I like to tell people that milking, as with most things, is not as easy as it looks. It’s like riding a bike in that once you learn how to do it, you don’t ever forget. It’s pretty much different in every other way though. You’re not pedaling down the road on two wheels. You’re sitting next to a cow with your hands on her teats.
Every once in awhile, I get the fun experience of watching someone who has never milked before try it out. My favorite is still when my husband tried to milk our son’s goat a couple years back. Scott had agreed to milk the goat while our son, Jake, was at camp. I had taught Jake how to milk a goat, and he had gotten pretty good at it.
We have Kiko goats, which are not actually much of a milk breed and don’t give a lot of milk. I say that to explain that it honestly takes me about two minutes to milk out one of the goats. So, when Scott went out to the barn and 45 minutes had passed, I decided I’d better go check on him. What I saw was hilarious. My husband was hunched over trying to milk this little goat using only two fingers, his thumb and index finger – one tiny stream at a time on one teat. No wonder it was taking him so long. I tried to show him a faster way.
Milking is about the position of the hand and getting into a rhythm. Most people that try it for the first time, unless you tell them otherwise, just grab the teat and squeeze. That doesn’t work. Nothing will come out that way. It can be funny to watch them get frustrated and wonder what’s wrong with the spigot. But, eventually, I show them the correct motion is squeezing from the top down. Your hand has to be high on the teat, using the area of your hand between your thumb and index finger to squeeze first, then you roll the rest of your fingers, from the top down, onto the teat to squeeze.
Once I show the newbies this motion, they try it for themselves and see that, wow, milk comes out! Of course, getting milk to come out is only part of the success. Getting all the milk out is much more challenging and time-consuming. As an example, the first time Jake had to milk my cow instead of one of his goats, he had a difficult time. For one, a cow’s teats are much bigger. For two, a goat only has two teats, of course. But, most of the difficulty came with the fact that it takes so much more time to milk a cow, because there’s a lot more milk! His hands started cramping up. And there it is. That’s the hardest part of milking when you first begin. The muscles in your hands are not used to the work and, ouch, it hurts after awhile.
On the bright side, if you milk, you’ll have strong hand and arm muscles! I grew up with three younger brothers, and while I was milking the cow, I could always beat them at arm wrestling.
Besides hand cramps, the other trouble a newbie has is their speed. Just recently, I showed an 11-year-old boy, Conner, how to milk. He got out a few, little streams successfully; then I asked him if he was ready for me to take over. He nodded. As soon as I started, he said, “Wow!” I had to laugh. The difference being that when you milk two teats at time as quickly as you can, it goes a lot faster and the milk swishes into the bucket at a much higher volume.
“It just takes practice,” I told him. Of course, that’s true with anything.
So, if you’re just learning to milk for the first time, you definitely need two things: patience and a patient cow. I would not recommend for someone who has never milked to buy a family milk cow until they have practiced milking and have some confidence in that area.
I should also put in that I know there isn’t only one way to milk. There are plenty of proficient milkers who have found their own unique holds, finger movements, etc. The important thing is to get the milk from udder to bucket without it taking all day. Because, let’s face it, milking isn’t as fun as riding a bike.