Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Secret.

Posted on | January 14, 2011 | 6 Comments

The milk fridge is full.  And the girls keep right on givin’.  Which is because, unlike a lot of farms, we have some goats who kid in the spring and some that kid in the fall.  So we have sweet, fresh milk even through the dark winter months when a lot of herds are dried off.  We can make cheese.  We can make ice cream. We can make several batches of horrible, foul tasting yogurt and still keep experimenting with it.  But even if I don’t know the secret to making good yogurt, I do know the secrets for keeping goats in sweet, delicious milk.

For Josie, it’s a little room for tap dancing.  Something about the sound of her hooves on the wooden milk stand is music to her ears.  Put the bucket too close to her back feet and I’ll end up with a goat hoof in the milk.  I used to think she was an awful milker because she jumped around the stand.  I spent plenty of days trying to milk with one hand while holding the bucket up and out of the dancing zone with the other.  I tried to hold her back hooves down.  I considered a hobble.  And then one day I just sighed,  put the bucket under her middle, and milked from there.

That’s when I realized she didn’t have any intention of kicking over the bucket.  And she wasn’t trying to protest the milk stand.  She just needed a little room to beat out a tune.  Let her rock out and she will tap away happily as she munches her grain.  Sure, putting the bucket under her abdomen requires a little more aim on my part.  But she doesn’t mind if you maneuver her teats to get them firing in the right direction.  And the sound of her taps, along with the pings of the milk hitting the pail does make an incredibly sweet composition.  What can I say, some girls just gotta shake their booty.  Or their their hoofy.

Julia, on the other hand, requires a little treat to be in the mood for making milk.  Drop a handful of scratch in her grain and she takes position and lets loose.  Her joy at the taste of that corn is so irrepressible that sometimes one squeeze to get her started leaves her milk flowing in a steady stream on its own.  She even wags her tail as if she’s trying to put out a butt fire.  Of course, this all makes her secret sound a bit easier than it actually was.  Originally, I had no idea that Julia needed a little bit of  scratch to feel at ease on the milk stand.

I couldn’t understand why I had to drag her flailing body into the milk room and force her floppy ears into the head gate.  I figured she was afraid of the chickens who get a handful of scratch thrown down in a corner of the milk room each morning to keep them out of the way during milking.  I figured that because, apparently, I am stupid.  And I didn’t learn otherwise until the day Julia busted loose of my death grip on her collar, raced over to the chickens, thrust her head right in between their ruffled feathers and start gobbling up the scratch. “Oh,” I said, which is what stupid people say when they realize the solution to a dilemma has been staring them right in the face for weeks.  Thus began the practice of putting a bit of scratch in Julia’s grain.  And the beginning of her happily putting milk in the pail.

I have to admit that I don’t know Carmen’s secret.  There is something in Carmen’s nature that makes her climb gracefully on the stand, nibble neatly at her grain, and release the sweetest milk on the farm.  She stands there patiently even when the grain runs out.  She stands there even when the head gate isn’t closed.  She allows children who have never even set foot on a farm before to practice their milking skills on her.  She treats the goat sitter with the same calm courtesy as she treats me.  Everyone raves about her delightful temperament and her candied milk.  Perhaps she meditates.  Or channels white light.

She is so calm and her teats so perfect that I usually milk her with one hand while giving Bruno his morning rubs and ear scratches with the other.  Which may be why her milk is infused with extra sweetness.  If you’ve been around a Great Pyrenees getting his morning love and adulation for keeping everyone safe through the night, then you’ll understand that the air is filled with molecules of happiness and joy.  If you don’t have a Great Pyrenees, imagine the feeling you get when Southern Season puts out the chocolate peanut butter truffles for free tasting.  If you don’t have a Southern Season with free chocolate peanut butter truffles, I am so, so sorry.

Brianna, my herd queen, came to me from a family that didn’t know her secret.  I managed to get this champion milker because she was so awful on the milk stand.  And, she really really was.  She would kick so fiercely that she put dents in the milk stand.  If I actually managed to get my hands and bucket under her udder, she would sit on me. Literally sit on me, putting her teats fully into the few miserable drops of milk I managed to squeeze out and squashing my arms against the sides of the pail until I thought my bones would snap.  I talked quietly to her.  I sang to her.  I yelled at her.  I wept.  I called my daddy.  Who promptly informed me that the worst milkers could be tamed by tying a strip of linen around their middle.  This seemed odd, but I pulled an old purple dog towel out of the linen closet, put Brianna on the stand, then put the towel round her abdomen and tied it in a bow on her back.  I sat down to milk.  She laid her ears back.  She twitched her withers. Then she set to eating her grain and I milked her out for the first time since she had kidded.

The purple towel hangs on a hook right next to the feed bags.  We use it every time we milk her.  If we ever forget, Brianna calmly lets us milk her and then, right before the last few drops hit the pail, she kicks the bucket over.  Because as herd queen, it is her duty to keep everyone on their toes.  There is a school of thought that this secret works because the towel tightens whenever the goat (or cow) prepares to kick or fuss.  Since the goat doesn’t like the feeling of tightness around her abdomen, she decides to stand still.  Personally, I think Brianna recognizes that purple is a royal color and she was just awaiting the proper respect to be shown for her position.  But then I probably spend too much time with my goats.  Anyway, long live the Queen.

This spring Magenta will kid for the first time.  Sometimes I wonder what her secret will be.  But if she gets any fatter this winter it might be the need for a ramp just for her to get up on the milk stand.  Meh.


6 Responses to “The Secret.”

  1. Terry Golson
    January 14th, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    Love, love, love your writing, but please, will you post a photo of Brianna wearing her royal towel? Thank you. All animals have secrets. My bunny, Candy’s secret is that she will do anything for dried (not ever fresh, don’t even think about it) banana.

  2. L. Treat
    January 15th, 2011 @ 9:00 am

    I also enjoy, enjoy, enjoy and love your writing. Beautiful gift!! The only thing that would be better is if you had a milk cow to write about. No cows in your future?

  3. KiM
    January 15th, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    I’ve always wanted milk goats. I just can’t get past the taste of wet goat in the milk or cheese. I just figure I can make it and let others enjoy it!!!!

  4. Lisa D.
    January 15th, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    I wonder if the towel might work on children who need medicine or a shot? I need some child secrets –

  5. Duane Keys
    January 16th, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    I don’t think you can spend too much time with goats. 🙂

  6. katherine
    January 19th, 2011 @ 2:46 am

    Oh, you KNOW I am jealous of that milk picture! Our Dexter finally calved and I’m teaching her to be a milker. We’ve had some kicking issues. And I contemplated the linen trick but I think we’ve come to an …. underSTANDing. ha ha. We are milk sharing and only getting a half gallon. But the Jersey should calf any day. Until then, I’ll just stare at your milk and sigh.
    Cheers, K

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