Physical Traits of an Easy Hand Milking Goat

In the world of dairy goats, you’ll hear such descriptive terms as “butter soft udder texture,” “plump teats” and “open orifices” to describe a hand milking udder. In an online world where words must sufficiently explain such a complex experience as milking, we often fall short of really telling readers what the udder is like. This article attempts to break down the individual traits that come together to make a doe an “easy milker” versus a doe you might want to keep as a pet instead.

I remember my first purebred Nigerian doe. I bought her as a 3 day old bottle baby and fell head over heels in love with her. She grew into a petite beauty, a light buckskin with a characteristically mellow personality and the most ridiculously tiny teats I’d ever seen. Finally, I understood the somewhat laughable term, “kitty titties.” All my dreams of enjoying the renowned sweet, creamy milk of Nigerians were dashed upon my discovery of that udder.

A couple of other does with similarly shaped mammaries was enough to sour me on Nigerians and I sold the whole herd. It wasn’t long before I sorely missed my Nigerians and I began the search for some that I could actually milk.  Back then, in our area at least, that was still quite a challenge.  Nigerians have come a long way in a few short years.

Cherub’s udder
Cherub’s side udder

By complete chance, I acquired the does of a gal who had a run-in with an Idaho city and was forced to find homes for her goats.  Two of those three freshened with more of the same ridiculously non milkable udders, but Cherub, a demure little black and white doe (my least favorite color), sported an udder that would soon define for me the essence of an easy milking Nigerian.  You’ll know her now by looking at my herd; she is the matriarch and nearly every doe I have descends from her.

Now, I breed primarily for that ease of milking and cull hard to get the traits I feel make a doe’s udder easy to milk.  The result is worth the sadness at parting with some goat friends, because I thoroughly enjoy the milking experience with all but one of my current does.  The machine I bought to help me handle those earlier does sits unused, a $700 dust collector in the barn.  I hope to never feel the need to use it again.

Tiny teats, soft, capacious udder.

Udder Texture

Udder texture is described as a range from soft to hard or tough.  A soft udder is easier to milk and grasp, requiring less squeezing effort to bring the milk out.  By contrast, a hard udder texture makes you work harder to get the milk out, causing tired hands and cramping in worst cases.  It also has less give and may require you to milk only on the teats, something that may combine with other traits to make a doe hard to milk.  I have found that udders toughen throughout lactation, but a soft doe doesn’t often become too tough to milk.  Hard udder textures don’t typically improve, although if you’re not in milking shape, your ability to milk a tougher udder can improve through lactation.

This doe had the softest texture I’d ever encountered, and though her teats were very small, she still could have been a great milker if not for a double whammy of small orifices.

Teats point too far forward.

Orifice Size

The orifice is the hole milk flows through.  If orifices are small, it doesn’t matter about other traits; this doe will be hard to milk.  I have a doe who is perfect in every other way, but her small orifices make her such a drag to milk that I am always halfway to listing her for sale.  This is not a trait that seems to change throughout life or lactation, although they might grow a small amount as the doe matures.  Open orifices can help make up for other shortcomings.  A doe with small teats but a soft texture and open orifices can still milk down quickly and easily.

Evenly spaced teats that point straight down to the pail.

Teat Placement

Teats should point straight into the pail.  Tilted forward is okay, but not preferable, because you’ve got to put the bucket up by the front legs to catch the streams or uncomfortably point them where you want them to go.   The doe above right points too far forward but is still easy to milk with large teats and open orifices. Conformationally, this is also a sign of poor rear attachments, which can indicate an udder that won’t hold up well through multiple lactations.

Teats spaced too closely make it difficult to get a hand around each one.  Teats too far apart will put your hands rubbing against or hindered by the hind legs.  This doe is my favorite in terms of spacing – teats point straight down to the pail and are spaced well apart from each other and from the legs.  They could be closer together, but I don’t have any trouble with interference when she squats down for milking.

Teat Size

Many people believe teat size is the most important trait for ease of milking, but I haven’t found this to be true.  It is important, absolutely, but it is only one of the many aspects of a good milker.  Think of how you currently milk.  How many fingers do you use to grasp and squeeze on the teat?  For me, even on standards, it is only ever my thumb and first two fingers; the other two just get in the way.  If a Nigerian has the length to easily support my two fingers, I find it sufficient length to easily milk.  Small teat size is not always a deal breaker, however.  If a doe has a soft udder, you can milk up on the udder, squeezing it instead of the teats, which can help you milk faster.  A doe with a hard udder makes this more challenging though and a combination of the two would be a deal breaker.

Plump teats that point almost straight down to the pail.

Teat Diameter and Texture

A larger diameter teat gives you more to hold onto and lessens the amount of squeezing required to bring the milk out.  Ideally, I like teats around the size of my thumb; easy to hold onto without getting too bulky, though I can’t say I can think of a Nigerian who had teats too thick.  For my personal preferences, most standards have too large of teats, in both diameter and length.  This is a doe who has perfect teat diameter and great length.  She is the easiest milker I’ve ever had and the one I look forward to most every morning.  I’d love to have a whole herd just like her.  Her teats I define as “plump teats,” they squeeze easily and are very easy to grasp and you can feel the milk making up most of the mass.  I have another doe, a first freshener this year, whose teats are shaped similarly and are easy to grasp, but they are what I’d call “meaty,” with a lot of mass in there that doesn’t contribute to ease of milking and doesn’t leave much room for milk.  She’s tougher to milk because of this meaty texture.

An excellent milking doe will have a combination of soft udder texture, open orifices, evenly spaced teats that point down to the pail, decently sized teats for ease of grasping, a thumb sized teat diameter and teats that are plump in texture.

The only single factor I consider to be a deal breaker is small orifices, and even that can be tolerated on an otherwise great doe, but she’d have to have a really good mix of traits to make up for it.

The three main considerations are texture, orifices and teat size (including length and diameter).  Two out of three is generally passable, but if you’re looking at a doe with small orifices, I would make it a point to test milk for sure.

For machine milking, I haven’t found any difference with any of these traits except teat spacing – you need adequate room on either side to attach inflations.  If you have the means and inclination to use a milk machine, few Nigerians will be unmilkable, but if you’ll be hand milking, aim for a doe that is good or excellent in all of the above traits.

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