Get Yer Gear
Folks have started asking me more frequently for suggestions about “how to get started” with dairy animals. This is an excellent question and one that I am most inclined to respond to this way: “Get started by smacking each cheek two times until you are in slight pain. Do I have your attention? Now take a shot of bourbon and take a nap. Your desire for dairy animals will pass – you’re welcome.” That’s my honest answer, but it’s not one that’s very fair. Because for some people (me! me! me!) no amount of cheek slapping can knock the idea from their heads in which case, let’s get serious about the situation. You want to get started with an angelic dairy goat or a doe-eyed Jersey cow but at the lowest cost possible. So – you have the animal – but how do you know what else you will need and who can you trust to supply the materials?
I was in a quandary at the beginning of my personal venture. It was unclear exactly what equipment was needed in order for me to milk a goat, an activity that looked as simple as sitting next to the sweet animal with one silver pail and a pair of strong hands. Generally, it can be that simple. For the individual milking animals only for personal consumption, I recommend breaking it down into a few basic categories:
The basic items I started with have taken me a long way and they are, by category:
Milking equipment: Stainless steel pail
Animal prep: cloth rags and udder wash
Milk handling: half gallon mason jars, strainer, disposable filters
That’s it. Really. That’s it. Admittedly, my current routine is rudimentary and not one that is acceptable on a commercial scale, but it works for me now and has for more than a year. However, finding even these basic pieces was a challenge initially. Internet searches revealed a wide range of prices on something as simple as stainless steel pails – and milk strainers? Fuhgetaboutit – I searched down many rabbit holes before discovering the one I’ve used for some time. Although there is no one, singular resource that will satisfy each of your home dairy related needs, I have found a few that do an excellent job bridging the gap between the small scale home dairy and commercial grade equipment – a combination of both are helpful to have at your fingertips. So here’s a few I really love and turn to repeatedly:
Farm and Ranch Depot, in particular, has one of the better varieties of small scale and commercial grade equipment, an essential mix for people just like me (and I know there’s lots of you out there) who are slowly growing your herds, slowly considering larger investments in some equipment in order to make life easier (even though a larger herd and more milking MIGHT actually make your life a little harder, but let’s talk about that later). For example, I am undergoing a transition now that I have both cows and goats providing milk. The very small metal strainer I’ve used for a year worked well when milking just two goats – it could handle the small volume of milk I’d pour through it at each milking. But that’s no longer the case. Once Winnie had her calf, and now that Clementine will join the milk line soon, pouring milk through the tiny strainer is not efficient.
Recently I tried a much larger, more industrial style stainless strainer, available through Farm and Ranch Depot, one that can be used now as I pour milk into mason jars, but that can also be used once I am pouring milk into 35 gallon milking buckets – and eventually – when I am pouring milk into a bulk tank. That sort of flexibility has tremendous value for me and, considering its durable stainless steel construction, it will have a long life on this farm, too. This sort of equipment pays for itself in time, is what I’m saying. Which leads me to this point: consider where you should most invest money and where you may be able to save a few dollars along the always-rewarding-incredibly-pricey dairy journey. Of the three categories above, I consider milk handling to be among the most important. It is the step where I do not want to skimp and save on my equipment since it is the last line of defense between the milk and my body. As a reminder, however, every single step of the process must be treated carefully! Spending extra money on a fancy strainer but milking from a dirty udder may still cause milk contamination – just sayin’. Be careful out there.
What I am also saying is that I am happy to finally have a few go-to online destinations for dairy equipment. Although each of the ones listed above I believe to have ample products for the homestead or backyard milker, I do think that Farm and Ranch Depot carries the widest variety of equipment for both small and larger scale farms. It is a place I will be sending more money in the future (weeps softly) because…well…dairy and spending money go together like peanut butter and jelly. Simon and Garfunkel. Mexican beer and limes. You can’t have one without the other. You just can’t. I’m sorry to break this to you – wanna hug it out? Luckily the rewards are – well – invaluable, so stop quantifying the cost and get thee a few select pieces of nice equipment. The return on the dairy life investment is exponential, truly. Period.
Below is a picture Jeremy captured this weekend in which I continue to try and live out my long-held dream of leisurely milking my adorable Jersey cow. Notice the spilled milk, the dirty bucket/stool, the crap-encrusted rubber boots. A moment of silence please for the milk-maid fantasy, may it RIP. Now get over it already and get yourself some solid gear, a lovely animal, infinite patience, and a lifetime of optimism – that’s how you get started.