Try Before You Buy - Purchasing Milk Animals
When we got our first goats home, we set about learning the finer points of caring for them, and getting to know the quirks and vagaries of each goat. We did not know until we got them home, really, the quality of their milk, the amount they were producing, or how difficult each was to milk. None of those things can be judged by a surface inspection.
When you are attempting to preserve Heritage animals, it is important that your milking livestock has the qualities that true Heritage breeds were bred for. You also need to know that you can milk an animal and use it to meet your needs.
Many experiences since then have brought us to the point where we will not purchase a milking animal unless we have milked them first (or have compelling evidence that they will meet our expectations). This makes it more difficult to purchase, but can save you a lot of heartache in the long term. You are primarily concerned with three things:
1. The milk. Quality is primarily an issue with cows. Goats have not been bred to ridiculous production levels the way cows have been, for the most part, and they have not had their milk quality compromised by over-breeding for quantity. But it is a MAJOR concern with cows. You are looking for two significant things: How much cream rises to the top, and how yellow the cream is in color. These two things help you to measure the richness of the milk. More cream is better. Yellower cream is better. Good cream is the color of most butter. Really GOOD butter is the color of daffodils. If the cream is white, or just barely off-white, then you do NOT have a Heritage Jersey, Heritage Guernsey, Heritage Ayershire, or Heritage Kerry cow. You have a diluted genetic off-shoot that has at some time been crossed with Holsteins to increase production. Less cream at the top is also indicative of over-breeding for high volume. When cream separates, it gradually concentrates at the top, first forming a sort of fuzzy line, where the cream and milk separate, then concentrating more, and forming a sharper line the longer it sits. So at first, within 24 hours of milking, it will look like there is almost 25% cream on the jar, and the line will be soft. But after about 2 days or more, the line will be crisp and the cream will look like 18-20% of the milk in the jar. Less than that, or colors so soft you cannot easily SEE the line, means that you are getting lower quality milk.
2. Amount of milk. Milking amounts vary, depending on the breed, how aggressively they have been milked, and the point in the milking cycle. After birthing, a cow or goat has to be milked to increase production. It then usually plateaus for a few months, then gradually declines. If the animal has been re-bred, it may decline more abruptly after the pregnancy is well established. While some goats do give a gallon a day, rarely more, it is more common to get 1-2 quarts a day from a full sized goat. Cows can vary radically, but a couple of gallons a day for a homestead cow was pretty common, up to 4 or 5 was considered really good. Cows that give far more than that are those that have been up-bred for milk production, and will generally have lower quality milk.
3. Ease of milking. The size and shape of the udder and teats has a pretty major influence on how comfortably you can milk a cow. They may also have an easy grip, or a hard grip, when milking them, and if it is easy to squeeze and produce the milk, it will be far less tiring to milk by hand than if you have to really work at it. If milking by machine, then they have to have teats that are shaped well for the machine. Taking a turn at the milking bench with an animal you are considering buying is one of the things that can really save you a lot of hassle, and help you discover things you'd not otherwise notice, and is especially important for hand milking. You also need an animal that will stand for milking, and not be dancing, kicking, or fighting the stanchion.
Giving it a try before you buy can not only save you a lot of hassles in the future, it can also tell you much about the bloodlines of the animal you are considering, and whether it truly IS a preserved Heritage breed, or a bloodline that has been corrupted along the way.