Let me start this post by saying (as with most things goat-related), there is no “right” way. I’ve been doing this for a few years and have worked with many does who were new to milking, so I am sharing what has worked for me. These are my experiences and opinions.
Aside from whatever you’re using to milk the goat, you’ll want a milk stand (stanchion), a few nylon dog leashes and bucket (not your milking bucket). There are fabled people who milk their goats without a stanchion, but I am not so blessed.
The easiest goat to milk is a seasoned doe who has already been milked in her lifetime. Your hardest goat to milk is a seasoned doe who has had lots of babies but never been milked before. She does NOT understand what you are doing and is fighting to protect her babies’ food source. If she’s new to the herd, she may not even trust you yet.
Ideally, the goat you are training is one you raised yourself and is used to being handled a lot. If you have a doe kid, get your hands on her frequently. Get her used to being touched all over. This is not a time for personal space or boundaries. Groom her and do her routine maintenance on the milk stand, and give her treats at these times so she is used to it BEFORE she gives birth. If you’ve had children before, you know this is not the time to learn a new skill. The same applies to goats. If you did not raise the doe, get her on the stand prior to giving birth and reinforce it with treats. A ramp helps if she is heavily pregnant or suspicious of the stand. If you have purchased the doe in milk after she has given birth, you are going to have build a trusting relationship quickly. I recommend lots of food and perseverance. More on that later.
One of the best ways to bond with your doe and build a trusting relationship with her is to assist with her birth. Many people have asked me why I bother, since goats are animals that shouldn’t routinely need assistance. Well, several reasons. First of all, I am a former labor and delivery nurse, and assisting with kidding scratches the itch for me. Second of all, (aside from the emotional attachment), a good goat is an investment – and so is her litter. How sick would I feel if I lost a litter of quads and their dam because the first one got a little stuck and I missed it? That’s an $800-$2000 loss depending on the goats, and a huge emotional blow. Last, but not least, birth is prime time for bonding. The doe has high levels of natural oxytocin circulating and she will usually be more relaxed and cuddly toward you. If you have a really maternal goat, she will probably lick you a lot too. When you assist with the birth, you’ll probably get a fair amount of birth products/fluid on you, and that’s ok. Let her lick it off. Some people think this causes the doe to view you as a kid or family member and you’ll be able to handle her udder more easily in the future. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that once I’ve assisted a shy goat with birth, she is much warmer to me. Once the kids are born and she is standing up, immediately check her teats to make sure they aren’t plugged. Assist the babies to get colostrum. Do not wait to begin milking her routinely. After the first day, get her on the milk stand and make sure her udder is empty and even each evening. More often than not, the kids will prefer one side (at least at first), causing her to be unevenly distended. For about the first 4-7 days, she probably won’t give you much of a fight on the milk stand, thanks to those circulating hormones. Give her lots of verbal praise and edible treats. You are getting her used to the idea of milking while she still has all that calming oxytocin on board. However, those hormones will wear off soon and then it might be rodeo time, depending on the temperament of the goat.
If you find yourself with a rodeo on your hands, you just have to hang on – literally. Once she finds out that kicking and throwing a fit works, she will do it. Every. Time. Give up the idea of collecting the milk cleanly (or collecting it at all). The goal is to milk her until she is as empty as you want her to be, and then stop when YOU want to. I like to give my goats their grain ration on the milking stand to reward them and keep them busy. I don’t give grain any other time, and as soon as they figure it out, I don’t have problems getting them on the stand. If she is kicking, you need to take away her ability to do that. I haven’t had a lot of luck with commercial hobbles, so my friend Lynde told me about using dog leashes. You should take a nylon dog leash and make a slipknot with the loop end. Put this around the hind leg above the ankle and tie it firmly to the leg of the milk stand.
More often than not, she will start to kick with the other leg, so repeat it on that side too. At this point, some especially talented goats try to levitate. Take another leash and loop it around her front leg, above the hoof. Fold her leg up at the knee and tie the leash to the front of the milking stand. Now she will have to stand still. You MIGHT be able to milk at this point. She will be mad and struggle. She may decide to foil your plans by sitting on the stand. This is where your bucket comes in handy. You slide it under her belly and she cannot squat.
When she quits struggling, praise her, go through your milking motions and be prepared to duck, because many goats will pee or poop at this point, either from nerves or contrariness. This will all get better. Within a couple weeks, you won’t need any of these props and she will no longer be scared of the process. Expect her to fuss and fight harder the first few days as she has her “extinction burst”. This is behavioral science-speak for “it will get worse before it gets better”. Once she truly figures out that her tantrums aren’t going to work, you can remove your bucket and one hobble at a time. Eventually, you’ll have a chill milker. You may have to remind her the following year when she freshens again, but it will never be as bad as the first year. Let me take this opportunity to say, NEVER hit your goat on the milk stand. She is in restraints, helpless, and scared. This is plain mean and will undo any of the trust you have built. I am saying this because I have read in several forums to smack a goat who is misbehaving on the stand. Just don’t.
For those of you who are now “udderly” terrified, don’t be. Most goats are not that bad – but you need to be prepared just in case. Also, never again will you question the value of a goat trained to milking stand vs. one who is not.