Sunday, April 7, 2013

Milking Machine

Ha Ha, no, not me.  Though I was pretty good back in the day.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong when milking by hand, especially when you have an old nanny goat that has piss-poor milk stand manners like I do.  I could go into a lot of detail, but let's suffice it to say that everything must be kept very clean to maintain the bacterial balance in raw milk.  I'll talk about this in detail another time, but the two important factors are cleanliness (contamination prevention) and getting the milk chilled quickly.

First, Bree has very small teats.  When I milk her by hand, the milk gets all over my hands.  Second, she saves up an enormous amount of poop to deposit on the milk stand.  I think it's her way of saying she doesn't like me yet.  Finally, the second she's finished her alfalfa pellets, and sometimes before then, she starts dancing around and leaning on me.

Let's dissect that last paragraph for a moment...
Yes, I wash my hands; but then I touch the stall door, and the goat, and the feed bin, and the... you get the idea.  Yes, goats have been known to poop into the milk pail.  Rotten bastards!  (I promise that you will never be offered that milk from me.)  Bree's dancing around rubs off skin follicles and loose hair... into the milk pail.

I think the milk pail is a cosmic magnet which attracts all sorts of icky-ness from the universe.

So how do we avoid all this?  Simple.  The Henry Milker pulls a vacuum and sucks the milk right out of your goat.  No muss, no fuss.  No dirty milk pail.  For only $194.97 YOU can own the Henry Milker.  But WAIT, there's MORE!  We'll throw in shipping for only $19.95 extra.

PA-LEASE!  For all you goat owners out there, build one yourself for less than $50.

This thing works slick.  The milk is never exposed to a contaminated environment, it never touches my hands, it never gets pooped in, and never gets filled with hairballs.  It is significantly faster than milking by hand too.

To make one of these, start with a glass canister.  I'm using a one-quart canning jar.  The lid has to make a seal on the jar, so make sure you have a jar with a sealing lid.  Use your imagination, there are a lot of products that come in this kind of container.  Give that old container a new long life.
Cost:  -0-

Next, you'll need a vacuum pump.  They are sold at Harbor Freight Tools, and most auto parts stores.  If the kid behind the counter seems clueless, tell him you need the thing used to bleed brake lines.  Depending on where you go, the cost ranges from $30-50.

Next, you need some clear tubing.  Get the same diameter as fits on your vacuum pump.  You can pick
this up at Ace Hardware.
Cost:  $3.00

UPDATE:  Improved lid instructions!
Details at the bottom...

Finally, you need a catheter style syringe.  A regular syringe will give you a headache, get the catheter style with a long nipple.  Most feed stores will have these, as will any medical supply.  While you're at it grab a few extras.  These make inexpensive drenching guns.  The size you need will depend on the size of your goat's teats.  Bree uses a 35cc syringe.  60cc syringes are the size I use to give oral medications and wormers.  Use your best judgement, and grab several sizes.
Cost:  $2.50 each

Time to build.  You will need two holes in the top of your lid.  One to pull the vacuum, and one to draw the milk.  The trickiest part of this project is getting a good seal on these two holes in the lid.  The vacuum pump I purchased came with a lot of plastic and rubber connector parts.  I was able to use these.  You may need to get creative, but you will need something made of rubber to fit snugly between the clear tubing and the hole in the lid.  See my updated post.

Once you have two tubing lines sealed through the lid, this project is basically done.  Connect one line to the syringe, this goes on the teat.  Connect the other line to the vacuum pump.

I don't run this pump past 10.  I want to say PSI, but I believe vacuum is measured in either inches or millimeters of mercury.

Now for those of you with food handler cards, this will be familiar.  Wash with hot soapy water, rinse, dunk in bleach water (1 tbsp in a gallon of water), then air dry.  Just because the goat can't poop in this thing doesn't mean you can get away without performing proper contamination prevention tasks.

A few more suggestions:

  • Give your goat's udder a buzz cut.  Grab an inexpensive set of hair clippers from Fred Meyer or Walmart or whatever your favorite department store is, and buzz her udder.  Do Not spend $250 for goat clippers at a feed store.
  • Don't forget to wash the udder beforehand and teat dip afterwards, unless the babies will be hitting it immediately.  Their slobber is better teat dip than anything you can buy or make. 
  • Homemade udder wash/teat dip recipe:  1 quart of warm water, 1 drop of original blue Dawn dish soap, 1 tsp clorox bleach.  According to Molly at Fias Co Farm, the Dawn and Clorox name brands are important to this recipe.  I think she uses too much bleach, so I dropped it some.
If you decide to make one of these, let me know how it works!

Update:  Improved Lid Instructions


  1. How long does it take to empty the udder, assuming Bree has to wait (impatiently) for each teat/side to be milked? Could you add another syringe and line to your system to milk both teats simultaneously?

  2. I haven't timed it yet, but I would venture a guess that it takes me less than 3 minutes to milk this way ~ from first vacuum squeeze to final release of the syringe. I have considered a double-teat pumper, and it will work. As for right now, I only have a sealing lid for the one quart jar, and each teat fills that, so I have to stop to empty my jar anyway.

    Additionally, Bree is the herd queen. That means she does what she wants, and everybody else is supposed to follow suit. She has not submitted to me, and I don't want her to. I don't have the skills to be herd queen. This is one of the traits of the breed. The others will be sweet.