This is the second of a three-part tale of our adventures at Redwood Hill Farm, a goat dairy. (Read Part One. Can't get enough of the goats? We couldn't either, so we made a slideshow with additional photos.)
Miss Steak: At long last Scott asked us if we wanted to go hang out with the goats! (I felt like it would be too pushy to ask.) It was very exciting. He led us to the main pen, where the milking herd lounges around all day between trips to the milking parlor, and whoopwhooped them away from the entrance. We squeezed in through the gate.
Sheep would have scattered to all points, but not the goats. The white and brown and black throng just barely let us step in before crowding all around us, meeting and greeting and generally getting to know their guests. They were butting our thighs, sticking their heads between our legs, nibbling at the grommets on our jeans, ripping gently at Potato Non Grata's fascinating velcro pockets. Proffered fingertips were gently accepted, and our notepads were the source of great, moist interest.
One goat peed on Sir Loin's foot — it's hard to see what's going on as they swarm around you — which made him very glad he wore his new boots and not his Tevas. (Said boot was very popular at the dog park later; all the pups had to come up and have a sniff.)
Dairy Queen: Being amongst the goats was a trip. They were so interested in us, raising their heads to stare at us with their horizontal slits of pupils and rubbing and nibbling. Scott said goats primarily sense things with their mouths and tiny, even teeth, but that contrary to popular opinion, they won't consume just anything — "they're picky eaters." The teeth, incidentally, are only on the bottom and they look oddly . . . human. I felt like we were the day's entertainment, and that after we left, they'd be discussing us for a while.
We slowly stepped around on the squishy pile of straw and manure, a throng of goats moving with each of us, as close as bodyguards. They kept stepping on my feet, and the dangling end of my cloth belt was taste-tested by at least 10 goats. I was surprised by how different their coats' texture felt, from rough and woolly to soft as a rabbit's.
Miss Steak: Now, not all goats in the herd are created equal. Goat society is stratified. There are the Queens, the boss goats. They are first in line to be milked, and they get the primo corner slots to hang out in. While the Queens tend to be the top prize-winning goats, Scott says, he's not sure how the others know they're special. I doubt that any of these regal creatures were among the crowd that came out to greet us, because they spend their days surrounded by a retinue of Protectors, the goats who hang about the Queens and send interlopers packing. Then there's the rest of the herd, with its own groupings and strata. Scott told us the social structure helps him know if something's amiss: Since the goats march in to be milked in the same order each time, a change often signifies a problem.
I went down the hill away from the main party to the bottom of the paddock where some outliers were sprawling in the sun. One shyish black goat in particular caught my eye, and we made friends — best not to approach directly, but rather to sidle up perpendicular-wise and hold hand down for nibbling, looking away until contact has been made. She was lovely. Hair kind of like a wirehair Jack Russell, but a smooth and silky neck and nice soft eyes. She followed me around all over the bottom area, and back up to the top, where it became clear that she wasn't part of the up-the-hill, popular-party-girl clique. She seemed a bit nervous, pressed up against me, stuck with it for a short while, but then got chased away back down to the nerd crew. Sad.
Dairy Queen: I gathered my nerve. "Scott, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, and if it wouldn't upset her too much, do you think I could milk one?"
I felt bad asking because it was right in between their milking times, but I figured it might be the only chance I'd ever have to milk a goat. And I really like Redwood Hill's yogurt. How much closer could I get to my food than coaxing the raw ingredients out of a living animal?
Scott considered for a moment, and then kindly assented. "I'll go find you a gentle one," he said.
A few minutes later, I am sitting on a little milking stool next to a Saanen lady, who is standing on a wheeled metal platform with her head sticking through a fence partition, onto which is hooked a feed bucket. She immediately starts eating. (I'm sorry to say I was so nervous that I forgot to write down her name.) Scott places a steel bucket under her enormous pink udder and gives me a quick demonstration.
I take a deep breath and attempt to milk my first animal ever.
The teats are warm and fleshy, the skin smooth as human lips. It kind of feels like, well, a long nipple — or an enormous planter's wart — in my hand, topped by a fuzzy, heavy breast. I experience a brief moment of performance anxiety. Then, as instructed, I make a circle with my thumb and forefinger and pinch the top of the teat where it joins the udder, so that it becomes a little penis-shaped balloon filled with milk. Then, using my palm and other fingers, I squeeze this balloon so that the milk shoots out and pings against the bucket: I'm milking a goat!
I move back and forth between her two teats. Pinch, squirt, pinch, squirt.
I look at the frothy white mixture in the bucket, and smell the barn and the chewing, ear-flicking animal in front of me. I hear the kids baaah-baaah-bleating in their stall a few feet away. I'm sticky with sweat and goat kisses. I feel very far away from the chilly supermarket aisle where I pluck the plastic containers of Redwood Hill yogurt from amongst the rows and rows of competing cow's milk brands.
I could have milked her all day, but I figure the other members of our party might want to try. Miss Steak is game, and she's soon milking with both hands like a pro. Then Sir Loin gives it a go, and the Potato, not wanting to be left out, also manages a few squirts. The doe never seems to even notice the changing cast of hands.
Afterward, Scott dips her teats in an iodine mixture to sanitize them. "The orifices won't close up for several minutes, and we don't want any bacteria to get in," he explains.
On Monday, Part Three: Where the goatmilk goes