Magnetic North July 1, 2009: Harte of my Heart

Milk goats
Milk goats

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, where my first try at goat milking is going much better.

Harte, my newly acquired Alpine doe, is still ensconced in my barn with her kid, Judith. And I am still milking her. When last I wrote, I was close to giving up. And why not? She laid down. She put her foot in the milk pail. She slid her backside off the stand. She did everything but break wind in my face.

And throughout all this, the amount of milk I got dwindled, along with my hopes for my very own goat’s milk, cheese and (sigh) ice cream.

And then - magic! The morning after e-mailing my wretched failure to a goat-milking friend, I opened the barn door to a stunning sight; there, inside the stable, Harte and Judith stood in profile in the early morning light flooding through the old barn board siding. A magazine cover shot. Norman Rockwellian even!
My fate and theirs was sealed.
I need to issue a warning to the squeamish at this point: Talk about the business end of a milk goat is ahead.
My friend Geri, who has a number of milkers, e-mails me tips on getting more milk. She says that her milk amount varies day to day. She recommends getting to Harte before her kid feeds, AND watching for a “tight udder.”
This fried me. Geri has a full-time job and I am retired. Yet, even with 16 hours of daylight nowadays I don’t have five minutes to spare to watch for a tight anything!
Geri’s breakthrough tip is something I can manage: She says to just push up into the udder BEFORE squeezing the teat. Push and - here’s the key - JIGGLE.
“Push and jiggle. Push and jiggle.” I repeat those words to myself as I tie Harte’s collar to the milk stand and position her yummy grain under her nose. Petting her head, then wiping her teats with a warm, soapy cloth, I keep up the mantra: “Push and jiggle.” Only I sing the words to Elvis tunes. “Love me Tender” works really well.
I’d be lying like a rug if I told you that this trick alone makes all the difference. It does not.
What keeps me milking and gets me more and more droplets of white gold every time is this: I QUIT MEASURING THE OUTPUT!
Instead, I concentrate on the color of Harte’s coat - white and black and brown with tinges of red. Or once I get the flow going, I talk to her about plans for adding another strand of electric wire to the corral fence or insulating the barn for winter, or teaching her and Judith to pack. She looks around at me often with various expressions of interest. No more snickering…just an occasional low gurgling bleat. A contented, “That sounds sort of cool,” kind of sound.
All this up close and personal interaction with Harte is filling my milk jars and depleting my available chore hours. My new mallard ducklings are farmed off to Bubbles, the super mommy blue Swedish duck. The angora rabbits get more of a brush off than a really good brushing daily. And my adoring white gander comes running to me now not to be cuddled, but to fasten on my calf or forearm. Hell hath no fury like a white Chinese goose scorned.
As for Paul, he has been too busy recuperating from a repair to his repaired hip to take note of my latest animal husbandry tangent. Although I did hear him telling a friend recently that, “I’ve never seen my wife happier - that’s all that counts.”
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