How Do You Milk a Cow?

Have you ever wondered how cows are milked and how it differs from the past?  It is pretty neat and technology has really revolutionized the art of milking a cow. Way back, when my grandpa still had hair, cows were milked by hand into a bucket. It was a very time consuming and labor intensive job (hard on the knees!). It wasn’t long before farmers were dreaming of some sort of machine that could milk cows and speed up the process. Soon, the first pulsator and vacuum milker were presented and deemed an effective way to milk dairy cows.

The dairy industry continued to evolve with new technology and in the 1960s pipeline milking systems replaced bucket milkers.  With a pipeline, farmers no longer had to carry and dump buckets of milk into the bulk tank, the milk would be carried through a pipe!  These milkers required less labor and were easier on the farmer doing the milking. Thousands of pipeline milking systems were installed between 1960 and 1970 as dairy herds continued to grow in size. The trend of fewer dairy farms with more cows continues today as does the advancement in technology.

Today, milking parlors and robots are the common milking systems on dairy farms. Milking parlors come in many shapes and sizes; on our farm one person is able to milk 16 cows at once and 530 cows in less than seven hours! I sure am glad we don’t have to milk them all by hand!

Our cows are milked three times a day; at 8:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m. and midnight. We bring the cows down to the milking parlor in groups and they get pretty excited when it is their turn to be milked. Cows enjoy being milked; not milking a cow results in an uncomfortable animal that is much more prone to develop mastitis. Check out our girls coming into the milking parlor:

After the cow enters the parlor, the first step is to clean and sanitize the teat. Cleaning the teat ensures clean, quality milk and decreases the cow’s chances of developing an infection. We clean the teats by brushing off any sand or debris and applying an iodine dip that kills bacteria.  Next, we use our hands to strip out a few streams of milk from each teat.  This stimulation sends a signal to the cow’s brain to let down her milk and speeds up milking time. We dip the teats again and let the dip do its work for about 40 seconds before wiping it off and attaching the milking unit. The milking units are automatic and retract when the cow’s milk flow decreases. We will dip the teats again for protection and then send the cow on her way; it takes about five minutes to milk a cow. Today our cows were serenaded by some Latin tunes, but I think they like country music better.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Check it out:

After the cow is milked, she is able to return to her pen to eat, lay down and hangout with her friends. While the cows are in the milking parlor, we clean their pens, rake their beds of sand and bring fresh feed. The cows are milked three times per day, which means their pens are cleaned three times per day. I don’t even clean my room that often….if at all.

Technology and dairy farming have come a long way since the ol’ bucket and stool and it is a good thing! Can you imagine if we had to milk 500+ cows by hand each day?! It definitely would not be time efficient or profitable and the price of dairy products would be ridiculously pricey! Thank YOU, technology!