We’ve just finished our fourth housesit on a small-holding in the Charente region of France. Now we’re old hands at milking, and this time, for the first time, we didn’t have to milk Bella. She’s a grandma now, and resting. Here I look back to our first stay and encounter with the She-Devil!
Day One: We meet Bella.
She splayed her legs, put her hooves on the lower bars of the gate, and looked us straight in the eye. Pulling hay out of her bale, she carried on munching, unconcerned by our presence. She hopped onto the milking stand as good as gold. A bowl of goaty goodness awaited, a cocktail of barley, oats, sugar beet, corn, sunflower seeds, and chopped butternut squash. She lowered her head, gobbled furiously and the race was on. We had two scoops of ‘goat goodness’ the time, for our first milking session. I swear, if Bella could talk, she’d be saying ‘bring it on’.
The udder was full, warm, soft. Full, but my efforts yielded nothing. I rolled my fingers, applied pressure, tried to be firm, – nothing, nada, niente, niets. Lynda milked the other teat, a thick frothy stream burst forth. Her jug was half-full. Suddenly I got a squirt – a thin, pathetic trickle, not even a thimble full, but it was something. Bella stomped her hind leg and side-stepped, and made it clear the session was over.
Day Two. It doesn’t get any easier.
Lynda went on holiday today. It was just us and Bella. And Bella knew it. Instead of hopping onto the milking stand, she decided to run around the yard. A rattle of her sweet treats bought her back. I fastened the stanchion and made her secure. I wiped her teats. Max, Tash, and Ben, the border collies, were on stand-by for the first drops. They stalked the chicks while they waited, crouching low, nose to the ground. The little white hen clucked. Bella chowed down. My hands worked, more of a rhythm today, more flow, but it was still thin, watery milk and painfully slow work. I got a tea-cup full. Then Bella lifted her leg, put her hoof in the jug and it was all over. Ben, Tash and Max rushed forward.
Day Three: Jim gets in the flow.
Something clicked for Jim today. He got rhythm and the milk gushed. I could hear it hitting the jug – sounded like a right Niagara – buton my side it was still the same old trickle. And now there’s a baby wild boar who needs us – well, needs the milk. A bloke named Gareth called. He found it in the road. He’s rearing it – says he might keep it as a pet. ‘I’d just decided I wanted a dog that morning’, he said, without a hint of irony. Gareth took the whole stock of milk that was in the freezer. Now we’re on a mission.
Day Four: Milking on the web
I need all the help I can get and resort to reading internet tutorials. ‘If the goat kicks, keep you hand on the teat – let her know she can’t shake you off easily’, I read. But Bella can raise her hind leg and kick my hand away. She leans against me, literally pushing me to one side. Sometimes we think she’s going to tip the whole stand over. She’s not making it easy. Little by little though we’re getting more milk. Up to a litre a day now. We’ve put one bottle back in the freezer for the baby boar. Yay!
Day Five: Jim decides he likes milking.
I’ve decided to christen Bella the She-Devil. Her udder looks heavy. I worry she’s uncomfortable, but still she won’t stand still. I talk to her. Pat her. Even warm the cloth we wipe her teats with, running it under warm water. I try not to let my stress communicate itself to her. She’s loveable – when she’s not being milked. Jim sits on his stool, and works away, milk pounding against the jug. I stand, bent at an awkward angle, get cramp in my arm, stiff fingers, and feel that I’m going backwards rather than forwards. How long does it take to learn to milk a goat?
Day Six: At last, making progress?
And then, just like that, something shifted. Bella is still bolshie, can still eat a lot faster than we can milk, but suddenly it’s easier. Gareth came back. The little boar – who’s been christened Trotsky (because he ‘trots behind us’) – is doing great and is apparently ‘feisty’ and tries to batter down the kitchen door every evening. Gareth’s now having second thoughts about keeping him as a pet.
Day Seven and Beyond: I became a maid a milking in time for Christmas.
Not exactly a milkmaid – but good enough. Rather optimistically Lynda showed us how to make cheese before she left – that’s still some way off, but we have helped to save Trotsky, avoided being kicked by Bella, and have developed strong biceps into the bargain.