Milk and Milking

Is Goat Milk Yummy?

    We were initially quite skeptical about being able to enjoy the goat milk for other than cheese and soap.  Any one who buys a jug of expensive goats milk at the grocery store knows how “goaty” and strong flavored that stuff can be, in fact, goats won’t even drink it! (No joke.)  The milk of goats fed good quality feed, not housed with a buck, and served fresh (up to 5 days old even) is very delicious, sweet, and rich. 

Cream, Butter and Ice Cream

Nigerian’s milk is higher in butterfat than any other dairy goat breed, averaging around 6% (Nationally, our average is usually higher) but often much higher.  (Nubians come the closest with a 2002 ADGA average of 4.8%).  For that reason, a good amount of cream will separate on its own, allowing you to make butter or use skimmed milk.  The separation process takes longer than for cows milk and there isn’t as much.  But at least you don’t have to buy a separator unless you really want to.  The milk is quite rich on its own, making those of us who have to have half and half for our coffee quite satisfied!  If used for making homemade ice cream (without adding any additional cream) the end result is fantastic!

Goaty Flavor in Cheese

Now, for those of you who LIKE the goaty flavor of soft goats milk cheese (chevre) from the market, you will have to let your milk (or the cheese) age a bit!  If you make the cheese with the truly fresh milk,you don’t get that “goat” taste.  Some of us like that in the cheese, some don’t.  But at least you have it under your control.  Goats milk contains several acids that develop this “goaty” flavor as they age.  So all truly aged goats milk cheeses (the hard cheeses and aged feta, for example) will acquire this flavor to some degree.  But most appreciate it in a cheese, if not in a glass.

Milking the Nigerian

Production Volume Sacrificed: We wanted to note here that we have made herd management choices that have negatively affected the volume of milk our does produce. BUT these choices have given our milk, and in the end our cheese, greater character and health benefits.  The high activity level, large percentage of browse in the diet and lower grain and alfalfa consumption are all factors that affect volume of milk. )

We are on our fourth  year of DHIA milk testing.  We milk twice a day, once every 12 hours.  We feed organic livestock pellets and wet brewers grain (WBG).   (see herd management page) along with kelp, a loose goat minerals, black oil sunflower seeds, locally grown alfalfa and grass hay and a daily browse walk in good weather.  We have also planted forage trees.

MIlk Testing (DHIA) Glossary:  DIM = Days in MIlk, ME = Mature Equivelant, a projected production amount based on current age and stage of lactation but indicating a future peak production.

Translating a Sample DHIA Record

Age (Yrs.Mo) Days in Milk # Milk # Fat % Fat #  Protein %Protein
4.05 305 820 51 (6.2%) 34 (4/1%)

We often get asked “How much milk will they give?”. This is a difficult question, especially since most folks are thinking in terms of gallons and we think in pounds.  Our top doe milked 950 pounds last year.  That is about 120 gallons.  At some points she milked 1/2 gallon a day, but for the most part it was about 1 1/2 quarts a day.  First fresheners, of any breed, will not milk nearly as much as they will in their 2nd and following years.  Some does will peak early and some will plateau and can be milked for over a year with a production around 3 pounds a day.  Very nice if you get one like that, no need to rebreed!  If you are looking for a milking doe, we highly recommend you look for milking stars (those *D’s and *S’s), official milking records are the most likely way to find good milking stock.  Also remember, this is a relatively new breed which continues to improve in its milk production capabilities.  Also, be sure to look for animals that were milked for the full 305 days during their first lactation.  Most dairymen agree that this helps set the mammary tissue for better lactations for the rest of the does life. 

We from a lot of people who are frustrated about the low production of their Nigerians. Sometimes I think the expectations are too high.  A tiny doe who is giving 2 -4 cups a day is not bad if she is young and small  (this is about 1-2 pounds). Their production will most likely rise with litter size and age (up to a point).  But they need time and the chance.  If you dry them up early, most feel that this shortens their future lactations, so don’t give up! Remember also that most does will peak high at about 45-60 days from freshening.  After that production will decline (usually) and plateau.

Example of Typical Increased Production:  Ha-Cha’s two First Lactation records

age days # milk average #/day translation in cups/day average translation in gallons (total)
1-00 279 480 1.7 3+ cups 57 gal
1-11 281 820 2.9 4 + cups 96 gal

We have a doe right now (2007) that has been milking for 15 months and is still giving 1 quart per day.  I think this is great!  Steady, level production and a “will to milk” most certainly make up for a high volume, short lactation.  So really study the numbers if they are available to you, as well as the numbers for the doe’s female ancestors and siblings.

Factors Affecting Milk Production

  • Age: 1st lactations as yearling = lower production than 1st lactation as 2 year old. Peak year usually 3rd or 4th lactation

  • Number of kids in litter: The more kids, usually the more milk.

  • Doe’s size: Even one inch height difference for a Nigerian will likely cause a difference in milk production- never expect as much from a very small doe.

  • First Lactation Length: Many dairy goat breeders believe that if a first freshener is not milked for a full 10 months, that her future lactations will be shortened.

  • Service Sire of First Fresheners: Some research has shown that the buck a doe is bred to actually influences the amount of mammary tissue that develops since it it the fetus (with that bucks genes) that sends signals to the mammary tissue to form.

Nigerian Productivity Scoring For more information on comparing production to other factors.

A note on teat and udder size.  Some of the does freshen their first time with rather small teats.  If you  milk for at least 3-4 months the teats will increase in size quite a bit.  Over an entire lactation of 10 months, they improve tremendously. It doesn’t matter whether you hand milk or use a machine.  They will get better!  Here are a couple of photos illustrating this change. Also note the changes (not for the better) in the foreudder.  You need to give first freshener’s udders time to change before you judge them.  In reality, you need well into the 2nd lactation to really know the quality in shape and texture.  Likewise, the mammary system will change greatly over time.  If there is no other glaring flaw in your doe, give her a few freshenings to prove herself.  Some changes are for the good, other times, usually with udders that start out too large on first fresheners, the udder will just get too large.  Always there are suprises!

WillaUdderside10-04 WillaUddersideII2-05 AmorUdder AmorRear

Jobi Willa’s udder at freshening. Notice smaller teats and smoother foreudder.

After milking 3 months, teat size has increased by “one finger”, udder texture is softer, foreudder is less blended, udder is more capacious.

My how udders can change!  Above is Jobi Amor’s first freshening udder.  Her 2nd wasn’t much better. Here is Amor’s 3rd freshening udder.  What a change.  She still won’t win any best of breeds, but this is a very respectable mammary for a small doe.

More about Nigerian Milk I have known for a long time the obvious quality of the ND milk in regards to its butterfat and protein content, but that alone does not explain the extremely high yield of cheese in comparison to standard breed goat milk.   So we took advantage of some DNA testing and had our foundation does and herdsires DNA tested for the alpha S1 casein genetics.  They all came back showing that they have the high ability to pass on the production of this casein – which is the highest yielding protein for cheese production.  It is also the protein that people who are truly allergic to cows milk are allergic too!   So it is not necessarily a good thing if you are looking for a goat to milk for fluid milk due to an allergy to cows milk.  Be sure to find out first if you might be sensitive to the ND milk.  You might not be, due to its other unique properties.   But this does explain our almost obscenely high cheese yield.  When I make a hard cheese from 100 pounds of milk I get about 17 pounds of cheese.  After aging, it will shrink to 14 pounds.  Normal cow’s milk yield is 10 pounds per 100 pounds of milk.  10% vs our 17%.  Even if you compensate for the aging, that still means that you need a lot less milk to make the same amount of cheese.  I am so convinced that these little goats are the miracle cheese milk goat!

Hand milking is peaceful, quick, and has an faster clean-up time.  It is also less expensive.  Machine milking is cleaner and potentially faster (as you can milk more than one doe at a time).  For us as a dairy, it is a must.  We can also more easily teach helpers to do the milking using the machine.  Below are some pointers based on our experience using both methods.

Build a PVC Milking Stand : For link, place cursor over “Milk and Milking” on menu above

Hand Milking vs. Machine Milking

Hand Milking

We brush the doe off a bit, pre-milk out a couple of squrits, wash her udder with a sanitizing wipe (made using Fias Co Farm’s homemade recipe) or an another teat wash such as iodine based, then milk. Keeping the doe clipped with a “dairy clip” is a good idea also.  A dairy clip consists of a close clip to the back half of the belly, udder, inner thighs, and tail.  This keeps both long hairs from falling in the pail, as well as not giving dirt a place to cling.

 Each doe’s teats are different and take adapting to.  Some have small ones, others almost too large, but we find once you get used to each doe, you think they are all easily milked. 

After milking out, use a balm if needed, then a teat dip, unless she is going back in with kids.  We cover our milking pails with a modified plastic lid just to keep debris out while finishing up.  Then we get the milk into the house for straining and refrigeration as soon as possible.  The more rapidly milk is chilled, the better the flavor.  We usually put the jars in the freezer for a short time, 30 min to an hour, (often forgetting for longer), then pour into a bigger jug for use.  If you do freeze it, just save it up for cheese making or drinking later. We also set the milk pail in a bucket of ice water to chill it even more rapidly.

The milking pail and strainer should be rinsed with cool water first, then washed in hot soapy water (we use a dairy detergent), then once a week an acid cleaner should be used.

Machine Milking

We use a Coburn Porta-Milker with an electric motor.  It is capable of milking up to 4 does at a time (based on it’s horsepower).  We were lucky and found it “used” (although it was still in the box and had never been opened, but sat for a few years).  We had a not-so-pleasant experience with another popular company, and it’s milking machine.  But that doesn’t mean that you will!  Ask around to see what people are using.  Some of them are incredibly noisy and awkward.  Definitely don’t go for the cheapest, that would be my advice.  Used machines are great and can be rebuilt.  They are pretty basic, really.

For the Nigerian a sheep inflation (the part that goes on the teat) works very well.  Some companies are marketing these as Nigerian inflations, but they are also sold for sheep.  Some dairies use the inflations designed for big does, but they can be very awkward to get into place under the little ladies.

I prefer a set-up with the pulsator (the mechanical device that turns the suction on and off to create a pulse that mimics the sucking of a kid) on the lid of the bucket rather than at the machine.  The problem we had with the kind that has it mounted at the machine was getting milk sucked up into the vacuum tank.  That creates a real mess!

We use the ITP “claws”.  (The claw is the part that sits just below the inflation -the part that you put on the teat.) The ITP claws are very well made and have their own manual and semi-automatic valve.  They allow each inflation to milk independently.  So if you have a doe that empties more on one side, you can remove the other inflation from the teat and let the fuller side milk out.

We have the vacuum pump in the “milk house” (the room that all the milking equipment gets washed in) and have a vacuum hose that runs out to the parlor.  This keeps the noise down a bit in the parlor. 

We milk two does at a time on a four doe stand.  The first and third doe get cleaned and hooked up first, then while they are milking, the 2nd and 4th are prepped.  By the time all four are done milking, they are also done with their grain.  It takes us 30 minutes to milk 20 does this way. Clean up is almost as long!

We milk two at a time using a “T” adaptor to run the two sets of milking lines into the same bucket.  You can buy lids that have two holes, but they don’t fit our older style smaller bucket.

We were lucky and found a smaller stainless pail, an old Surge bucket, that only holds 3 gallons.  We use a very large stainless “sanitary” strainer with a triple filter system.  We like this large strainer (about 140.00 if I remember correctly) because the milk of Nigerians can be so thick that the small strainer or mid-sized took a very long time to filter it, especially in the winter. 

We use a “bucket washer” (it is really a line washer but since they are for bucket milker systems, they got stuck with the name bucket washer) to wash the milking lines.  Using the bucket washer has some distinct advantages, but a disadvantage with cost for the initial set-up.  Whether you use a bucket washer or not, the clean-up is still the same as far as process. 

  1. Rinse:  100 degree water is your goal as this will help rinse out milk without cooking on the fats.

  2. Wash:  Really hot water with an alkaline dairy soap  (we use a non-foaming type, otherwise it bubbles up into your vacuum lines too easily).  While the wash cycle is running, turn the manual valves on your claws on and off to help clean the claws better.

  3. Rinse: Really hot water.

  4. Acid sanitizer:  With hot water. OR use an acid rinse periodically, followed by a hot water rinse.

We don’t pre-sanitize the milk lines, but we do the pail and the strainer.

Pasteurized or Raw?

Pasteurizing is a choice some make.  We don’t pasteurize.  Maybe we are too lazy or maybe we know that beneficial enzymes are destroyed along with the bad, which may not be present.  Cheese makers and cheese connoisseurs swear on unpasteurized milk as do health food advocates.  (Please visit Real Milk for more information on the known benefits of raw milk. Also see The American Cheese Society for more information.) If you choose to pasteurize, there are two methods.  You can find information about them in most dairy goat books as well as on line.


Not many things are as thrilling as watching the liquid milk change before your eyes into curd and then yummy cheese. And it is not as difficult as one might expect.  We highly recommend buying the book “Home Cheesemaking” by Ricki Carroll.   I would get the book first and choose your recipe, then order supplies.  New England Cheese Supply  has everything you will need- including the book. 

When you are ready to take the next step in your cheesemaking, I recommend Margaret P. Morris’s book “The Cheesemaker’s Manual“.  This book will introduce you to pH and acidity as well as some of the other more technical things you will need to know to become a better cheesemaker.  The next book in your course of studies after Margaret’s is “American Farmstead Cheese” by Paul Kindstedt and the Vermont Cheese Council.  This book is the best guide out there for really understanding the process. 

Beyond that, workshops, university short courses, and apprenticeships are your best routes for growth. 

Cheesemaking Classes at Pholia Farm join us for a day of cheesemaking and cheese eating! See the link for details and schedule.


We think every one should have a family milk goat. (Big surprise!)  They are a ton of fun and give so much. The Nigerian is so easy to keep (easier to have more of them in a small space than with the big girls), their milk is fantastic, and they are cute!  You don’t have to rebreed your milk goat every year.  Many can keep milking, at a bit lower production level, for extended periods of time.  AI services are becoming increasingly popular, so no buck is needed when it is time to rebreed her.  Goat keeping is allowed in some city limits, where miniature goats are classified as pets, so even the frustrated suburban homeowner can feel a bit closer to the earth and enjoy quality goat products not possible to buy in a store.