Whether milking a few goats or a huge herd, the common goal for the goat enthusiast is to provide family, friends, customers, etc. with the best possible goat milk available. To ensure quality, sanitary conditions play a key role in the flavor, shelf life and overall quality of goat milk and subsequent products.
One of the primary issues facing goat milk producers is the elevation of somatic cell counts. Goats naturally shed white blood cells as well as epithelial cells. Epithelial cells line the mammary gland. Some loss of these cells is normal with each milking. As with their human counterparts, when infection occurs or stressors increase for the dairy doe in production, the white blood cell production increases. According to USDA guidelines milk must be tested at no more than 1,000,000 cells/ml if the milk is to be used for human consumption.
Abnormally high cell counts can come from several sources. Genetic flaws can produce animals with consistently high cell counts. Animals in late lactation are prone to higher counts. Subclinical mastitis is also a common culprit. Therefore, prevention of mastitis plays an important role in reducing cell counts and keeping these counts at acceptable levels.
Of course, housing conditions are the first concern in creating a sanitary environment for milk production. An animal kept in wet and/or soiled bedding will have problems. Remember the teat is an orifice. The opening is a direct link to the milk supply which all are attempting to preserve in top condition. A goat lying on wet straw will surely absorb bacteria through those openings as well as through the pores on the udder itself. Proper barn maintenance is the beginning of high quality milk. Mud is an enemy. Not only will the does not like it on their hooves, it can become impacted there and cause problems. Mud makes the move into the milk parlor on hooves as well as potential caked udders. Ultimately, the chances of a speck or two of mud and/or dirt can wind up in the milk supply. To prevent this contamination, laneways to the milking parlor should be maintained so they are dry and passable in all seasons.
The actual milking procedure is also a critical aspect of maintaining quality product. It is important to establish a working protocol or routine that is fairly simple to execute and based upon common sense. The costs associated with any sanitary program will be saved on the other end with high quality milk, lower cell counts, better yields, fewer vet bills, and happier goats and owners.
Conditions of the milking parlor should be sanitary. This of course, should go without saying. From there, the animals should be stressed as little as possible during the milking process. Since white blood cells are produced as a defense mechanism, the more stress the animal is under, the higher the production of these cells. Stress can be caused by overcrowding of animals as they are waiting for the stanchion, long waiting periods in a confined space while waiting to be milked, physical stressors such as aggressive handling or shouting at the animals. Inadequate water supply or unclean waterers will further add to the concentration of cells. Extreme heat in the summer months can also be problematic. Some of these conditions are controllable by man, others must be adapted to.
Cooling units, such as misters and fans are recommended for extreme summer conditions. Basically, trying to keep the animals as cool and comfortable as possible will increase the overall milk yield and quality.
During milking, the milker should wear disposable rubber gloves. From there strip, dip, and wipe. That is, strip the teat to dispose of the first stream of milk. This is likely to be soiled and bacteria laden. A good practice is to use a strip cup. This cup contains a small screen and beginning signs of mastitis will show up as clots in the screen. Then, dip the teat in a teat cup with a sanitary teat dip solution. Completely cover the teat. A common error is to dip only the side facing the milker, so make sure the dip encompasses the entire teat. The last step is to thoroughly wipe the teats, ridding them of the sanitary cleaner. A clean rag should be used for each animal. Otherwise, there is the risk of pathogens transmittal from one animal to the other. These rags should either be disposable or great care should be taken in their washing procedure, as the pathogens can survive mild washing temperatures. From there the milker may proceed with either hand or mechanical milking.
If hand milking, do not wring the teats to remove every last drop of milk. This can obviously bruise the udder and cause the small vessels to burst. Disposable filters can be used by the hand milker to catch any small debris from entering the milk.
Goat udders should be shaved or clipped periodically. This will limit dry manure particles from caking on the udder and falling into the milk pail. Pay close attention to any cuts on the udder. Treat any abrasions with an appropriate salve or spray to prevent infection. Lack of treatment of a simple wound is a quick way to invite big problems. In certain types of weather, flies will quickly find any open cut or wound and irritate it or create infection.
Mechanized milkers must be properly maintained and inflations changed according to manufacturers recommendations. Proper cleaning of the pipeline and milking equipment is crucial, of course. Close attention should be paid at the end of the milking time to make sure the teat is not stripped or actually over-milked causing the bruising or injury mentioned above. When the animal is finished milking, a post dip in a sanitary dip is the last step. Make sure to use a second teat cup. This will avoid contamination of the clean teat. Do not wipe the teat at this point. Let the animal leave the parlor with the coating still on. This step protects the teat and returns the animal to the pasture or lot under the best of conditions.
Mastitis test kits are readily available and while they are made for cows, they are useful for goats as well. The California Mastitis test is widely known. Most experts recommend a routine test once a month. It is important to keep records on the individual animal. Data can then be established on which does are running high counts.
Several types of teat dips are available. Most contain emollients and conditioners to keep the udder in good condition. Some are intended for winter use, to prevent the freezing of the teat ends. Farm stores and dairy product suppliers often have recommendations on the best teat dip for individual situations.
Sometimes there are time and/or even economic limitations on how much the dairy goat milk producer can do to prevent disease and maintain a sanitary environment for milk production. By following the simple steps outlined above or by establishing a personal protocol for cleanliness that fits the individual situation, the common goal of producing top quality dairy goat milk for the consumer or the farmer can be met without much hardship.