Monday, September 22, 2014

First experience with a First Freshener

Meet Sky, everyone. The newest addition to the herd of, now three, Nigerian dwarf dairy goats.

 She's cute, right? Yeah. It's a good thing she is. I'll tell you why... she's a first freshener. You probably know what that means, but I'll tell you anyway. It means that she just had her first babies, and is "in milk" for the first time.

But WAIT- there's more to it than that, and this slightly naive and hopelessly hopeful farmer just experienced what I've only heard about (and was somewhat in denial about). That is, the experience that first fresheners are a pain to milk.

Let me give you a little backstory...

I was so giddy to find an add on craigslist for does in milk.  You see, I've been milking Violet, my herd queen, for  a couple of months now, since finding a good home for her baby, Bolt. He was here for almost 5 months. I waited that long to milk my dairy goat, because I didn't want the separation to be sad for them... or me... and remember, this is my first experience with goats, and kids. I'm still a newbie. My first priority is always to keep the animal husbandry as humane, and respectful as possible- for me, that means respecting the relationship between a mother goat, and her kid(s). I'm happy to report that they both did extremely well with the separation!

I'm getting a bit off track here... anyway, I've been milking Violet. And it's delicious. Best milk I've ever drank. But she only had one kid... as a breastfeeding mom myself, I know allll about supply and demand... what I'm getting at, is there's not much milk. She's proven to be a willing and wonderful milker, looking forward to her twice a day treats, and all I could ask for is...

More milk!

So, to get back to my point, I jumped on the opportunity to get a reasonably priced doe, in milk.

These people were selling their entire herd, along with the 2 month old kids, due to health problems ( theirs, not the goats'). Someone was going to get these goats, and I wanted one for myself. Another milker. Another adorable goatie presence in the goat yard. One that was earning her keep. I imagined myself downing two full glasses of milk a day, instead of one. Pretty ambitious, right?

I asked about history. I asked for udder photos. I settled on learning that there was a friendly blue eyed doe available, who's mother had been a good milker. They didn't have udder pics, and health problems made it hard to get out there and take them, so I was told. I took their word for it, slightly hypnotized by the words, "blue- eyed."

I rushed to drive the hour there and back, to pick her up, because, as I was told, the does wouldn't be in milk much longer because all the babies were going to new homes. Well, I wouldn't want her to start drying up!

She was everything I hoped for. Colorful, blue eyes, good conformation from what I could tell... her udder looked a little small...

Was she a first freshener? Why hadn't I asked if she was a first freshener?

Okay, I wasn't going to hold that against her. I was sure she had potential.

She integrated well into the herd, that afternoon that I brought her home. Even my bossy top goat, Violet, seemed happy for the new friend. Snowdrop seemed adamant that she would no longer be last in the goat hierarchy, and was pleased with that. Yes, I think I can tell by now, when a goat is pleased. Sky, obviously named for her baby blues, seemed a little shy, but went with the flow.

I was eager to try to milk her, just hours after her arrival. I let Violet go first, of course, because she wouldn't have it any other way. Goats do like their routines! I Anticipated that Sky would give me some trouble on the milking stand, but her desire for grain and alfalfa pellets would quickly overcome any obstacles. I was optimistic.

Okay, first of all, what was I thinking, trying to milk a brand new to me, first freshener on the first day? Although I felt I knew what I was doing, she had no freaking clue what the Hell I was doing!  I'm quite sure, that her goat vocalizations could actually be interpreted as,

"What the hell are you doing, lady? We just met, and you're trying to fondle my teats? Back off!"

I mean, really. She was just getting acquainted with her new goat environment, and there I was, trying to yank her out of it, lifting her up onto this foreign milking stand, and expecting her to stand there and eat while I squeezed milk out of her udder.

 Of course she wasn't having it.

As far as she was concerned, I was not to be trusted, and no babies around meant weaning. Which meant stomping and kicking when I touched her udder. Dancing, really. Tap Dancing. Irish Folk Dancing. OFF the home-made milking stand that doesn't actually hold her head in properly.

The amazing, Irish folk dancing goat. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

I could understand that I had been overly ambitious, and needed to give this new herd member some time. Time to adjust to her new life. Time to trust me. I wasn't about to give up on the milking, but I needed to dramatically lessen my expectations.

As the days passed, I kept trying. Progress was made. She learned to jump onto the milking stand herself to get the treats that she wanted. I learned that there was a certain, rather complexly positioned way to milk her that would keep the tap dancing to a minimum. I was able to milk out almost a full ounce! If you detect a hint of sarcasm in my excitement, you are correct.

She just wasn't meant to be a milker. Yet. I still encourage the milking stand for treats, much- needed hoof trimming, and a few squirts. The good news is that she has stopped dancing and hopping around. The bad news, is that she is so clever now, that she has figured out that I can not milk her when she lies down.

I have to hand it to her. She knows what she wants. She wants to lie down on the milking stand and stretch her neck as far as possible so that she can still eat.

I thought about selling her. She's not earning her keep, and I'm paying to feed an extra goat. After about a milli second, those thoughts were replaced with fantasies of little mini blue-eyed Sky kids romping around, and a future Sky, who has learned to trust me.

Maybe enough to let me try milking her as a second freshener.