Training Youngsters


Imnaha King’s Lady Charlotte on the milking stand at 6 weeks (her sister Anne is behind her). At this point, she’s only getting a handful of grain once a day.

I was reminded this morning while doing the milking chores just how powerful setting goals can be. Everything we do builds on a foundation of what we’ve already done and ends up making those goals either easy or difficult to meet.

As an example, take the job of training does to get onto the milking stand and quietly allow you to milk them. The first part is easy. Set a bucket of grain up there, and they will quickly learn they need to get onto the stand to eat it. Oh, they will try eating out of the bucket from the floor, but it’s awkward. Much easier if you get on the stand. So okay, first item accomplished. Next they need to allow you to touch them all over without coming unglued and kicking you in the head. This one usually isn’t too hard either, as they’re so busy gobbling down the grain in the bucket that they couldn’t care less what you’re doing back there—as long as it isn’t painful. There are a few that are ticklish (or whatever) and never really settle down, but you must be persistent. They absolutely must learn that you ARE going to touch them, no matter how much they object, so they’d better get over it. The sooner, the better for all concerned. You will want to be sure any ticklish doelings are happy with this part before they kid, because they are the ones who will give you grief if they aren’t! This phase lasts up until the last month to two weeks before kidding. By now there will be enough of an udder visible through all the hair back there that you’ll be able to do their “kidding cut.” I clip their tails, bottoms, back legs above the hock, and udders, so that when kidding happens, they will be easy to clean up. It also makes it much easier to milk them with all the hair shaved and out of the way, not to mention less dirt and hair falling in the bucket.

Belle's fore udder. This is why you want to clip!

Belle’s fore udder. This is why you want to clip!

If you’ve given them a show clip the summer before and they are used to being handled all over without objection, the kidding cut will be a piece of cake. You can then snap photos of those cute little “baby udders” to post on Facebook for all your admiring friends. You will find that training them to the milking routine will happen very easily also, and though they may kick a few times, normally they will settle down after a few days max. This is because they know “Mom” is going to do what she’s gonna do, no matter how they feel about it, so they might as well give in. During all the months before now, you’ve established this pattern of behavior with them.


Imnaha King's Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months)

Imnaha King’s Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months). Nope, she’s not clipped!

It may seem easier to let them all just run with their mothers and not handle them until you must (and it is for a while), but it really isn’t in the long term. I don’t know about you, but nothing is more exasperating than trying to teach a grown milking doe to be hand-milked. Here you bought this lovely three- or four-year-old doe, and she’s never done anything but nurse kids. Hmm, little did you know that she was one of The Rockettes! I have done it but I can tell you I never will again—no matter how much I like the doe, because it isn’t worth the frustration of having to deal with this mess. Doing a little with your youngsters every day in a gradual, step-by-step training scenario is key to having a happy, uneventful coexistence. Then you can relax and enjoy milking chores without having somebody kick the bucket over on a regular basis. You can also feel confident that, if and when you sell them, their future owners will enjoy them, too.