Milking a Goat with a Breast Pump: What You Need to Know

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 routine.  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.  You need to consider your goats and the type of 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 somewhere and you have a couple of goats that need regular milking, there may be some milking help in your future.  Figuring out how to make your breast pump work on a goat is just the first consideration.  Understanding the safest way to milk your goat and how to maintain sanitation and the health of your goats are essential as well.

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 common 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 have the ability to use larger containers than the 4 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 chose does make a difference.

  • Hospital Grade Breast Pumps – If you have more than a few goats to milk and you 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 on the market today fall into this category. Typically, they come as a kit with a carry bag, 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 just don’t lend themselves very well to milking goats.
  • Manual Breast Pumps – The old standbys are still available with some great new features. These hand-operated breast pumps can certainly be modified to work as milking machines for your goats, but you don’t gain much over hand-milking, so why bother?

Milking a Goat with a Breast Pump: What You Need to Know

Which Pump is Best?

We need to 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 15lbs of pressure during the pump cycle.  Anymore and you chance injuring your goat.
  • Pulse Operation – As we mentioned before, a breast pump that operated 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 at all like humans. Size and shape are radically different.  Finding a fit for your goat can be a challenge and may 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 laying around unused or because they work better is a good guess.  However, investigating the Medela Breast Pump, we did find some interesting 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 a variety of sites, including several of the most popular auction and resale sites.  Prices were reasonable, and the supply is, apparently, excellent.

The Mods

The only mods that seem to be required are to find cups that will work with the teats on your goat. Some users report that they use 25mm syringes with the tops cut off and the edges smoothed.  The tips of the syringes fit into the hoses on the goat’s teats nicely.  The syringes fit very well on the teats of pygmy goats, but you must take care not to bruise the goat’s teats by using too much vacuum.

If your breast pump has a variable vacuum and works as a pulsed model, not other modifications are necessary.   If your breast pump doesn’t have those features, then they must somehow be fitted.  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 the health of your goat as well as the milk she is producing.

  • Make sure 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 weight of the bottle and milk will become too much for the suction on the teat.  You may also have to replace the bottle several times, depending on the variety of goat and her 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.

Conclusion

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 matter of personal decision.  All we can recommend is that you do a little homework and keep the best interest of your goat in mind.