Good quality milk should have a pleasantly sweet and clean flavor with no distinct aftertaste. If you raise dairy goats for milk consumption, it’s inevitable that you will have, or have had an off-flavored batch. Sometimes the flavor will pass, but other times it will persist, and drive you crazy trying to figure out what could have caused the problem. There are a many reasons why you might get an off-flavor in your milk, so the best thing to do is to troubleshoot.
Below is a guide to help you identify what could be causing that off-flavor in your goat’s milk. You can also download our PDF guide here.
Step 1 - Taste milk fresh out of the goat
Before tasting, be sure to do a couple squirts off to the side of your pail so you can check for thick, smelly, or bloody milk, which may indicate a health problem such as mastitis.
If your milk is consistently tasting funky after you have processed and chilled it, the first thing you may want to do is give the fresh milk a taste. If it tastes sweet and normal right from the milk stand, you can probably bet that you have a problem with your storage and processing. If the goat milk tastes bad even when it’s fresh out of the goat, there may be environmental or health factors that are changing the flavor of your goat’s milk.
Step 2 - Verify you are following good handling and processing procedures
In most cases off flavors can be traced back to improper handling and storage. Bacteria love to grow in milk, and proper chilling is the key to safe, high-quality milk. If your milk tastes good right out of the goat, you are probably getting the bad flavor from a breakdown in this process.
Storage container sanitation
Make sure whatever you use to collect the milk and your storage container are both sanitized properly. To sterilize your equipment, wash it with warm soapy water and boil it for 5 minutes to kill any bacteria. There are also dairy specific sanitizers available for cleaning milking equipment. If you use cheesecloth or reusable filters, make sure these too are sterilized.
Processing fresh milk
Milk is a prime breeding ground for bacteria which makes quick and sanitary processing crucial to removing unwanted flavors and potential health hazards.
Before you begin milking, prepare all your equipment and have your ice bath set up so that you can move quickly.
Preparing to milk and milking
Start with brushing the animal to help prevent debris from falling into the pail as you milk. Brush her from the top down, ending with a good brushing of her belly in front of her udder. It’s best if the animal’s belly, hindquarters, and udder have been clipped of long hair. Wash your hands, and clean the teats and udder with warm soapy water or udder wash and a cloth, and dry the udder thoroughly. This should help limit the transfer of bacteria to the milk, and prevent things like feces, dirt, and other unwanted contaminants from falling into the milk.
Processing and storing milk
If you don’t filter during milk collection, you will need to make sure you filter out any foreign contaminants that may have found their way into your milk before chilling. This can be done with a funnel and coffee filter, cheesecloth or special filters specifically for milk.
Glass is the preferred method of storage, as plastic can be harder to clean and retain bacteria even after a thorough cleaning. There are, however, some plastics that are considered food safe that you can use. These containers are usually marked or labeled as food safe.
After you have finished milking, make sure you get your fresh, filtered milk chilled and into the fridge or freezer and cool it to 40 degrees fahrenheit or lower as soon as possible to prevent bacteria growth and lipolysis (the release of fatty acids into the milk, which results in a goaty taste). An ice bath is especially helpful for this. Exposure to direct sunlight can also cause lipolysis, so try to keep it covered and in a dark place. Let the milk chill for at least several hours before consuming.
Never add a batch of warm milk to a batch of chilled milk. While it may save time and container space, the warm milk will heat up the chilled batch and encourage bacterial growth that will spoil both batches.
A breakdown in any of the above processes has the possibility of producing off flavors in your goat’s milk. By following the guidelines laid out above, you should be able to rule out processing and storage as a potential source of your bad tasting milk.
Step 3 - Check for environmental conditions
If you’ve tested your milk and it tastes funny right out of the goat, or you have eliminated the possibility of contamination in your storage and processing, environmental factors could be causing your goat’s milk to have an “off-flavor.”
Below are a list of environmental conditions that could could be affecting the taste of your goat’s milk.
Location and cleanliness of the milking area
Barn odors can be absorbed in your milk as you milk, leaving you with unclean or dirty tasting milk. To ensure barn odors don’t find their way into your milk, situate your milk area somewhere clean that’s set apart from your barn, and keep you milking area and milk stand clean and debris-free.
Condition of shelter
The smell of ammonia and other musty barn odors can also be the culprit of off-flavors. Goats can absorb such odors into their milk just by breathing them. Make sure you provide a dry, well-ventilated place for your goats to rest, and keep fecal matter and other contaminants cleaned up. This has the added benefit of minimizing the threat of disease in your animals, and keeps them clean–limiting debris in the milk.
Bucks housed with or near milking does
Anyone who has ever owned a buck knows the distinct smell that seems to pour off of them. It sticks to everything and seems to stay with you no matter how often you shower. So, if that smell stays on you forever, imagine how long it will stick to your does?
Keeping your does with your bucks is a surefire way to get “bucky” flavored milk. Make sure to keep them separated by some distance; does housed separate from, but near, a buck will still pick up his scent.
Consumption of plants that impart off flavors
Goats have an amazing ability to flavor their milk with what they eat. They could be consuming plants that are giving your goat’s milk that off-flavor. Carefully check your pasture and any area where they might be eating to see if that is the case. Common causes are wild garlic and onions, but other plants that can leave undesirable flavors in your milk include:
- Fools’ parsley
- Birdsfoot trefoil
- Shepherd’s purse
- Ivy leaves
- Sweet clover
- Wood sorrel
- Brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc.)
If you are feeding hay, it’d be worth checking for the presence of any of these plants in your hay as well, especially if all of your does starting producing off-tasting milk at the same time you received a new supply.
Step 4 - Look for health issues
Metabolic disturbances and illness may also result in “off” or unclean flavors. If you’ve verified that the above circumstances are not the cause of your off-flavored milk, or in your test squirt you found the milk either thick, smelly or bloody, you may be facing a health issue.
A salty taste in the milk could be a result of mastitis. Mastitis is an udder infection that can be the result of a number of things. Dirty pens or feeding areas, udder trauma from bruising or gouging, unsanitary milking processes, changes in diet or rapid temperature changes that’ll leave a doe’s immune system weak can all increase the chance of mastitis.
Does with sub-clinical mastitis will show no symptoms, but as the disease progresses they may develop a hard, swollen and red udder or teats. When only one half is affected, the two udder halves may appear “unbalanced”. The goat may also have a fever, be lethargic, off feed, and/or the milk may be stringy and spotted with blood. If the doe is feeding her offspring, she may be reluctant to let them feed due to the pain.
Ketosis is an illness that can occur shortly after a doe has given birth, up to about three weeks postpartum. A doe develops Ketosis when she is producing higher milk yields than her body can keep up with. To compensate, the doe’s body uses its protein reserves to produce milk. This can lead to a strong flavored, “goaty" milk.
A goat suffering from Ketosis may have little or no appetite, be lethargic and depressed, have poor coordination, grind her teeth, be unable to stand, and have sweet or foul smelling breath.
It is not uncommon for milk to have a strong taste for a week or so after kidding, so be careful with assuming an animal producing off-flavor milk immediately postpartum has Ketosis.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
A Vitamin B12 deficiency can be a source of bitter milk. B12 is created in the rumen and helps the goat metabolize feed. Normally, the shortage of B12 in a goat’s system can be linked directly to a shortage of Cobalt. Cobalt is not stored in the goat’s system, so it must be found in their foodstuff. You can provide Cobalt through a mineral lick, or herbal supplements such as chicory.
If you are providing Vitamin B12 adequately and yet the milk still tastes bitter, your goat could have a parasite infection. Make sure to do a fecal test if you think this is a possibility.
There are a number of reasons your goat’s milk might have an off-flavor, but if you know your goat’s milk is normally sweet, it should be possible to determine the cause through the process of elimination.