I often get asked whether I hand milk or use a machine to milk out my dairy cows. The answer is, both. There is definitely a much admired simplicity in hand milking. Not only are you gaining a one on one relationship with the cows but also being up close and personal with your dairy animals allows the farmer to get a feel if something is off with the animal. I personal enjoy hand milking. Its my special, much needed, quiet time in the barn. Hand milking seems to slow down the pace of life for at least 20 minutes twice a day. There’s a sense of humbleness. A sense of peace. And a sense of pride that happens while hand milking. But lets face it, being a busy mom, farm wife and managing a full time homestead, I need more time in my day. This is where the milk machine plays its vital role.
Pro and Cons of purchasing a Milk Machine
I love that I can multitask while the machine is milking. While I can only milk two quarters at a time with my hands,( sometimes one if mama’s a kicker), the machine will milk all four quarters at the same time. It only takes about 5 minutes to milk out a cow with the machine. After I set up my machine and get good suction, I’m virtually free for the next few minutes, all while my machine is doing the hard work. During this time, I can feed the pigs, clean a stall, lock up the chickens or even prepare the next cow for milking. This is my favorite advantage of the milk machine. During the summer months when life is exceptionally busy, I relish in every extra minute I can gain. While I have become a quick hand milker, it still takes me on an average of 20 minutes per cow to milk by hand. Sometime even longer if their in a foul mood. This time add up especially when there’s more then one to milk.
This is huge! Especially if your like me and get your milk sampled and tested by the Dept of Agriculture every 30 days. When you hand milk a cow, there are bits of hay, hair and sometimes even flecks of manure that land in your hard earned milk bucket. A fine strainer is only good to so many levels. If a fleck of manure lands in my milk bucket, the milk is fed to the chickens or pigs. When using a milk machine, the bucket is fully enclosed and sealed. There is no opportunity for contamination during the milking process. This keeps the milk fresh, clean and ecoli free.
NO SORE HANDS OR ARMS
Building the arm muscles to correctly milk a cow takes a few weeks. When I first started hand milking it took me an hour and a half to milk out 1.5 gallons. I cried. My cow mooed. It was raining. The barn roof was leaking on me. I thought I had made a huge mistake, but as each milking went on, it got easier, and quicker. While I’m a firm believer that if you own cows, you should know how to adequately hand milk, I also think you can allow yourself the relief of a milk machine for your sake and the sake of the poor cow, whose teats you’ve been cranking on for almost 2 hours. Its no joke that the barn was the original gym. Hand milking will quickly build you some nice arm muscles and some seriously sore ones at that.
EASY TO HIRE A FARM SITTER
Its a challenge to find someone in today’s modern culture that know hows to hand milk a cow. I can’t tell you how many people have to confidently told me they “think” they could milk a cow, only to have them try and fail. With a milk machine, there is a slight learning curve, yes, but its a pretty simple lesson. The uneasy feeling a farmer gets when having someone else milk is beyond nerve racking. There are many possibilities that can go wrong with a untrained milker, like, not having enough arm strength to actually milk the cow, the cow won’t let her milk down, the cow kicked, it took too long and the milk sat for a inappropriate amount of time and of course, not completely emptying the bag, putting her at risk for infection. But with a milk machine, you know that once the machine is hooked up, your cow is going to get milked, correctly and quickly.
QUICKER COOLING MILK
The longer the milk sits out in the bucket, the more “barnie or cowie” (those are both words, right? the milk will taste. The quicker the milk is chilled, the better the milk will taste. Pretty simple. While your hand milking, the milk will slowly cool to room temperature and begin to taste off, almost like the way a barn smells. Gross. The trick to quickly cooling the milk, is to quickly get the milk in the bucket.
A milk machine is VERY expensive investment. The milker I choose to purchase, through Hoeggers Dairy Supply was $1895.00 + tax. but hey the shipping was free. Hoeggers custom makes their machines to order and it took about 2 months to receive my machine, once I received this funny contraption, it then needed to be assembled. The chemicals I purchased to clean the machine cost another $400.00.
When I first bought my machine, it included a few samples of every chemical I needed to clean the tubes, bucket and machine. When I ran out, I ordered more. It wasn’t until I was VERY comfortable with my machine, its parts and how it works, that I decided to change up my cleaning supplies and go a more “natural” cleaning direction, based on my own personal preferences. The chemicals encouraged and provided where a chlorinated foaming cleaner (The power of bleach magnified four times), a sanitizing solution and a foaming acid wash.
PAIN TO CLEAN
While it only takes 5 minutes to milk out a cow, it takes 25 minutes to thoroughly clean this machine. Skimping on cleaning steps is not one you should mess with. Bacteria particles can gather in the tubes and contaminate the fresh milk, potentially making your family and others sick. The cleaning process goes as follows, prior to milking a rinse of sanitizing solution is ran through the claw (the suction that connects to the teats), tubes and bucket, then dumped and the machine is ready for milking. Post milking, the milk is strained and chilled. Cold water is ran through the machine and into the bucket and discarded. Next the foaming chlorinated cleaner is mixed and ran through the machine with hot water, the claw is thoroughly cleaned and the solution is dumped and discarded. The final step is the sanitizing solution, the claw is dipped into the solution, then ran through the machine, and once again discarded. The machine is not rinsed after the sanitizing step. The final step is unattached the claw and hose to hang to dry. The exterior of the bucket is sprayed with Thieves solution (or bleach) and hung upside down to dry. The foaming acid agent is ran through the machine once a week and the hoses are scrubbed internally with a really long hose brush. Note.. when bleach happens on clothing, you get a white spot, but when the chlorinated cleaner gets on your clothing, you get a hole, instantly. (ask me how I know that.)
My conclusion and recommendation.
Even though I love the one on one connection with my cows while I’m hand milking, its only makes sense to hand milk one cow. If your milking more then one cow, or a fussy cow or even a cow with high production,such as a Holstein, I really recommend a purchasing a milking machine. It will pay for itself in both time and money. While we thrive to do things simple on the homestead, saving time is always a top priority.
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