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One maid a milking

December 1, 2008

 El is thinking of getting goats, and she wanted to know what my milking procedure is.  I milk a cow, but I think the basics are still the same.  How to get milk from the cow/goat to the house in useable form.  This is something I don’t really think about, and didn’t really think of posting about.  So here goes… .

To be successful at milking, you need to stick to your routine.  This will help immensely with the letdown reflex, which makes milking easy.  If the cow doesn’t let her milk down for you, it takes a longgggggggggggggg time to milk.  And it gets tiring, and your cow is most likely to end up with mastitis and you’re most likely to end up with hatethatcowitis.  Then you will do things like throw up your sore hands and arms and dry up the cow, giving up.  Only to be confronted again with the same problems at the next freshening.  If the cow survives, and doesn’t succumb to mastitis, milk fever, or several other problems that can arise.  Because really, if you don’t like the animal or the process, you may as well not milk a cow or goat, it is easy to find milk at the store.  Lactating animals need to be monitored all through the lactation and dry period.  Most of the aforementioned problems can be overcome with management, and correct feeding.  Animals vary as do feedstuffs, don’t believe someone who tells you that once a cow has these “dis-eases” they will always have them.  It is hard for humans to assess the grass, it looks green and palatable, but may not be, or the minerals may be out of balance.  It is hard to see, but sick animals will tell you.  Oops ranting again – sorry, I’ll try to stick to the getting the milk to the house.

This is definitely Home Girl dairy, just buckets, rags and hands.  No electricity required. 
My milking rules:
♣  I am the only one to touch my milk buckets.  They don’t get used for anything except their intended use.

♣  Same with milk jars – I’m a little more lenient with these, but people have to ask first.

♣  The scrubbies, and soap for my milk stuff is only for milk containers.  I keep them out of sight, so no one is tempted to wash dishes with them.  Come to think of it, no one is ever tempted to wash dishes at my house. 😉


♣  Don’t bother me while I’m milking.  Unless the house is on fire… .

Most of the time my cow is outside before milking, she has access to a loafing shed, but unless it is really raining she will be outside.  She stays much cleaner this way – very important for clean milk.  The exception is cold or snowy weather, then she gets to spend the night in her stall.  Keeping a cow clean in a stall is harder due to the nature of the moisture content of their manure.  A goat, not so hard, since their manure is pelleted and dry.  This is a good place to interject that a cow that feels good, and is healthy will keep herself clean.  A healthy animal has a clean coat, and is not depressed and as apt to lay in their own manure.  They do need a large enough stall to provide them with a clean place to lay.  Don’t cuss the cow for being dirty, look for ways to help her stay clean.  We deep bed our beef cows in the winter, but I do clean the milk cow’s stall daily. 

Before milking, I go out and get the cow’s feed ready in her area where I milk.  She is usually watching me and will go to the bathroom because she is anticipating eating.  I would rather she do this before I milk, so I take my time and keep the routine the same.  I also feed the cats and do anything else that needs doing before I milk, e.g., pick the stall and put down fresh straw in the milking area, so I have a clean place to put my milk bucket.

Then it is back to the house to wash my hands.  I fill my washing bucket with very warm water, and take it and my milk bucket to the barn.

Next I open the gate and let the cow go to her milking stall.  She goes without any help from me, I tie her up, or if you had a stanchion the cow would go there.  I put her kickers on, since once in awhile Della will kick.  I use the adjustable chain type that hooks on the cows tendons just above the hocks.  She will step into these practically, with just a touch from me on the leg that needs moving.  Your cow does need to be somewhat docile to put hobbles on, so if you have a violent kicker, I think this type of hobble would be a little hard to manage.  Since you have to be right there to put them on.  Once the kickers are on, you can adjust the tightness, which slows down the kicking.   And realistically the cow should have good ground manners before you start milking.  Grooming your cow at different times than milking is a good way to get them used to being handled.

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Della stays pretty clean, but I wash her teats with the warm water.  I use salve or bag balm, so there is some residue from the last milking that needs to washed off.  If she has manure on her udder, I will wash her and the milk will go straight to the calf, or get dumped.  Life is too short to handle dirty milk.  That is why I don’t sell milk, besides it being illegal.  I have friends who sell raw milk legally, and friends who sell raw milk illegally – they have a certain amount of customers and they need every gallon they get.  Too nerve wracking for me.   

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Clean enough for us.


Always check the teat orifice, I mean look at them.  Dirt can clog this opening and you don’t need that in your milk.  The first squirts go on the ground to clear any bacteria that may be in the teat canal. 

Ready to milk, I place the bucket between my knees and slant it towards the cow.  Not underneath where she can step into it.  Also if she kicks something can fly off of her hooves into the bucket.  With the kickers on she can only kick forward, not to the side, so if the bucket is to the side that lessens the chance of any debris getting in the milk. 


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Della has a leaker, when she lets her milk down, it starts streaming out.  If I keep her routine the same, she lets down easily.  I make sure she has her hay and grain and roots in front of her.  And enough to eat for the entire time I’m going to be milking.  If she is busy eating, she doesn’t have her mind on me.  If you have an impatient cow, you can place large smooth stones in her grain bucket.  This will slow down the grain eating, and give her something to do, getting every last little nugget out of the manger.  I also don’t stop and start milking and go to the house, or get another bucket, nothing will drive a cow crazy faster than that – put yourself in her place, you will know what I mean.  If your cow gives more than your bucket will hold, plan for it and have your other bucket right there.


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On Della, I milk her far side first, and if I place my left arm in the right place, I can keep her from kicking and direct her leaking teat into the bucket.  Stripping the last milk takes almost as long as the main milking.  Go to each quarter, again and again, just like a calf finishing nursing.  You want to get every last drop.  I’m spoiled, usually I leave this part for Della’s calf, and I go to the house, but she lost her calves this year so I’m it.  She doesn’t like me pulling, so I’m not really stripping her like some books recommend, I just squeezing like usual.  I’m also massaging each quarter a little to get the last little bit of milk.


After I’m satisfied with my milking job, I put salve on her teats, making sure to close off the teat orifice with salve to help prevent dirt or manure getting in the teat canal.  Especially her leaker, on my side – it’s a two way street, dirt can get in there as easily as that milk leaks out.

I like to have my jars clean and air dried before I milk, then I can strain the milk as soon as I get to the house.  I use a wet muslin cloth pulled taut over the bucket, this strains out any foreign objects, like hair or hay.  If I decided not to keep the milk, for cleanliness reasons, I would just pour it into jars for the bucket calf.  She is large enough, and has a strong immune system, so she could tolerate a little contamination.  I would make sure no one (human) gets that milk!

The muslin should be wetted with cool water, not hot, so you don’t cook any milk into your cloth.  The same for rinsing your buckets, rinse with warm water, then wash with very warm water and whatever soap you are using.  Let air dry, do not dry with a cloth which will just add bacteria.
I soak my cloth’s in warm water with a couple of teaspoons of baking soda dissolved, and then wash them.  In the summer I hang them to dry in the sun, in the winter, they go behind the woodstove.


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Strained and ready for the refrigerator.


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Chilled and ready for ?  It takes about 24 hours for the cream to completely rise.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2008 10:56 pm

    MoH, I have such a demand for milk I’m considering dairy cows next year or the next. It all seems so complicated! It’s good that I have a hand that grew up on a dairy farm or I’d never consider it. If he stays…MAYBE.

  2. December 1, 2008 10:59 pm

    Please fix my typos! 🙂

  3. December 2, 2008 2:23 am

    There is nothing like fresh, whole milk right out of the cow…
    A great lesson in milking Nita ~ as always, your photos are great and you make it look easy 🙂

    We’ve been drinking store-bought milk (blah) as our cow has been dry and is due to freshen 12/7. We are as anxious as can be!

  4. Lisa permalink
    December 2, 2008 3:42 am

    I would like to know exactly what type of fabric you use for straining the milk.I currently use purchased filters for my goats milk,but they are not compostable,I tried.Do you use muslin from the fabric storenor cheesecloth?Thanks,Lisa

  5. December 2, 2008 6:50 am

    Oh, yummm! Real milk! It has been since 1985 when our creamery closed down that I stopped milking. We had a few customers, those who liked the taste of real milk, but not enough for all the milk I had. So we gradually started the shift from milking to putting four calves on each of the cows. Then Terry started breeding in more more until now today, we have meat cows.

    You are a great cow woman! I mean that as the highest of compliments!


  6. December 2, 2008 6:56 am

    Absolutely fascinating! Thank you for the lesson and great photos. I have a new found appreciation for those who milk their animals!

  7. December 2, 2008 7:20 am

    Very interesting. I don’t really have the patience for this so I buy my milk from a local farm.

  8. December 2, 2008 8:34 am

    Yay Nita! Very helpful, as ever. The one thing I have learned about the whole milking process (and that you have also underlined here) is that you are getting into the emotional life of the creature being milked. I think so many breastfeeding mothers fail is because they are so stressed out and the letdown process fails to happen. (That, and they put a shitload of pressure on themselves to “succeed,” but that’s a whole other discussion I suppose.) By washing Della, keeping her in her routine with no distractions (and a bit of reward in her treat bucket), you are making it easier for her to simply let down and go. And yes, with a calf the stripping normally is done for you.

    I did crack up when you said you hid your milk-washing things. Nobody volunteers to wash things up in my house either…I would probably faint if they did.

    And Lisa, I have a friend who has used regular coffee filters with some success to strain her goats’ milk. She cuts them to fit the strainer and has a stack ready to go, and she throws the used ones in the compost.

  9. December 2, 2008 8:58 am

    Lots of good advise! No one does dishes in this house (but me) either so I wouldn’t have to hide anything:)
    Do you use a separator or jusst skim the cream? What about making cheese?

  10. December 2, 2008 9:09 am

    Great post – I have always wondered about the actual process of milking. I have never had cows or goats, maybe one day…


  11. December 2, 2008 11:45 am

    How I wish I lived closer and I could come by and watch you milk. Maybe you and Della would even let me try to milk, too! :o)

    I really ought to check out some of the local farms around here and see if anyone milks and sells the milk. People around here are known for having shotguns, which is one of the main reasons I haven’t really ventured out to introduce myself. That, and having a bunch of little ones.

    You take great pictures and you write with such depth and detail that makes it so easy to understand the process. Thank you for taking the time to share with the rest of us!!

  12. December 2, 2008 5:04 pm

    That was such an interesting post on milking Della. I have never milked a cow, but my mother did and she loved the cream. You should write a book about all the things you know from farming and your life. I don’t know how you manage your time so well and work too.

  13. December 2, 2008 5:22 pm

    Great pictures and text. If you compiled all your post you’d have a great book.

  14. December 2, 2008 6:23 pm

    Great post. I cannot wait until we have cows! This summer I hope to be milking my goat Annabelle but someday we may progress to milking a cow.

  15. December 3, 2008 5:17 am

    Thank you so much for the detailed explanation of what goes into milking. I never ever knew it was something so complicated and something you had to be so careful about. Like most things around a farm, there’s a lot more to it than you imagine!

  16. December 3, 2008 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the info and pictures.
    I am acquiring two bred dairy goats this weekend in order to begin milking in the spring. And I am a tad nervous.
    It’s always nice to learn from others experiences.

  17. December 3, 2008 10:41 pm

    Titus, starting a dairy isn’t for the faint of heart for sure. I’m glad I only have one dairy cow. 🙂

    Debi, thanks and I hope your cow does OK. Can’t wait to see the baby pics! Store milk is definitely not as good as fresh milk from your own cow.

    Lisa, I use 100% cotton unbleached muslin. It can be reused so many times, and then it can still go on to be a grease rag.
    The weave on cheese cloth is too loose for milk.

    You can also sterilize your cloth in a microwave. Get it wet, and zap it for 1 minute. But it will be hot when you take it out, be careful. That was a tip from the cheesemaking course I took. And I don’t have a microwave. 😦

    Linda, beef cows are much easier aren’t they? Thanks for the compliment.

    Nancy, thanks.

    Susy, I agree milking does take patience, it is great you have a farm nearby for milk. I would have to drive at least 20 miles one way to get milk. There isn’t even a dairy in our whole county!

    El, OK now when is that goat arriving? 🙂

    I would faint too if someone washed dishes here. And even if that happens, the milk jars never get washed. But that’s OK.

    Linda, I just skim the milk after it has cooled, and I’ve only been making ricotta and feta. I lost my patience with hard cheeses. Maybe when I retire…

    Annie, long time no hear – I’ve always milked, so I don’t think about what is involved. It’s much easier to milk, than it is to write about it!

    Jenny, shotguns, milk, sounds like here – you can come and milk anytime! thanks for the nice comment.

    Finding Pam, I love the cream too, and I’m a terrible time manager, and a worse housewife! I don’t work off the farm, but I do work here, most of the time. 😉

    EJ, thanks.

    Kim, you will be a natural with Annabelle! That is exciting about getting cows. 🙂

    Pamela, it is complicated and to make sure the milk is good to drink the cow has to be healthy and clean. It’s fun too, though because I love cows (and cream)

    Candace, that is exciting. You will get some time to get to know them before the blessed event. They will trust you by then and not be as nervous around their babies.

  18. December 4, 2008 3:55 am

    Fantastic post! Thank you for the detail! I’ve been thinking about getting goats next fall, so it is great to hear the milking process.

  19. December 4, 2008 3:07 pm
    Hi- I am a new blogger. Farmer lady from NY. I started out with goats. Have a bunch now. 3 years with cows. I think goats are easier to hand milk. A bit different as you have to trap the milk in the teat then squeeze out. Cow just squeeze. I sell raw milk both cow and goat. Anyhow love your post on milking. I only use stainless steal buckets.
    What kind of cow do you have? Oh I cheat now I have a milk machine..

  20. December 4, 2008 3:16 pm

    Maria, thanks, you will love your goats! Having fresh milk is superb. 🙂

    teacupliz, Hi, I have only milked a goat once, and I thought cow milking was easier – maybe I need more practice on goats! I wondered if anyone would notice that galvanized bucket!! You’re the first one who mentioned it. I trap the milk and squeeze like you’re describing on your goats.

    I’m a Guernsey liker, so I’ve got a Guernsey. Do you milk your goats with a machine too? Or just your cows… Thanks for reading.

  21. Suz in the Tules permalink
    December 19, 2008 7:51 am

    That was cool!
    But seriously, girl, you need to use that bag balm on your poor little hands!

  22. May 27, 2009 8:21 am

    Wow cows milk really is yellow! This is a cool tutorial… thanks!

    Milking goats is a bit easier I think – the teats are not so big! Of course providing you have standard size goats. My goat are Dwarfs so they are much harder to milk.

  23. August 8, 2009 7:03 am

    Just another thought or rather question. Do you use regular laundry soap when you wash the muslin?

    Thanks Linda

    • August 8, 2009 7:19 am

      Linda, usually if I am handwashing, I use the same soap I wash my buckets and jars with, Lifetree dish soap. If I do wash the muslin in the washing machine I have been using BioKleen laundry soap. The worst offender in most soaps are the fragrances that are used to make clothes smell “fresh.” Those fragrances can really coat the jars and be on the muslin and that can spoil the milk.

      I am not sure where you are located, but both are available at Azure Standard or in healthfood stores.

      • August 8, 2009 7:25 am

        Thanks for the reply. I’m in Northern California.

  24. Ashley permalink
    February 5, 2014 11:28 pm

    Tell me about your barn setup and milking station. Do you have a dirt floor or concrete? How much daily cleanup is required? Do you separate the cow from the calf at night & milk in the morning (or, did you use to? I noticed you don’t have the calf anymore) looking for more details because we are debating goat v. Cow. Thanks!

    • February 6, 2014 6:41 am

      Ashley, I have a dirt floor and cover it with clean straw at milking time. It stays clean as the cow defacates and urinates before milking when she sees me fixing her grain/roots and hay. She is in the pasture or loafing shed depending on what time of year it is.

      I separate the calf and milk twice a day enough milk for the calf about a gallon per milking. I halter train the calves and keep them in a separate area from the cow. If you sharemilk leaving the cow and calf together and then separating, you most likely will have letdown issues as the cow wants to hold up for her calf.

      I have the calf, he is weaned and I am milking. This is not my normal way to do things, it’s just what this particular cow needs.

      Get a goat if you just want milk, get a cow if you want milk, butter, cheese, beef, etc., a calf needs two gallons of milk a day to grow in a healthy way, so plan accordingly when looking for cow, many dual-purpose or popular homestead breeds don’t give enough milk to feed their calf and supply a household much more than cream for their coffee and fluid milk. Pasture requirements are different too, a cow will need at least two acres of pasture, and in winter, about 50# of good quality hay a day. Goats need browse. Your land will determine what you should for milk.

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