Monday, October 4, 2010

An open Letter to Mike Henry, Inventor of the Henry Milker

Dear Mike Henry,

I love you. I know these are strange words coming from someone you don't even know, but they had to be said. This morning, the first morning I have been able to successfully milk my goat, I tearfully praised your name for inventing such an ingenious, simple contraption, the Henry Milker.

I purchased your product, with trepidation I might add, after two weeks of pure milking hell. Though this was our, mine and my doe's, first freshening, it was not easy for me to come to this decision. I'm a real do-it-yourself kind of gal who comes from a long line of Swiss dairy farmers. To not be able to milk my own goat by hand would be committing high treason against my ancestral heritage. But the kind of milking protestations going on in my backyard were not normal, not even for a goat. Let's just say words like "fidgety" and "dancer" don't even begin to describe the type of behavior that my Nigerian Dwarf would display on the milking stand. My doe, Lucy, would go into full body spasms at the slightest touch to her udder, we're talking full on hee-hawing donkey bucking here. My hands and forearms are scratched and bruised from the beating I've been handed at the hooves of my little caprine "friend".

I tried everything to pacify my dear doe. During milking I'd put her in the stanchion, give her some grain and treats, brush her mottled coat, stroke her nose, and sing children's lullabies in a soft, soothing voice. I told her that she was the best goat in the world and that I loved her. She nuzzled me, returning the affection. But the moment I moved my hands towards her teats, she would squat down until her udder touched the floor of the stand. I could usually get her back up, though as I started to squeeze she would begin the three year old tantrums. You know, the kind seen in shopping malls and grocery stores everywhere. The gauntlet is thrown. The stomping of small feet begins with a chorus of "No" ad infinitum.The body is thrown to the ground, from which proceeds dolphin-like flailing accompanied by a screeching that would frighten a Banshee. The only solution is to pick the beast up, throw it over your shoulder, and march out of the store with little kicking legs leading the way and tiny fists pounding on your back picking up the rear. Don't think I didn't consider trying that with the goat. However, under closer scrutiny, I realized that milking would be impossible in this position.

I moved on to stronger measures. I added components to my stanchion, creating a small corral with only an inch in any direction for movement. Her feet were still able to move so she tromped on my hands as if they were grapes in old school wine making. I made a "humane" fabric hobble for her, which she pulled her legs out of in less than 30 seconds. I tied her collar to the fence so that she couldn't move her head around so much. I had hoped that together with the hobble this would decrease her momentum to escape. Nope. I tethered her leg to the milking stand. That lasted longer than the hobble by about... five seconds. I tethered her leg to the stand by winding a long strand of cloth from the top of her leg to the bottom as if I were putting her in a splint. I wrapped the fabric so tight that I couldn't pull out a piece of my sweatshirt that had gotten stuck, so I removed the jacket and tied up her other leg with the sleeves. I went into the house to get a clean jar - the one I had was ruined from her hoof landing in it - and when I returned both of her legs were free. Houdini was a hack compared to this goat. I even had my husband, Esteban, nicknamed "Chestaban" by co-workers for his muscly build, hold her legs while I milked. He could only hold her for about 10 minutes, after which he was completely fatigued and bruised by her forceful hind kicks. 

I tried lecturing my little lady. When "stop it", "calm down", and "get over it" were rebuffed, I moved on to not so vague threats. "Do you know what they call goats like you in Mexico? Birria. Do you really want to go there?" I tried reasoning. "Suck it up goat lady! This is a woman's lot. You have babies; you get milked. I've been milked. You're going to be milked. That's life!" I know she was listening to me because she would turn her head in my direction with pleading eyes that said "Please stop doing this to me!"

Day in, day out, this was our routine. Get up. Attempt to milk goat using above strategies. Get ass kicked. None of this was helped by the fact that my doe has very small teats, one of which, a double teat, the vet made more problematic by attempting to cut one side off. What to do? I looked forward to milking like I would an appointment for a root canal. Wracked with guilt about the obvious torture that I was putting my doe through and unable to use my hands anymore due to pulled muscles and bruising, I considered giving up. Dreams of fresh cream, butter, ice creams, and cheeses dissolved into nightmares of getting a hoof planted in my face. Then I remembered what it is that separates us from the animals: our higher reasoning abilities.

Clearly, I was not going to be able to muscle or talk my way through this one. So I spent some time on the Interwebz doing a little research on how to milk a stubborn goat. Milking machines looked promising, but at a $1-2 grand price tag that was completely out of the question for one goat. Didn't they have a hand pump for goats like the one I had used while breastfeeding? Yes! I found a couple of your competitors' products, however one had too many parts, used plastic bottles, and was still a bit cost prohibitive. The other, though less expensive, had a tendency to break, or so I had read. I loved that your milker had a pressure gauge and was compatible with wide mouth glass canning jars as they are easy to find and a breeze to store. But it was your 30 day money back guarantee that sealed the deal for me. I'm a cheap skate and hate financial risks. I know I could have saved a couple bucks and built my own hand pump, but frankly after getting my butt kicked on a daily basis, I was ready to pay for someone else to have worked out the kinks on this build.

The day the Henry Milker arrived I ran to the goat enclosure to give it a whirl. It was my last hope at salvation and I needed to know immediately if there was any reason to hold on. The kids had been nursing on their mama all day so I knew I wouldn't get much milk. She fussed about having the teat cup put on and the pre-pump hand milking, but she didn't seem so rattled by the actual suction. This was working, but the 1/3 cup I extracted was underwhelming. The next day I gave Lucy a break from all the udder fondling and put her kids away for the night in separate housing. First thing in the morning, I went out, Henry Milker in hand, nervous that things might go south. She was so full I could hardly wring any milk out into the strip cup, but I did get it flowing. Once I hooked the pump up to her teat, Holy Mary, Mother of God, the milk she was a flowing! By the end, I had gathered nearly a quart, which is excellent production for a dwarf in a single milking. And even then she was only half emptied! Plenty left for the kids.

To be sure, she still kicked and bucked and I even got a hoof in the nose, but all that gorgeous sweet sweet milk was safe in the jar, unable to be touched by her manure coated hooves that landed into the bucket at every previous milking attempt. No more throwing out the precious few drops, barely enough to cream a coffee, due to contamination. The only recommendation that I would add is that you give folks the option of having longer tubing. My goat's udder hangs at the same height as the top of a quart jar, which makes it awkward to keep the jar on the stand as the stiff tubes have a tendency to knock it over. I would really like to set the jar on the ground so that it wouldn't be repeatedly kicked over, but it won't reach. It's not really a biggie since of course I can buy some longer tubing for cheap. Just a small suggestion.

Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to you. You have saved my very milky doe from becoming dinner, rekindled my excitement for producing my own dairy products, and prevented GPS (Goat Protection Services) from being called out to my little urban farm. I promise to name my first cheese after you.

In all sincerity, thank you from the bottom of my udders,

Heidi Kooy, proud goat milker


  1. I hope our milker works as well as yours!

  2. I am laughing so hard my side hurts! This one of the best pieces I have ever read! Truly publishable! mama of proud goat milker!

  3. Dear Heidi,
    I have to admit that I have never read a funnier story in my entire life, and I'm pretty old. I believe your story is a perfect example of the great American Spirit...don't just give up when things get a little tough, get tougher and figure it out! I love your story.
    Mike Henry
    Inventor of the Henry Milker

  4. You're the best Mike! I was just going to email you. Part of my post, the part where I talk about the cool features of your milker, got erased and I just fixed it.

  5. That is awesome! Nice that you found a way to milk the goat in an efficient way.

  6. I love my henry milker! I lucked out, and have been able to hand milk, but the machine is amazing, and I love that no poo feet get in!! lol Can't wait to read more about your urban farm!

  7. A brilliant and hilarious post, although I did wince at the 'hoof in the nose' part. Apparently I've been fortunate to only have milked passive goats thus far, but if we do finally add diary goats to the farm next year, and they fuss, I'll be sure to give Mr. Henry's milker a try!

  8. He wrote you back!!! Oh my god the story and his writing back is so so funny.

  9. I loved that - almost moved to get a goat and a Henry Milker myself!

  10. Great post.. made me laugh out loud. Henry Milker is giving DeLaval an udder run for the money.....
    Anna Scott

  11. As someone who actually attempted to milk Heidi's goat, I can attest to every last detail of the doe's behavior. Not a drop was saved from that experience.

    I milk my two does by hand every day without so much as a stamp of the hoof. But it's still work. After seeing the picture posted of the 3/4 full jar, I can say that I'm truely impressed. The Henry Milker must be a truely amazing piece of equipment.

    Heidi - I'm going to have to swing by and see it in action. I may just have to break down and buy one for myself. Anything to make a job faster and more efficient is a sound investment for me.

    Happy cheese making!!!

  12. I may have to break down and get one too. I just hate straining my milk and I have a doe I haven't started milking yet that behaves more like a deer every time I take her by the collar!

  13. I borrowed a Henry Milker and used it on a small teated Alpine doe last night- after milking one teat out I tried to use the other milk cup on the far side of the doe - no luck, then I realized the lid wasn't screwed on tight enough to make the vacuum. After that adjustment- it worked fine- I got 2 quarts from her! Normally, it would take at least 10 -15 min. to get her milked out, with a foot in the buckets, lots of dancing and major frustration on my part. She kicked a bit, but the Henry worked quite well. It isn't constant vacuum, so I don't believe it will hurt the teats- maybe it will make them a bit longer so I can actually milk her correctly! I am seriously considering purchasing one.

    Thank you for your funny and informative letter!
    Old goat lady from Ohio

  14. from two old pa goats
    we purchest the henery milker and love it so much we are telling all our friends . if anyone out there has goats they need the henery milker. thanks again

  15. I purchased the Henry Milker approx. 2 months ago, and not only do I love it, but my Alpine, Cherry Bomb seems to love it, too. She produces a half-gallon at each milking, so I have to use half-gallon jars, because the quart jars will overfill on one side. The half-gallon jars have a slightly thicker rim than the quart jars, and the washer is so thin that it is difficult to get a seal. It works great on the quart jars, though. Do you have a thicker washer? Or could I use 2 washers and get a better seal? Or do you have different sized lids (wide mouth) that fit the half-gallon jar better?