 years without a new freshening (kidding). (So she only needed to get them bred every 2 or 3 years.) But if you do choose to dry her up . . .
NOTE: It's important to dry up your animal gradually and correctly to avoid udder damage and unnecessary suffering for her. (As somebody who nursed 7 babies and stopped dead out of several nursings due to ignorance and reasons beyond my control, I have personal experience and strong feelings about this!)
The way you dry up an animal is to stop milking her all the way out. For her to stop producing milk, you have to leave enough milk in there that there's some pressure. Heavy milkers are harder to dry up. The secret is to allow enough pressure to slow her up more and more without causing so much that she is in pain and her udder bruised, even infected. You (1) stop feeding grain or rich supplements. (2) Temporarily reduce water drinking (don't eliminate it completely!). (3) Don't take all the milk as you milk twice a day. Then (4) milk less and less often, dropping to a once-a-day milking for a week, then to every other day, then to every few days, then once more after a week, and that should do it. (5) Watch her carefully for signs of mastitis; this is a high-risk time for that. NOTE: If you want to give a worming or a lice treatment, her dry time, when there's no risk of poisons getting into the milk, is the best time to do it.
To dry up a cow, if she is milking more than 2lfi qt. per milking, start gradually taking less about 3 months before her due date for calving. Time it so that you stop milking completely by 8 or even just 6 weeks before she is due to calve. Culling. I used to be more forgiving, but Dynah Geissal says: "Don't even consider keeping a kid from any but your best does. It is vital to cull ruthlessly and to not be sentimental. Be sure to check for extra teats on any kid you are considering keeping. I wouldn't keep any mature doe (or her kid) who didn't provide at least lh gal. milk per milking throughout spring and early summer. Near breeding season, production will drop, but there should be a reasonable amount, gradually tapering to about a quart 2 months before kidding."
Coping with Bad Attitudes and Bad Habits:
If your cow or goat puts her manure-caked foot right in the middle of your milk bucket just as you are finishing milking her, don't kill her. You aren't the first one it ever happened to.
Kicking. You might think the front end is so far away it couldn't know what the hind end is doing, but a mad cow can kick with hind foot forward, to the side, or back, and she can put that foot right where she aims it; it can really hurt. Some of them really make a habit of it. In that case you'll have to develop a defense. If she does succeed, just consign any contaminated portion of the milk to the animals and try again. A big, tall flat-bottom bucket is more stable, and it's harder for them to get a foot into it. Bodily Restraint. If she kicks or is otherwise hard to control, you'll have to milk in a stanchion for sure. In the case of a goat you can hold 1 foot while you're milking with the other hand. For a cow, use hobbles on the hind legs of any animal that kicks the bucket or dances around. There are various styles of them. Lane Morgan says, "Another thing we've done with a kicky cow is to have one person hold her tail up while the other one milks. You have to grab it right at the base or you risk injuring the tail. Cows Can't kick with their tails held straight up—I don't know why but it's true! After a few days—with luck and kindness—the cow calms down and forgets about kicking."
Some goats kneel on their front feet when you try to milk them. Some have the habit of trying to lie down completely. In the former case you can learn to milk her on her knees. In the latter, you can either rig up a body sling or make hamburger out of her. Part of breaking her of any bad habit is to refuse to stop milking—even if you have to milk on the ground. Then she may give up resistance as ineffectual. Tails of Woe. One thing that a cow can do to you that a goat can't is switch you right in the eye with a manure-caked tail. If she's got that habit just include her tail in the hobble or get it under your arm and keep it there for the duration. In October you can trim it as short as possible for the winter but let it grow out again by summer to help her defend herself against the flies.
Self-Suckers. Goats are limber enough to do this, and if they get started self-sucking it can turn into a dreadful habit. The cure, unless you sell her or make hamburger, is an "Elizabethan collar" or "side-stick harness." Either one prevents her neck from turning. The collar is just a firm wide collar of metal or wood and wire. The harness is a halter plus a chest strap connected by a wooden stick between her front legs stretching from the chin loop on her halter to a connection located on the belly-side of her chest strap. Some cows can self-suck too. In their case there's an anti-sucking nose ring you can order from Nasco (livestock supplies).
NOTE: Stop drinking the milk until you get the animal cured. Throw it away. But be careful where you throw it, because it is full of infection. Remember to wash your hands very thoroughly after you milk a mastitis-infected animal, and before you milk another animal, or you can spread the mastitis germs to every animal in your herd.
Cause. Mastitis is an infection of the tender udder tissue by bacteria that have entered through the cow's teat hole or through a cut on the udder. Mastitis is not due to any particular bug—at least 20 different organisms can cause it. Under normal conditions the cow has enough resistance to these microscopic bugs that are all around her to always avoid infection. Unfortunately it's common in both goats and cows. Mastitis is not just a threat to the animal's milk-producing capacity (any lactating female can get it, women also), which is threat enough. I've seen animals near death because it went into a general systemic blood poisoning.
Prevention. Prevention is the best management for mastitis. Best prevention is regular milking. Mastitis is more common in machine-milked animals than hand-milked ones, and more common among animals pushed to their absolute production limit. But sometimes it happens for no apparent reason. An overfull udder bruised from the outside or the internal bruising caused by her not getting milked out when she needs to be, makes her more susceptible. Dynah Geissal says feeding apple cider vinegar in their grain also helps prevent it. Woody Bernard says, "Not likely." Mastitis Symptoms
1. Check the udder for tumors or abscesses. If there are tumors, you can feel them as large, very hard areas. Goats frequently have benign tumors that don't seem to do any harm. However, an abscess is a red, tender swelling of the entire side.
2. But usually mastitis first shows up as flaky, lumpy, or ropy milk. At least once a week examine her milk closely. A strip cup is designed to check the first few squirts of milk from each teat. Or you can just squirt onto a cloth so you can examine the milk closely.
3. The infected quarter of a cow's udder, or half of a goat's, will feel warmer than usual from the fever in it and be harder than usual.
4. It will seem hard to milk out and you won't get as much milk as usual. As the mastitis worsens, the milk will become thicker and thicker until it is a struggle to squeeze it out, and it comes out like toothpaste out of a tube.
5. As mastitis worsens the fluid will turn from milk's pure white to a yellowish color, which reveals pus in it—or brownish or pinkish, which is blood in it.
6. A part of the udder that has had mastitis before will be especially susceptible to it again.
7. Mastitis can also happen in dry (nonmilking) animals, so if you have a sick female see what you can squeeze out of each teat even if you expect her to be plumb dry.
Early Diagnosis. As you milk, morning and night, be alert for mastitis symptoms. If you can't prevent it you can at least catch it early. Mastitis will happen only one quarter at a time
(a cow's udder has 4 separate quarters, each with its own faucet-teat). If you can catch it while it is confined to one quarter you can prevent it spreading to the others. Cure. Mastitis is very hard to cure even using antibiotics, which are about the only hope you have. For a suspected case, the vet can test a milk sample. Daily shots of antibiotic give me the best results. Check with your vet by telephone for the kind and amount. Knock out the infection as quickly as possible before the animal's current and future milk production is jeopardized. Get on it the day you detect or suspect mastitis, and stay on it until it's gone. Your animal will more than likely have dried herself up a lot before it's over though. Rich feed may help bring her back if she's recently fresh. If she is severely abscessed, you'll have to dry her up, and she'll have a tendency to abscess again next time around. Dynah Geissal says she won't keep a goat who has it twice.
NOTE: Mastitis can spread from one dairy milker to another. Always milk mastitic animals last. Don't throw their milk away where other milkers might contact it—onto the floor or bedding in the barn. Always disinfect your hands after milking a mastitic animal. Don't give that milk to people or baby animals. dairy Vetting: Mastitis is the biggie, but here are other possible problems, too. Here they're listed in alphabetical order.
Bang's. This is a disease. Cows that carry it don't show it. But their babies are born dead, and you and your children can catch a human form of Bang's called undulant fever, which is a very grim disease. A friend of mine in the dairy business nursed one of her daughters through it. To prevent Bang's, give your heifers shots at 4-8 months to vaccinate them. Blood in the Milk. Dynah Geissal says, "May be caused by mastitis, a cut teat, chapped teats, rough milking, or the udder being too full causing small blood vessels to break." Cuts. Bag Balm is a wonderful product that heals cuts or chapped skin on man or beast quickly. Just rub it into the problem area several times a day.
Chapped Udder. Rub Bag Balm on her after milking. Cut Teat Cuts occur often on the teats. Clean the cut. Don't break your milking schedule—even if it takes a long time to milk that cut teat, and the cow suffers, and you agonize in sympathy. She'd suffer more if the milk built up, swelling in that teat under the cut and abscessing above it. You may have to hobble her to keep her from kicking if it hurts. Milk Fever. This is a disease of pregnant or just-delivered animals. A goat with milk fever, according to Dynah Geissal, "lies down with her head turned back against her side. Other symptoms are muscle tremors, walking unsteadily, and subnormal temperature. The disease is prevented by a good daily mineral mix to maintain a proper calcium/phosphorus balance. The disease is hypocalcemia. The cure is to inject calcium gluconate and works almost miraculously."
Tuberculosis. Nowadays this isn't a very common dairy disease because of the long vigilance practiced by dairymen. But it's still smart to have your dairy goats and dairy cows checked for TB by a vet because the animals can get it from coming into contact with an infected wild animal. It's worth the money to be sure the milk is safe. But, according to statistics, you're far more likely to get TB from living in crowded quarters in the inner city than from a dairy animal.
Continue reading here: Milk Types
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