Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Milk the Pygmy Goat?

Why Milk the Pygmy Goat?
Maxine Kinne

Jennifer gave 1/2 gal/day (4.4#)
at the peak of her lactation, and earned a 1984 production award
In the early 1980s, my dairy goat friends talked me into milking my Pygmies. I also wanted to help establish quantity and quality standards for Pygmies. Once we tasted their delicious milk - it tastes just like milk, only better - we were hooked. I also found the milking routine soothing and even hypnotic.

I bought a milking stanchion that was a too small for a friend's dairy goats, then I needed a doe in milk. Janny was a 2-year-old whose twins had just sold, and we learned the milking routine together. A does that has nursed her kids doesn't want her udder messed with by anyone. However, if you handle the udder from a young age and develop a close bond with the doe, she may be more forgiving than Janny or Jennifer were the first year I milked them.

The best way to start milking is to take the kids as they are born and remove them from the doe's presence entirely. You milk her just after kidding, so she accepts you as her kid. You've got bottle babies to raise, but that creates a special bond, as you replace their natural mother.
Excess colostrum beyond the kids' requirements can be frozen for future use. Colostrum from older does is higher in antibodies than from young does because older does have been exposed to more diseases.
As a child, my husband tasted some goat milk gone bad and was unimpressed with my venture. I didn't give him a chance to turn it down. Since his first taste, he has been a staunch proponent of the delicate taste and rich quality of Pygmy goat milk. The milk is very rich and sweet due to its high butterfat content.
Milking was a great skill to add to my repertoire. It is excellent relaxation therapy that helps you develop an extra special bond of love and trust with milking does. Getting to the barn to milk twice daily enhances your management - you notice details and tend to keep up with things a little better.
It is very gratifying to produce a high-quality product. I once entered my Pygmy milk in a dairy goat club milk products contest and won first place in the fluid milk division. My prize, appropriately enough, was miniature tin of Bag Balm.
For two years I was on DHI test (Dairy Herd Improvement) to help establish some official records for pygmies. DHI testing shows that pygmies are useful in the milk parlor in addition to their other qualities.
DHI expects goats and cows to milk for a 305-day (10-month) lactation, although their records may be shorter if the animal is dried off for any reason. Official records do not extend beyond 305 days, but extra production is credited toward lifetime production. An impartial tester weighs and takes a sample of each doe's milk, then sends it to a lab for several tests, such as solid non-fat protein percentage, fat content and a California Mastitis Test result. Other optional tests are available. Each month the owner receives a new DHIA report and paperwork for the next test.
Of the DHI options available, SCC is a very useful indicator of udder health, milk quality and sanitation. Management, in other words. Somatic cells are leukocytes (white blood cells), and a beyond certain number in the milk signals mastitis. The two different types of SCC counters (Coulter and Fossomatic) give quite different results because the Fossomatic mistakenly counts extra-cellular debris as leukocytes.
To be on DHI, I had to join an association that recognizes production testing for Pygmies. I double-registered the milkers and the sires of the offspring with AGS. Perhaps NPGA will one day have a testing program.
Pygmy milk and fat quantity requirements are one-third of the dairy goat standards. To earn a milking award, a Pygmy under two years old must produce 500# of milk or close to 18# of butterfat. The requirement rises slightly each year until it peaks at 5 years old: 582# of milk or 20# of fat.
Both does I tested the first year earned star milking awards. Dolly, a first freshener gave an average of just over 2 gallons of milk per week for ten months. She also produced 50# of fat in that lactation, which is more than two-and-a-half times that expected of a mature doe. Jennifer did respectably well as a second freshener, giving an average of 1.8 gallons a week.
A general rule of thumb is that an average Pygmy doe should give about ½ gallon per day at the peak of her lactation. A gallon of average fat milk weighs 8.6#, but Pygmy milk weighs 8 lbs. because fat is lighter.
For a steady supply of milk throughout the year, two does can be bred at different times. Many people, though, prefer to have two months off during the does' dry period before their next kidding.
When a doe freshens (comes into milk at kidding), she doesn't produce as much as she will later because her kids don't  need much yet. Production increases for two months or so and slowly declines. This lactation curve matches kid growth and decreasing reliance on milk. Kids are nutritionally self-sufficient at about 10 weeks old. In other words, most does produce milk at the rate the kids need it. Lactations persistence means that a good milker's production stays at its peak for a long time.
Milking takes dedication. It is very important to milk twice daily at 12-hour intervals to maintain production. When milk is in the udder for 18 hours, the milk producing cells (alveoli) begin to shut down due to pressure. Once this production is lost in a lactation, it cannot be regained. As we all know, goats definitely like their routine, so regular milking times keep them happy.
Man can be infected with a few diseases passed in the milk of infected animals. Tests are available to identify disease carriers. Chances are that if a doe had any of them, you wouldn't want her on your farm, much less to drink her milk. Diseases most often mentioned as zoonoses are brucellosis, tuberculosis and Q-fever, though there are others. They are uncommon, but you should be aware of them.
Anything you put into your milker via injection or orally (eating, drinking, drenching) will come out in her milk. Each drug approved for use in goats has a withholding time on the label. Your veterinarian can advise you about these and extra-label drugs. Withholding means throwing out the milk of treated does (and observing slaughter times) for a certain number of days, weeks or months following drug use. Such milk may usually be frozen and for the next batch of kids.
It is doubtful that you will milk enough Pygmy does to have excess for sale. Laws regarding fluid milk sales vary by state. In some states it is illegal to sell raw (unpasteurized) milk for human consumption without a Grade A dairy license. Legal liabilities extend to raw milk sales or sometimes even in serving it in your own home. Mishaps involving contaminated raw milk make the news from time to time, and those cases emphasize this point. You are legally liable if your goat milk is contaminated and makes anyone sick. Most states heavily regulate the sale of milk, with sale defined as "dispensing, giving, delivery, serving or any other supplying..." Look into your state laws before serving raw milk.
There are many good reasons to milk a Pygmy goat or two. It is very enjoyable. After putting so much time, effort and care into your goats, they have few opportunities as unique as this to give you in return.
Related Reading
Equipment for Milking the Pygmy Doe
Pygmy Goat Milk Quality
Good Milking Procedures

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