So, you have goats. And you milk your goats. With the popularity of urban farming rising, the experience of milking goats is becoming part of many more people’s daily routines. There are milking machines made especially for goats, but they are, by and large, out of the reach of most hobby goatherders.
Yes, some breast pumps will work for milking goats. It would be best to consider your goats and the breast pump you use.
- Breast pumps work best on pygmy varieties
- Certain types of breast pumps work better
- The breast pump may have to be modified to work properly
If you have an old breast pump lying around in a drawer and a couple of goats that need regular milking, there may be some help in your future. The first consideration is figuring out how to make your breast pump work on a goat. Understanding the safest way to milk your goat and how to maintain sanitation and your goats’ health are also essential.
It’s Not Just Suction
Contrary to popular belief, modern milking machines don’t just suck the milk out of a cow or goats udder through the teat. When milking machines first became available, this was the standard practice. The machines developed continuous suction that drew the milk from the udder. Farmers and dairymen soon discovered that this practice had the potential to damage the teat and the udder.
New milking machines use a pulse feature that more closely resembles hand milking. If you plan to use a breast pump for milking your goats, you should make sure of a few things.
- The pump should have a pulse setting.
- If possible, your pump should be able to use larger containers than the four or 6-ounce jars usually used.
- Be sure all the parts of your setup will stand up to repeated sterilization to prevent contaminating your goats’ milk.
Which Type of Pump Do I Need?
Before we decide which breast pump is best for milking your goats, we need to look at the types of breast pumps available. There are options, and what you choose does make a difference.
- Hospital-Grade Breast Pumps – If you have more than a few goats to milk and can’t afford to spend what a commercially built milking machine will set you back, you might consider converting a used hospital-grade breast pump to your needs. Now they are about the same price as a milking machine, but can often be found used for a reasonable price.
- Electric Breast Pumps – The vast number of breast pumps available today fall into this category. Typically, they come as a kit with a carry bag and a cooler for the milk. Most models are doubles with two pumps for more efficient operation. These are the easiest to convert to use for milking goats.
- Wearable Breast Pumps – Battery-operated and able to be worn and used hands-free, wearable breast pumps are quite popular. However, these portable battery-operated options don’t lend themselves very well to milking goats.
- Manual Breast Pumps – The old standbys have some great new features. These hand-operated breast pumps can undoubtedly be modified to work as milking machines for your goats, but you don’t gain much over hand-milking, so why bother?
Which Pump is Best?
We must be clear that almost any breast pump will express milk from a goat. The challenge is to do it consistently and without harming the goat. There are some criteria for the breast pump that will make this possible.
- Suction Pressure – A significant concern when converting a breast pump to use with your goats is the vacuum pressure generated in the system. You must be sure that your breast pump doesn’t generate more than 15 lbs of pressure during the pump cycle: any more and your chance to injure your goat.
- Pulse Operation – As we mentioned before, a breast pump that operates in a pulse fashion more closely mimics hand milking and is gentler on the goats. Most newer breast pumps have a pulse setting.
- Fitting the Cups – Face it, goat teats are not like humans. Size and shape are radically different. Finding a fit for your goat can be challenging and require some experimentation.
Looking at comments by many people who raise and milk goats, the brand of breast pump that seems to be more popular for converting to use for milking goats is the Medela Double Breast pump. Whether this is because more people had these lying around unused or because they work better is a good guess. However, investigating the Medela Breast Pump, we did find some exciting features.
- Medela two-phase Expression technology
- Adjustable speed and vacuum
- Wide variety of sizes of cups
- 8 oz bottles available
- Spare parts are easy to find
Searching the internet returned lots of hits for breast pumps on various sites, including several of the most popular auction and resale sites. Prices were reasonable, and the supply was, apparently, excellent.
The only mods that seem to be required are finding cups that work with the teats on your goat. Some users report using 25mm syringes with the tops cut off and the edges smoothed. The tips of the syringes fit nicely into the hoses on the goat’s teats. The syringes fit very well on the teats of pygmy goats, but you must not bruise the goat’s teats by using too much vacuum.
If your breast pump has a variable vacuum and works as a pulsed model, no other modifications are necessary. It must be fitted if your breast pump doesn’t have those features. Since breast pumps differ so much in their design, it is almost impossible to give a step-by-step guide for making the modifications.
More You Should Know
There are lots of other things that go into using a machine to milk your goat. All are important to protect your goat’s health and the milk she is producing.
- Ensure the milking machine (or breast pump) is clean and sanitary, especially the jars that catch the milk.
- Secure the goat in a milking stand
- Wash your hands
- Hand milk a few squirts of milk
- Wash the goat’s teats and dry them thoroughly
- Apply the milking machine (breast pump) and hold it in place if milk expresses from the teat.
- Don’t let the jar overflow, or it will damage the breast pump.
- Hand milk the last of the milk from the udder
Unlike machines built expressly for milking goats, you probably will not be able to let the breast pump hang from the teat. The bottle’s and milk’s weight will become too much for the suction on the teat. You may also have to replace the bottle several times, depending on the goat’s variety and milk-producing ability.
Watch the color of the goat’s teats as you milk. If the teats start changing color, a condition called blanching, turn down the vacuum on the breast pump or risk injury to your goat.
It seems that pumping milk from a goat with a modified breast pump is possible and is being done. Whether you want to try with your goats is a personal decision. All we can recommend is that you do a little homework and keep the best interest of your goat in mind.