For most, dairy goat farming is a labor intensive enterprise, but for Mike Henry, Anchorage, Alaska, it’s one hand to the coffee mug while milking dairy goats, using a nifty invention he created that doesn’t even require electricity.
Henry, 58, executive director of high school education with the Anchorage School District, is a self-confessed dairy goat addict.
"For the most part I’ve been milking goats off and on ever since I was a youngster," he said. "I have to admit I have developed a real appreciation for milking my goats. It’s actually what I like to do everyday. I’m too old to have chores. I just work on what I choose. I choose to raise goats and they are really a part of our family on the Red Fence Farm. It is my hobby and I have to admit, it’s my slight addiction."
Family member, Nancy Carder, using the Henry Milker.
But Henry said something he did not choose was getting older.
"I developed some carpal tunnel or arthritis or something in my hands; a common disorder among many baby boomers," he said. "Milking became a pain. I mean it really hurt my joints and fingers to milk a goat. I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden I had to choose between getting rid of my goats or just raising male goats; I couldn’t see any fun in that."
Being raised by a farmer and 38-year vocational agriculture teacher, Cyrus James Henry, Jr., and his mother, Violet Henry, he was taught that a problem is just an opportunity waiting to be solved. "I couldn’t milk my goats by hand anymore because it hurt too much," Henry said. "I had to solve this problem. I went directly to eBay (something my mom or dad would not have done). I found milking machines that would milk almost anything."
But the goat milking machines he found started at about $1,200. He had already convinced his wife, Lindsay, that he needed a machine to help him milk.
"The idea of spending more money for the machine than all of my goats did not appeal to Lindsay," Henry said. "We did not buy."
He continued to milk by hand, but his joints hurt worse than ever. "I couldn’t milk the way I did when I was younger," he said. "My does, especially Millie, did not like it at all. She began to kick and act up. I couldn’t get a clean bucket of milk. The bucket had been kicked over, stepped in and generally left without any useable milk for human consumption. My dogs and cats were getting fat."
"I certainly wouldn’t get rid of a family resource like goats and goat milk because my hands hurt a little," he said. "I went to my shop, what I call my shop; it’s actually our garage that I have slowly taken over as my place to get away and build stuff. It was my idea to build my own goat milking machine."
Lindsay Henry (left) and daughter Phoebe show the milker is lightweight and portable.
As with most farms, he had some Mason jars sitting around, a little bit of tubing and lots of automotive tools and parts. "I found a hand vacuum pump from an old brake bleeding kit," Henry said. "I could create some suction with the vacuum pump, could hold the milk in the quart Mason jar and could get it there with the tubing.
"After a week or so of tinkering, I put together the very first Henry Milker. It sure was crude, but I gave it a whirl with Millie and I got a few drops of milk. I made some adjustments to the milker and went back to Millie. This process was repeated many times until I could milk Millie all the way out."
The end result was the original Henry Milker, which works on a vacuum or suction principle similar to the way a kid gets milk from its mom. The hand pump creates a vacuum in the sealed system, which delivers milk to the container.
Because the vacuum is created by operating the hand pump, the pressure on the teat varies throughout the milking process.
"The Henry Milker is unique from other hand-held goat milkers, in that you have total control over how much the pressure varies or fluctuates," Henry said. "This means you don’t have to worry about teat or udder damage from constant pressure. A handy gauge and release valve give you control to raise or lower the pressure while milking. Your milk stays pure and clean."
One plastic hose line carries the milk into the container and another creates a vacuum to pull it in.
The milker is light-weight and portable and as a manual vacuum pump operation does not require electricity, motors or batteries.
Henry said the milker is so easy to use, young children can use it and operators can quickly show their neighbors how to use it when they want to get away for a weekend.
"Because it’s a closed milking system, the milk travels through an FDA-approved milk line directly into the sealed milk container," he said. "The operator can unscrew the container from the milker and screw on any large mouth lid and into the refrigerator goes the milk. No straining, no picking out dirt."
There are different size milk containers available ranging from 1/2 pint to pint, quart and half gallon.
Henry said clean-up is a breeze. "Simply wipe off the pump, wash out the milk line with the tubing brush that comes with the Henry Milker, wash and dry the inlet lid and teat cup," he said. "You’re done, just that simple."
Daughter Phoebe encouraged him to sell a Henry Milker on eBay in June 2008.
"I reluctantly offered one for sale," he said. "People from all over the country bid on it. I scrambled and put another one together and pretty much the same thing happened. I honestly just couldn’t believe it."
He quickly sold a dozen, probably at a loss, but saw the real potential for his invention.
"We now sell the Henry Milker all over the world," Henry said. "At last count we have about 1,300 milkers in 35 countries."
The milker is being used in Australia, Belize, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Samoa, Thailand, Turkey and every state in the United States.
Customers seem to be very happy with the product, according to mail Henry has received. "Bought the Henry Milker and it has been the best money I have spent," one customer told Henry in a letter. "So easy to work and the goats didn’t mind at all. Sat and drank a cup of coffee while I milked and it was faster than I could hand milk."
The milker costs $129.99 with shipping charges of $10 for the U.S., $25.60 for Canada and Mexico, and $41.28 for the rest of the world.
As with most milkers of this nature, it milks one teat at a time and on average it usually takes around 10 minutes to milk one goat. Henry said some customers purchase two milkers so both teats can be milked at the same time.
He said it is not to be mistaken for a large production milker, however. "It was not designed to replace expensive commercial products which can run as much as $2,000 or more," Henry said.
The milker will work on any goat as the teat cup makes contact with the udder and not the teat itself.
The milker is sold specifically for milking goats but has been used very effectively to milk miniature donkeys in New Zealand, cows in West Texas, sheep in Bermuda, horses in Italy, and a donkey in Israel.
It is popular with small and urban farms because of the simplicity of the unit. It is the only vacuum milker on the market with a vacuum gauge, pressure release valve and see-through parts.
"Customers rave about its ease of use and the ability to teach anyone to use it in a matter of minutes," Henry said.
"I really like the fact that unlike some of the milkers on the market, you are not confined to one position while milking. The design doesn’t restrict your sitting position, which allows you to move to find a comfortable position, making it much easier on your back and arms."
Henry currently has two high school students helping him and he spends his weekends personally building and packing each milker.
"I still have not realized a profit because I’m putting all back into the business," Henry said. "I expect this to be large business in the next five years, expanding into many other products and expanding retail sales to local feed stores and pet stores across the country and worldwide. I am negotiating with a manufacturer to produce a shelf-ready unit ready for retail over the counter."