Drying Off Your Milker – We Don’t

The common practice is to dry off your pregnant doe when she is three months along in her pregnancy. However, we ended up doing something different, and feel more comfortable not forcing our does to dry off.

Some believe that if you don’t force dry the doe, you will negatively affect her next lactation. However, there is another camp that believes if you force the doe to dry off, you will negatively affect her next lactation. Both camps say the next lactation will be less if you dry off, or if you don’t dry off. Which do you believe? I guess you just have to do what you are most comfortable with. A recommended method for drying off your doe is to restrict her grain, water, and just stop milking, period. Many believe that the udder must get tight and full, in order to signal the body to stop making milk. This can cause mastitis, and some prophylactically “dry treat” with antibiotics infused into the udder to prevent mastitis. We are not comfortable using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and certainly not into the udder “just in case”.

We originally intended to follow popular method of drying off at 3 months.

64 days gestation: We started a month earlier, to slowly ease Lightning into drying off. We began on December 20th by cutting down on her grain.

66 days gestation: December 22nd, I am not milking her out totally. She is giving us just over 5# daily with two milkings.

76 days gestation: On January 1st, we stopped the morning milking. With 1x a day milking, she continued to give us 2 to 3 pounds. I was very hesitant to follow the popular rule of “just stop milking” the doe in order to dry her up. I discussed my concerns with Irene Ramsay, who explained to me that if a doe has not dried herself up by this time, Irene does not force the doe to dry up. I was mostly worried about causing mastitis, as a common cause of mastitis is the udder getting too full. It doesn’t make any sense to me to force drying up. I know the common theory is the doe needs this time to produce healthy kids, but humans lactate while pregnant and even tandem nurse. Most of the time, the body knows to cut down on the amount of milk being produced.

So we decided to see what would happen, and continued to milk Miss Lightning. Over the next few weeks, her production slowly dropped.

103 days gestation: By January 28th, she was under 2 pounds.

112 days gestation: When she dropped to 1.1# on the 6th of February, we went to milking every other day.

121 days gestation: She gave us 3/10th of a pound on the 15th, and at this point we stopped milking her.

Lightning’s first lactation lasted 339 days. She produced 1704# of milk. Her daily average up to milking once daily was (1704 divided by 293 days) was 5.81#. Note: We pulled Lightning’s first kids, and bottle fed them, so we were able to get accurate amounts of her milk production from day 1.

Homemade Mastitis Test Recipe

Mastitis Test Solution – this recipe was found at a site that has since been taken down from the Internet.  You can see the original page at the Internet Archive.

1 gallon Distilled Water
4 teaspoons Liquid dish Soap like Ivory
1 teaspoon lye (Red Devil)
1 box Navy Rit Dye

Mix completely. To use put 1 teaspoon milk from one teat and 1 teaspoon solution into a plastic quart lid and swirl around. Slimy or curdled means Mastitis. Repeat for other teat.

Reports have been given that this product can be used without the lye. Lye used to be readily available at hardware stores, but has become increasingly difficult to find. It is available online.

Milk Testing – Taking a Clean Sample

These are the materials I take with me to the milk parlor for testing.

* unscented baby wipes
* bottle of alcohol
* roll of paper towels
* rubber gloves
* udder/teat salve

Step 1: Get your first doe on the stand and stanchioned in. Wipe her udder and teats carefully and thoroughly with one or two baby wipes. Get your strip cup and milk several streams of milk from each teat. You are going to take a sample from one teat at a time.

Step 2: Put your glove(s) on.

Step 3: Next, pour some alcohol onto a paper towel and carefully wipe the entire right teat, including a careful, gentle scrubbing of the teat orifice.

Step 4: Allow the teat to air dry. This is a VERY important step. Alcohol works by evaporation, and a wet teat can still harbor bacteria, which will contaminate your sample.

Step 5: Get another paper towel with alcohol and again clean the teat and orifice carefully. Again, be sure to allow the teat to air dry. Taking these steps helps to ensure your milk sample is perfectly clean. There’s no sense in sending in contaminated samples and getting all worried about the results just because you weren’t clean enough the first time.

Step 6: It helps if you have a helper about now. But if you are doing this alone, what I do is retrieve the Right Teat tube for this doe. I put the lid of the tube in between my front teeth carefully, and pull the tube away from the lid. Now you are going to express milk from the right teat into that tube, being careful to not touch the tube to any surface, and also trying to squirt the milk perfectly into the tube without touching the milk to the sides of the tube. Don’t worry if you didn’t do it perfectly, it is probably good enough, but that is what you are aiming for. When you replace the lid, be very careful to not contaminate the tube or lid opening.

Step 7: Replace the tube into the sandwich bag.

Step 8: Remove your gloves and go back to Step 2, this time substituting the left teat for the right teat.

Your samples should be refrigerated or chilled on ice as soon as possible, especially in warmer weather. Talk with the dairy lab guy about proper shipping methods if you need to ship. We are lucky that we live close to a dairy that he services, so he will stop by and pick up our samples but usually we drop them at the dairy early the morning that he is picking up samples.

If you find that your doe has a subclinical infection, the next step, if you are planning to use antibiotics, is to test for antibiotic sensitivity. This is the best course to follow, because then you are treating the doe with the proper antibiotic to kill the specific bacteria with which she is having problems. Otherwise, you are wasting money on antibiotics that might not work, and needlessly exposing your doe to antibiotics, which are detrimental to the body because they kill off ALL the bacteria, bad or good. Additionally, you are causing bacteria in her body to build up a resistant to this specific antibiotic. The concern about treating with antibiotics is that supergerms are being produced, and we are finding more and more that our old standby antibiotics are no longer effective at treating illness. It is actually quite frightening when you learn that there are some supergerms that cannot be treated with antibiotics, and it is possible to die if you are afflicted with these supergerms.

The dairy lab technician will be able to tell you if the sample appears questionable, or contaminated. If it is, you may want to do a second test to make sure the doe really has an infection, before treating with antibiotics.

Step 9: Lastly, the udder salve. This is optional, but you might want to rub a bit on your doe’s teats, as alcohol is very drying.

Testing for Subclinical Mastitis – Using a Laboratory

If your suspicions are confirmed through the simple home testing of the milk, your next step is to have your milk tested at a lab. I prefer Dairy Herd Lab, located right here in Arizona. I have used them several times, and have been very pleased.

Please note that when taking milk samples you must follow a careful procedure of cleaning the udder and teats to insure that you do not contaminate your sample with bacteria. These are the steps I follow when gathering milk for testing.

The dairy lab I mentioned above will supply you with the correct tubes for samples.

Label the tubes prior to leaving the house. On the label you want the date, your ranch name/initials (or your name) the name of the doe and LT for Left Teat or RT for Right Teat. So your label might look like this:
6-22-06
USAY
Lightning
LT

Label two tubes for each doe that you are planning to test. The dairy lab owner says it is a good idea to test for mycoplasma initially. One tube of milk will work fine for mycoplasma and bacteria testing.

I like to put each of the two tubes into sandwich bags to keep them clean.

Next, I gather my materials. I like to use:

* unscented baby wipes
* bottle of alcohol
* roll of paper towels
* rubber gloves
* udder/teat salve

Step 1: Get your first doe on the stand and stanchioned in. Wipe her udder and teats carefully and thoroughly with one or two baby wipes. Get your strip cup and milk several streams of milk from each teat. You are going to take a sample from one teat at a time.

Step 2: Put your glove(s) on. Next, pour some alcohol onto a paper towel and carefully wipe the entire right teat, including a careful, gentle scrubbing of the teat orifice. Allow the teat to air dry. This is a VERY important step. Alcohol works by evaporation, and a wet teat can still harbor bacteria, which will contaminate your sample. Get another paper towel with alcohol and again clean the teat and orifice carefully. Again, be sure to allow the teat to air dry. Taking these steps helps to ensure your milk sample is perfectly clean. There’s no sense in sending in contaminated samples and getting all worried about the results just because you weren’t clean enough the first time. It helps if you have a helper about now. But if you are doing this alone, what I do is retrieve the Right Teat tube for this doe. I put the lid of the tube in between my front teeth carefully, and pull the tube away from the lid. Now you are going to express milk from the right teat into that tube, being careful to not touch the tube to any surface, and also trying to squirt the milk perfectly into the tube without touching the milk to the sides of the tube. Don’t worry if you didn’t do it perfectly, it is probably good enough, but that is what you are aiming for. When you replace the lid, be very careful to not contaminate the tube or lid opening.

Replace the tube into the sandwich bag.

Remove your gloves and go back to Step 2, this time substituting the left teat for the right teat.

Your samples should be refrigerated or chilled on ice as soon as possible, especially in warmer weather. Talk with the dairy lab guy about proper shipping methods if you need to ship. We are lucky that we live close to a dairy that he services, so he will stop by and pick up our samples but usually we drop them at the dairy early the morning that he is picking up samples.

If you find that your doe has a subclinical infection, the next step, if you are planning to use antibiotics, is to test for antibiotic sensitivity. This is the best course to follow, because then you are treating the doe with the proper antibiotic to kill the specific bacteria with which she is having problems. Otherwise, you are wasting money on antibiotics that might not work, and needlessly exposing your doe to antibiotics, which are detrimental to the body because they kill off ALL the bacteria, bad or good. Additionally, you are causing bacteria in her body to build up a resistant to this specific antibiotic. The concern about treating with antibiotics is that supergerms are being produced, and we are finding more and more that our old standby antibiotics are no longer effective at treating illness. It is actually quite frightening when you learn that there are some supergerms that cannot be treated with antibiotics, and it is possible to die if you are afflicted with these supergerms.

The dairy lab technician will be able to tell you if the sample appears questionable, or contaminated. If it is, you may want to do a second test to make sure the doe really has an infection, before treating with antibiotics.

Lastly, the udder salve. You might want to rub a bit on your doe’s teats, as alcohol is very drying.

Click here to return to How to Produce Delicious Goat’s Milk.

Testing for Subclinical Mastitis – Home Tests

There are three ways to “test” for subclinical mastitis at home. [If you suspect subclinical mastitis, you may want to keep the milk from the house supply, it is safe to give to your chickens, dogs, cats, etc.]

1. Milk the doe, keeping her milk separate from the others, strain the milk, chill quickly and then allow to sit untouched in your refrigerator for several days. Make sure your refrigerator is keeping your milk cold enough. A direct quote from Organic Pastures “It is essential to remember that raw milk only tastes fresh if it is kept asleep, that means cold at about 35-38 degrees.” Organic Pastures sells cow’s milk, but this is good information for those of us using goat’s milk.

If the doe has subclinical mastitis, the milk will begin to go “off” by the 4th or 5th day. If I’m doing this test, I usually milk each side of the udder into separate containers to test both sides. If the milk is still good to 7 to 10 days, it is almost certain there is no mastitis involved. Reason being if your doe has subclinical mastitis, she has an infection in her udder, which is sloughing bacteria into the milk. An overabundance of the wrong kind of bacteria will produce an “off” or bad tasting milk. If there are no signs of mastitis in your does, but your milk goes off by 4-5 days, consider that your refrigerator is not keeping the milk cold enough.

2. Another test is to let the milk sit at room temperature for 48 hours, then examine the bottom of the jar. If there is sediment, that could mean subclinical mastitis. It is a good idea to test a healthy sample of milk as well as the suspected milk, for comparison.

3. Finally, a really good way to home test your doe’s milk is to try making buttermilk. Purchase a quart of store bought buttermilk. Place one cup of the doe’s milk in a jar, and add 2 Tablespoons of buttermilk to that. Mix well. Now, let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours. After twenty four hours, you should have fresh smelling, delicious buttermilk. The texture will be thick and creamy. If instead, you have something that seems slimy, you more than likely have a problem with bacteria – meaning that your doe has subclinical mastitis. (Although it could just be your milking practices are not clean enough and you are ending up with a lot of bacteria in your milk from the milking process).

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#4 Chill the Milk Quickly

4. CHILL THE MILK QUICKLY When we had our first goat in milk in April 2003, we would strain the milk immediately after milking into a jar, then set the warm milk in the freezer to cool. I learned that this was creating *Grade D* milk. As a result, this milk had a shorter shelf life. After five days in the fridge, this milk would start to have an off taste, a slight “goaty” taste to it, and if we made cheese, it would also taste off. I do NOT like the “goaty” taste, and if that is what our goats’ milk tasted like, I would not bother to have them.

We learned that chilling the milk quickly (using a water and alcohol mixture) ensures the milk will last from seven to ten days (and sometimes a few days longer) with a fresh delicious taste to it. When we weren’t chilling it properly and it came time to make cheese on the weekend I had to taste test every single jar to make sure none were tasting like store bought cow’s milk yet (because that is how it tastes first before tasting “goaty” in my experience) before I could even start making cheese.

Nowadays we try to freeze the milk within 12-24 hours if we aren’t planning to make cheese, so we don’t have to taste test as much. I code the bags with the date , as well as how long until the milk was frozen. (Sometimes I don’t get the milk into the freezer for three days, so the shelf life would be shorter on that bag, than one that was frozen 12 hours after it came from the goat).

We keep a three gallon plastic bucket in the freezer, mixed with part alcohol and part water. The ratio is approximately 1/2 part water and 1/2 part alcohol. The mixture should be slushy. If the ice is frozen very hard, you need more alcohol. If it does not turn to slush, you need to add water. The way it works is it pulls the heat from the jar of milk. I like to shake the milk jar gently to move the milk around in the jar so it gets colder faster. I did a test once on how quickly the milk chills using this mixture. The “slush” registered at 5°F. I put 3 pounds of milk in a half gallon jar. The temperature of the milk was at 89°F. When twenty minutes had passed, the temperature of the milk was down to 37°F.

I read someplace, sometime that the “goal” is to lower the temperature of the milk to under 40°F within 20 minutes of leaving the udder. That is supposedly to make “Grade A” milk.

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