Milking Machines and the Small Farm Dairy
Mechanical milking equipment and it’s use is a necessity for today’s commercial dairy industry. The advantages are, cleaner milk, faster milking, and easier milking regardless of teat-size or shape. We would not be able to milk out a yearling with small teats manually as easily as with a machine. For the home dairy or small farm there is debate whether it would be worthwhile to use a milking machine. If you only have a few animals to milk and they are easy milkers, it could be hard to justify. There are reasons, however, that even the small producer would investigate using such equipment. Perhaps after many years of milking, your hands don’t work quite as well anymore, or time is at a premium and every minute spent milking counts. It is also easier to have a friend milk your goats for you if they have a machine that is easy to use.
Not all milking machines are created equal, and you can’t just go down to the local farm store and pick up a small, medium or large unit to suit your needs. To best fit the needs of your operation, a milking machine must be both cost effective and time-saving to use. A pipeline system with a number of milking stanchions is the best way to handle a large number of animals, and a single animal bucket milker is the best way to handle a smaller number of animals. There were historically also a combination of pipeline, and bucket systems where the pipeline supplied the vacuum and the milk was pumped into individual buckets.
Home-made portable unit set up with Surge Bucket to milk cows.
Focusing on the needs of the small farm, some type of bucket system is probably the most cost effective and time-saving solution. Within that focus however, there are considerations to further refine the design of the milking setup. 10 goats could be well served milking into a 7-gallon bucket that has 2 sets of teat-cups or claw assemblies. If only one or two animals are to be milked, there are simple home-brew setups that minimize tubing and valves and have the bucket sit on the milking stand under the animal to be milked. If you have 10 or more goats to be milked, then you won’t mind the extra time it takes to cleanse the claw assemblies, and tubing from a two goat setup. Otherwise with only 2-3 animals, the minimalist setup is the most efficient.
If you want an off-the-shelf milker, Caprine Supply, or Parts Dept. have good solutions. Both companies will work with you to customize your setup. I’ve ordered quite a bit of stuff from both sources and they are both pleasant and helpful. Expect to pay well over $1000 for a nice turn key system.
Can you develop your own home-made milking machine? If you surf the web you will find that there are many solutions to the problem. First you must understand the basics. There are two main components to any milking system. One is the vacuum source, and the other is the bucket/milk extraction unit. For the vacuum source, a good vacuum pump is essential. There are many types of vacuum pumps, but the rotary vane type used for HVAC service are the most cost effective. Capacity needs to be at least 6CFM (cubic feet per minute) to milk one animal. You also need a vacuum regulator or relief valve to bleed off excess vacuum, and a gauge to read your setting (11-14In/Hg). A balance tank is also a necessity, to quickly transfer your vacuum charge to the bucket and get the system going. It also provides a brief reserve if a teat-cup falls off. You also need all the tubing and pipe fittings to hook all the components together. Finally you need to attach a stall-cock to engage the machine when you want to start milking.
For the least headaches the bucket assembly is best bought new from one of the above mentioned dairy supplies or other source. If, however you are mechanically minded and love to tinker, the Surge Milker bucket assemblies can be obtained for much less on Ebay. Beware that these are all vintage and will probably take some work to get them running reliably. The heart of any milk extraction unit is the pulsator. It’s operation and reliability is the key to getting the milk out quickly and safely. I have rebuilt and use the Surge Milker type pulsator reliably but some people I’ve helped with their machines would probably be better served using a modern pulsator.
One final recommendation is to enclose your milking unit. Barns are dirty places and it will keep your machine nice and clean. You can also keep a light bulb on to help keep the machine warm on those really cold mornings. An alternative is to have your machine located remotely in a warmed room. You can plumb the vacuum source to your milking station and even wire a remote on/off switch.
Mechanical milking is a broad and developing science. There is a world of information regarding new and developing technology in this field. This article is only intended to help you understand some of the basics and give an overview of some practical considerations. My initial interest was when a friend said she hated her machine and I helped solve some of the problems that technically and practically made it unusable. I have since then helped several people with their milking setups. I hope this article is helpful in making a decision about mechanical milking.
Contributed by Sven Trummer