We first began milking Essie on April 6, just under four weeks from the date she gave birth to her two doe kids, Eleanor and Gracie. I am milking her by hand using our trusty Henry Milker, which is a vacuum-sealed system operated by a hand pump. She produced just over four cups of milk for us that first morning. Her hungry kids quickly realized that their milk was disappearing in the mornings and figured out how to adjust their feeding schedule to avoid the loss. Our morning milk production declined through the week until it leveled out somewhere between one and two cups for an additional week. By the end of April, Eleanor and Gracie were growing big enough to demand most of Essie’s milk, and we became lucky to obtain more than one cup per day for another month. Even so, we were able to obtain at least a quarter cup or more of milk every single day, except for May 28, when she had no milk to give even though I tried to milk her in the morning and evening.
As we approached the beginning of June, Essie’s milk production began to recover. Suddenly, she was beginning to produce a cup or more each day for seven consecutive days. I began to milk her a few times in the afternoons, just to test the consistency of the trend. Since her kids were growing bigger and their rumens had developed sufficiently to enable them to digest hay, grass and grain, I realized she was trying to wean her babies. That was the first clear indication that we were entering the phase of full milk production for the first time since we ended our initial milking session in 2017.
During the first two months, I was milking Essie in the mornings only. My goal wasn’t to steal the milk her kids needed to support their growth and development, it was to acclimate Essie to the milking process and to make sure she was being completely milked each day. If I didn’t do so, her milk production might begin to taper off as she gradually weaned the kids. That weaning process is now entering the final phase, as her production leapt from 2.5 cups on June 5 to a consistent four cups or more every day beginning on June 7. I have now been milking her twice daily (mornings and afternoons) since June 2. Although I can tell that at least one of the kids is still feeding from her (because her milk production has been higher from one teat than from the other), I expect to receive all of the milk she produces within another week or two. Once Eleanor and Gracie are fully weaned, I believe Essie will be capable of producing roughly ten-to-twelve cups of milk per day.
This milk production trend means that, in the coming days, we will be obtaining enough milk to begin processing some of it into the fresh, natural dairy products we enjoyed in 2017, including cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and butter. To date, Barb has been able to freeze a number of five-ounce packets of milk for use in making batches of goat milk soap. I have consumed the rest of the milk we obtain, because Barb doesn’t care to drink milk. Although Essie’s production was very limited on many days, I would wait for a day or two before drinking her milk to allow the volume to build up.
Some of the products we will produce (especially our rich, delicious ice cream), require that we separate the rich cream from the milk. That can be done naturally with cow milk (as we did occasionally when I was a child), because the fat particles in cow milk are very large and will rise (float) to the top of the milk when it is allowed to sit undisturbed for a period of time. This allows you to just skim the cream off the top of the milk. However, the fat particles in goat milk are much smaller and don’t separate from the milk as easily as with cow milk. It is for that reason that people who can’t drink cow milk because they are lactose intolerant are able to drink goat milk without any problems.
In order to separate the cream from our goat milk, we have to use a mechanical cream separator. Our separator is powered by a small electric motor, while traditional antique devices were driven by a hand crank. This device spins the milk very rapidly against a series of internal cone-shaped screens designed to capture the cream and allow the skim milk drain away. It has two discharge spouts on it, one of which dispenses the skim milk, while the thick, rich cream drains from the other. The machine can be adjusted to control the thickness of the cream, which also affects the volume that can be produced. If you desire very thick cream, the separator will produce less from a batch of milk than it will if you make a thinner cream. Our milk products taste great even with a moderately thick cream because the butterfat levels (concentration) in goat milk are so much higher than in cow milk. It is that relatively high butterfat level that allows me to produce chocolate frappes (milk shakes) from fresh goat ice cream and milk that Ben and Jerry would envy.
We greatly appreciate Essie’s generous contribution to our quality of life here at Peeper Pond Farm. Not only is she a great companion to us and a wonderful mother to her kids, she is also furnishing us with the milk we need to gradually reduce purchasing most common dairy products from the store. Both Eleanor and Gracie are quickly developing into beautiful, healthy goats who enjoy and celebrate their playful spirit each and every day. It is just another way that we can appreciate our simple retirement homesteading lifestyle here at Peeper Pond Farm. We hope you will want to visit us, as many of our friends and acquaintances have already done, to see for yourself what a truly independent life can be. When we begin producing our home-made cheese, I will be sure to write another post about it.