Making the Most of Our Goats' Milk Supply
My whole family loves dairy products, and we are all good cooks. Also, like many goat people, we tend to keep more does than we need. Once they have kidded, they can give up to 15 gallons of extra milk a week until their supply naturally tapers off due to their next pregnancies.
After we have made all the cheeses we require and have shared milk with friends and neighbors, it is time to consider canning several gallons for the "dry" period. In case you are in a similar situation, I'll show you what to do to pressure-can your extra goat's milk.
Quick Reference for Canning Milk
- Processing/Cooking Time: 10 minutes (after 10 pounds pressure is built)
- Pressure Setting: 10 pounds (maybe 12 pounds at high elevations)
- Overall Time Per Full Canner Load: 4 hours (from filling jars to emptying cooled canner)
- Jar Size: Quarts, either wide or regular mouth
- Storage Term: 1+ years normally (depends on storage conditions, such as humidity)
Equipment List (Except Canning Jars)
Have ready all of your equipment (clean, of course), except jars, such as:
- pressure canner in good working order
- tongs or a magnetic lid lifter
- jar lifter for lifting the hot jars in and out of the canner
- canning funnel, optional
- cake tin or saucepan for scalding lids
- clean, damp cloth(s) or paper towels for wiping jar rims once they are filled with milk
- a clean towel and an out-of-the-way, heat-resistant surface on which to set the jars once they are finished (we used a bath towel, as we processed many jars)
Once everything is in readiness, you can proceed to wash and fill your jars.
Important note: Please note that I am demonstrating old (but well-serviced) pressure canners. Be sure you read and understand the instructions which come with your particular model or type.
Step 1: Prepare Your Canning Jars
Select Your Jars
Select only proper, brand-name canning jars. (Quarts usually work best for this project. You can decide if you'd rather use wide mouth or regular tops, however.) Inspect them for chips, cracks, or other weaknesses. (A regular jar, such as a pickle jar, might not be able to take the heat and pressure during this process and may break.)
Wash Each Jar
Wash each jar thoroughly in hot, soapy water, paying special attention to the threads around the top, and the bottoms of the jars on the inside, especially if they have been used before. You may also prepare them in an automatic dishwasher or by sterilizing them in an oven at 200 °F for 20 minutes per batch is a general rule. If your jars have been stored in a basement or outbuilding in which vermin have been allowed to run, you would be wise to soak them in water to which a bit of chlorine has been added.
Arrange Your Supplies
Set the jars aside to dry. Have ready the number of rings and lids you will need, and wash them.
Step 2: Wash and Scald Lids
Place the lids in a small pan (a layer cake pan works well), and pour boiling water over them to scald them. Leave them in the water until you are ready to put them in the jars.
Step 3: Fill the Jars
- Using a ladle, fill all jars with clean, fresh milk to within about a 1/2" of the rim.
- Set aside each jar, dribbles and all, and proceed to fill as many as your canner will hold (usually seven).
- With a very clean, damp cloth or paper towel, wipe each jar's rim and any dribbles of milk down its sides.
- Using the tongs or magnetic lid lifter, lift one lid at a time from the pan of hot or simmering water, and place it on the jar without touching the lid with your hands if you can help it. Adjust two-piece caps, screwing the bands on finger-tight. This will allow for proper expansion during processing.
Step 4: Fill the Canner
Put two quarts of water in the bottom of your pressure canner, and place the jars in it—six around the outside and one in the center on a wire rack.
Put the lid of the canner on, aligning the two marks on the lid and body of the canner (on the front), and tighten the screws down in opposite pairs, snugly. Go around at least twice, checking the screws for tightness, before turning the fire on under the canner.
Use good judgment when deciding how high to turn the heat. On some stoves, "high" is not too hot or fast, while on others, "medium" would be pushing it. Whatever you do, now is the time to keep a close eye on your canner.
Step 5: Processing
Once the heat is started under your pressure canner, the wait for it to come up to temperature and build proper pressure can be long. This should not be hurried too fast because of the danger of damage or breakage to your jars. They need to warm and expand gently, and a full canner load of cool milk takes a while. So plan something you can do which will keep you within hearing of the kitchen.
You will know your canner has reached a full boil when steam begins blowing from the vent in the lid. Allow this vent to steam for 10 minutes before placing the weight on, set for 10 pounds pressure at sea level. 7–10 minutes of free steaming are needed to make sure the vent is clear, though you may have checked it.
After the weight is on, you will need to wait a few minutes more for pressure to build. Once it does, adjust your heat to allow for one jiggle of the weight every several seconds. Many jiggles per minute mean that your heat is too high; fewer than four means your heat is probably too low. Experience will teach you the "magic" setting to maintain precise pressure, so check your gauge often. Too low a pressure means your product will not have been heated to a safe level for long-term storage. Too much, and ... I will show you what happens with too much pressure.
The Color of Canned Milk
The milk is an off-white color due both to being cooked (the milk sugars slightly caramelize) and to a high-fat content (cream). I didn't skim my raw milk. This coloring will be true no matter at what pressure non-skimmed milk is processed.
Step 6: Cool Down
The canner needs to cool until the weight stops jiggling and the gauge reads “zero”. Then remove the weight and allow the canner to continue cooling for another few minutes to further equalize pressure within it. Finally, remove the lid, and let the jars sit for five minutes to allow them to adjust to cooler air before removing them to their resting area using a jar lifter.
Set them on a towel or board in a draft-free area, and allow them to sit still for several hours or overnight until they are cooled throughout. Check lids for a good seal (there should be no “give,” and they should be sucked down). You will probably hear the lids “ping” as the milk cools and pressure changes in the jars. Any that have not been sealed may be refrigerated and used within a couple of days.
Step 7: Clean-Up
You will need to scrub your jars and canner in hot, soapy water once they are quite cool. (Jars should sit for several hours, or overnight, in a draft-free area.) Of course, you will need to wash all your other equipment as well, being especially attentive to any plastic items (buckets, etc.) as they tend to hold the smell of milk.
You may wish to remove the rings from your jars and wash the threads well. (Some people prefer to store jars without rings, anyhow.) You definitely don't wish to attract vermin with sticky jars.
A Note About Cream
The amount of cream showing in each jar will depend on how much was left in the milk you are using. When you use totally unskimmed, unhomogenized goat's milk, the cream gradually rises and forms on top of the milk during storage. This is natural and will happen if goat's milk is left in the refrigerator for a few days in a glass jar or similar. I see up to 1” when I open canned jars. This cream probably won’t mix into coffee very well, but it is tasty on cereal or in sauces.
I’ve never tried making butter from cooked cream ... but if you cared to experiment, I’d like to know how that goes. Drop me a comment if you try this. If I plan on making butter, I skim the milk before canning it and save the cream in the freezer until I have enough to bother processing it in a food processor.
Storing Home-Canned Products
Home-canned products like cool but not cold environments, with very little temperature change. An underground cellar or unheated basement is ideal. Any severe temperature change in the atmosphere will cause the pressure in the jars to change and may make them come unsealed. If this happens, you will have spoiled food in your storage.
It is a good idea to check your jars periodically, even if you have no serious doubts about their environment. You may not be able to avert a problem entirely, but you may be able to head it off before it blooms into a disaster.
Why Can Goat's Milk?
Canning means you can keep milk for cooking purposes without taking up valuable freezer space. Canning is a long-term storage solution and a handy one for many people. You will probably not wish to drink the canned milk as, being a cooked product, it tastes slightly caramelized. But there is nothing wrong with its quality.
I chose to can milk in the eventuality that the goats from which I get my regular supply should go dry all at the same time, preparing for their next kids. The last time this happened, I was out of goat's milk for at least three months while the mothers kidded, freshened, and built up enough supply for their babies and my family.
Why Use a Pressure Canner?
You should use a pressure canner instead of a water bath canner for food safety reasons. Basically, the pressure canner cooks the milk to a higher temperature and prevents it from retaining bacteria that can cause spoilage.
I demonstrated using raw, unskimmed milk, which will keep a while on its own in a refrigerator but will eventually sour, then actually spoil. Once it is cooked, it will skip the souring process and go straight to spoiling, especially if the air is present. So play it safe.
How Much Time Does Canning Milk Take?
If you have only one canner, expect to do no more than 14 quarts in a day. The whole process takes about 4 hours, from the first step of washing and preparing the jars to the 5th out of 6 steps, which includes waiting for the canner to cool down enough to open it.
My mother and I, working together and using two canners, did 28 quarts the first day and 14 the next morning, for a total of 41 quarts, or just over 10 gallons of milk. I figure this would be enough to last me about 10 weeks in the winter, assuming I had no fresh milk available, as I use about a gallon a week for baking during the colder months.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Joilene Rasmussen