Saturday, December 8, 2012

Goat milking pump

Meggie - before milking
I enjoy the morning and night task of milking. It's always given me a special time with one animal; time to thank her for her abundance and for giving to us.

Meggie in particular is so undemanding. The other goats and the chickens vie for attention; milking is the one time of day she gets my undivided focus.

She is eating, which usually makes goats happy, but she seems to also relish the time spent together.

She is actually more OK with me milking  she was with her own babies after a certain age.

When I milk I do everything I can to keep myself and the goat calm, focused and happy.
I pat the goat, feed her, sing to her, and listen to her tummy gurgle contentedly as I milk.

Doesn't this look more comfortable?
Regardless of how they feel about being milked, it's got to be a relief to a goat to go from a full udder to an empty one. There can be well over a half gallon of milk in there! The pressure and weight are considerable. The goats always walk away from the milk stand lighter and happier.

But my tendons are another matter. After six years of milking , my wrists started to hurt.

I couldn't squeeze water out of a sponge without excruciating pain. My friend Mellow gave me some exercises to help, but I knew the real answer was to give myself a break from the repetitive motion.

When we saw a DIY milker featuring a vacuum pump designed for brake bleeding, we knew we had to try one ourselves. This is a manually powered pump, so I wasn't sure it would reduce the stress on my arms, but if I didn't try it, I was in danger of becoming totally unable to use my hands. So, we got the parts and made one. Here Noah tries it out (with soapy water and food coloring).
Noah pumping soap/food coloring to learn how it works
It was pretty simple. Everything was off the shelf except for the lid to the mason jar, which we had to modify.

Basically, the vacuum pump is connected by a 3/8" tube to the lid of a jar. A second tube connects to a pair of "teat cups", AKA two 60 cc syringes, which fit over Meggie's teats and form an airtight seal. The tubing is connected with aquarium airline connectors.

Milker setup

I was excited to try this system, but I found myself putting it off day after day. Which anyone who knows me will say is odd. Usually I'm someone who can't wait to try a new contraption.

I was having a hard time accepting that this less 'natural' system would be as gentle as my hand milking. Part of me was sure the syringes would either hurt Meggie, or suck her entire udder into them. Or at least, that she would resent me for using a machine for such a personal thing as drawing her milk.

You're squeezing our teats with a what?!?

Neither one happened.With some trepidation, I sprayed teat cleaner on Meggie's udder, wiped her clean, and set up the contraption.

 I placed the cups on her teats, awkwardly holding them in place, and pumped the suction up to 10.

The teat only was pulled into the syringe until it formed an airtight seal, but no further. It appeared perfectly comfortable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Meggie went on eating serenely as her milk began to draw down the tubing and into the jar. First a trickle, then a steady stream.

I have said it before.Meggie is the ideal goat. She is productive, calm, cooperative and gentle. I call her bomb proof. But I had expected some kind of reaction to having plastic cups suctioned onto her udder.

Nope. Nada. Nil. She just kept calm and carried on.

I don't think the phrase "kick the bucket" was coined to mean "to die" by accident. After hand milking an animal and having her spill, kick, step in or poop in her milk, a person might be ready to do something extreme.

But in our case, it's surely not Meggie's fault. Meggie's legs occasionally cramp from standing still, and she picks her feet up. Once in a while, she used to put them in the bucket of milk, ruining it. 

With the milking device, this will be a thing of the past. nothing to kick over!

 Another advantage to a milking device like this is, the milk never touches anything but the inside of the tubing and the jar. A barn, no matter what, is a barn. Spiders, straw, goat hair, flies in summer, dust, and you can imagine other things all end up there. Hand milking controls as much of the mess as possible, but the milker gives much more assurance that the milk will be clean. I love that. Even more, I love that once its going, I can step away from the milking process, at least long enough to get a picture of my happy, busily eating goat.

Then I bring the milk inside and put a new lid on the jar. I put the jar in an ice bath, clean the milker, and voila. Another batch of milk. A milker would be especially nice for anyone with a goat who had funny sized teats, or for anyone who, like me, found her hands getting tired from milking. So far, the repetitive movement of pumping the milker has been just fine. And the milk is splendid.

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