By Karen Cohen
Many years ago when I lived in my birth state, the Garden State – New Jersey, I worked full time at an organic produce farm and worked weekends at another farm milking goats. I will be absolutely truthful and will divulge that the weekend milking job was often accomplished by my strong sidekick, my husband, who had off from his fulltime job on weekends. Let me explain.
Milking goats takes determination. Along with that, brute strength is needed. And even with those abilities which I possessed, a good goat milker requires a heart that won’t allow these animals to take advantage of them, like I tended to do. I am a person who cannot and will not kick a horse when riding one. That act makes me feel as if I am hurting the horse. All the sensible explanations in the world will not change my mind. I can get on a horse, but I cannot properly give that little or big kick in the ribs that gets them moving. So, I gave up that sport.
Back to goats. Some headstrong goats would prefer to lie down during milking. That’s just my nice way of saying that they won’t submit to milking. (Can’t blame them). I could easily lure them onto the milking stand, secure their heads gently in a strap that they cannot back out of, because they will, and I can place the bucket right under their bellies. The goat will often kick – oops- accidentally (sure), the bucket and there goes the little bit of milk I’ve gotten right into my face. OK, so my tactic was to place my head right against the side of their bloated, sometimes smelly stomachs. Next grab the appropriate body parts that can produce milk, grasp those, gently pull down and aim the skirting milk into said bucket. Even with my shoulder tucked not so firmly under the goat’s belly, the animal would just push down into a sitting position, head still in the strap, and successfully remove its belly area away from my hands. I failed at milking goats, but I am not ashamed. I still thought they were adorable with their big eyes and curious attitudes.
My husband would take over my job and firmly insert his shoulder under their ribcage and milk away. Well, well, what can I say that won’t sound sexist or insulting?! (snort!) The couple who owned these goats were elderly, which happens to be my approximate age right now. May I add that I don’t consider myself elderly at all! The husband was a college professor and dashed out on Saturday mornings with a tweed jacket and wool cap on, to teach his class. His wife was a cheerful, heavy set, English lady with a Julia Child voice and a flowery apron, and she loved her goats. While she set me out in the barn to milking, she would be in her vast kitchen hanging cheesecloth bags that sifted goat curds over huge bowls and such to make goat cheese. The pay for my task of milking was agreed to be containers of goat cheese based on how many hours I worked at milking. If my husband came along, which he often did, we used his hours to procure her homemade cheese. It was worth every tug!
I learned much from this lady. She would also ask me to weed her garden and she would demonstrate her exact technique to follow. She would go down one row of veggies, rip out the weeds by gloved hands, and lie the weeds down in rows next to the veggies. These weeds would act as both mulch and compost. I thought it was a brilliant and easy to follow plan that gave back to the garden rather than extracting things. Repurposing! I used a “scoot along” little rolling chair and never had to get up or down, just roll merrily, merrily along.
I still use this technique in my own garden many years later. Folks may think I am a messy gardener because the weeds are not sprayed or hoed in my veggie garden. Once a week, I just sit on my “scoot and do” and travel up and down the rows to pull out weeds by hand. I interplant varieties such as radishes under zucchini leaves, so hand pulling after careful identification is accurate. Looking at plants at such a closeup range alerts me to trouble, too. Maybe there are insect eggs being laid on the underside of leaves; I can remove those. Maybe there are flea beetles eating holes in my eggplant or arugula leaves; I can put a light cloth over the plants to keep out bugs.
I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor up close and personal. I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor up close and personal. Pulling weeds is a task I enjoy far more than milking some ole goat!
(Karen Cohen is an organic gardener of many decades, not a skilled goat milker or milker of any kind, and an avid explorer. Email your goat comments to: email@example.com)