I am a huge fan of our current milking routine and am trying to figure out how to replicate it in the future. There are a few different factors that have led to our more laid back routine. The one big change we made this year was to not separate the kids from their dams at night. As a result we get less milk, but we still got enough to meet our needs. We have one doe, Zuri who we milked through the year, so she has been in milk for a year and a half and has not had kids on her since last summer. She has been our steady producer, giving us about seven cups of milk in the morning while keeping in good condition herself. Her yield is nothing impressive, but it has held steady since mid winter, and I am content with the quality of her milk as well as her body condition. I have also been milking Zinnia who has had just one doeling nursing off one side of her udder all summer. So every morning I milk off her full side and get around six cups of milk from her. Xanadu also had one doeling nursing off her, and there was usually at least a few cups of milk in her udder if not more. Now, this wouldn't work obviously as well if the doe had multiple kids. There is a good chance you'd get out there and find your doe dry no matter how early you got out to milk. In some ways I just got lucky. However, a friend of mine discovered a medical tape that works to tape up a doe's teats and the kids don't usually succeed in getting it off. I tend to just refer to it as teat tape. The tape that seems to work the best is called Micropore 3M. They sell it in town at our medical supply store by the roll or by the case. I apply it to the doe's clean teat after milking, one three inch strip vertically covering the orifice and then a slightly longer strip starting just under the teat and spiraling upwards. The size up tape strip depends somewhat on the size of teats. In the morning before milking you can roll the tape down with a repetitive down motion with your hands, or a damp clean rag works as well. You will need to play around with the amount of time the tape is on the does teats ( twelve hours or less) -depending on the doe's production as the tape can get uncomfortably tight and the udder too full.
Taping teats allows for a few things, first and foremost; almost guaranteed milk in the morning. Occasionally an overzealous kid manages to get it off, mostly if it wasn't on properly. After you've got the hang of it though they usually don't get it off. Taping teats also allows the dame to continue to spend the night with her kid and you don't have to have a separate pen for kids. As a side consequence of this, sometime the kids are less skittish of us as they don't equate my presence in their pen at night as an ominous foreboding of a night in captivity without their dam; they don't run from me - and I don't have to ever chase or catch them.
Right now I can milk Xanadu in the morning, let her spend the day with her three month old doeling who can nurse as she pleases. Then if I want to I can put Xanadu on the stand in the evening, by then her udder is usually mostly empty, and I an put tape on her teats if I want more milk in the morning. Or I can just let things slide, just toss hay in the evening, leave them together and still get a few cups of milk in the morning.
Zinnia recently left for her new home so I'm down to milking Zuri and Xanadu. Ideally I'd start taping teats nightly now, but realistically I'll probably wait until after harvest when I have more time for cheese making. When I do start taping her teats I'll have to get down to the milk room earlier than I have been.
In the future my plan is to keep about four to five does but only breed two a year. I always want to milk one or two does through the year without re-breeding so that I have a couple does in milk without kids nursing off them. By fall when I have more time for cheese-making and when the kids are old enough, I can start taping the teats of the spring freshened does and get milk from them without having to separate or "wean" the kids. Eventually they just wean themselves if I'm consistent in applying teat tape both in the morning and evening.
This is our first summer not feeling rushed to get down to the barn. In the past there have been super full udders and a pen full of kids crying every morning. This is also my first year in a few years of not doing milk shares, not having to have a certain quantity of milk that I am committed to providing for other people. I am not trying to get maximum yields off my does. It would make sense in terms of money; I already own the doe, I'm feeding the doe, might as well milk her morning and night and get as much milk as possible. This is one way to look at it. However, I feel good knowing that the kids are getting all the milk they want, which should help them grow bigger faster. And I currently don't have the time and energy for milking twice a day, or even putting Xan on the stand at night to tape her teats even though it just takes a minute.
When I look back at the last five years and see everything I was doing while my kid's were infants. toddlers etc. I feel like a haze has lifted and I'm seeing more clearly. I can still have fresh milk to meet our needs without milking multiple goats, without milking twice a day and without separating kids. If I were recommending a plan to someone who is just getting into dairy goats for their own personal consumption. I'd recommend two well behaved milkers. Depending on how they produce you might milk them both through a year and re-breed one in the fall and milk the second one through another year. Or breed one in October and the other in January. You dry off your October doe in January a couple months before she kids. Then the January doe you milk until March. By then you have a doe about due or freshened already. And you can start sneaking a couple cups here and there to balance out her udder. After a few weeks you can put her one the stand and milk her out as chances are the kid's aren't draining her yet even though they are together constantly. When you need more milk than the kid's are leaving you, start taping her teats at night so you can have all her milk in the a.m. As the years go on you can just breed one doe each year and that way you always have milk. This will lower your overall feed bill as you won't be feeding and raising as many kids as if you re- breed both does every year, and you will have less kids to deal with and find homes for, because it is not always as easy as it should be to sell kids and it is a hassle. If you can keep yourself to two does in the winter, you will find that their milk pays for their feed bill - and that is what we want.
Weathering the drought
2 weeks ago