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From hand milking to the milking parlor

by JERRY NICHOLS | October 23, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.

I’ve been trying to think if I could describe how to milk a cow by hand well enough that someone who never tried before could actually get started. It really isn’t too complicated, although it is not just a matter of squeezing any old way either.

Whenever I think of learning to hand milk, I remember a farm movie from years ago, shown by the Kraft Milk Co. fi eld men in the old Pea Ridge High School auditorium. In the late 1940s, they would feed us cheese and crackers and chocolate milk, talk about the Kraft Company, and then show us movies about farm safety or about the values of country living. The movie I remember involved a young city man, a “city slicker” as we used to call him, who was to spend the summer on a farm. When he went to help with the milking, he was given a shiny three-gallon milk pail, and a milk stool to sit on. He put the bucket under the business area of the cow, and waited. After a moment, with nothing happening, he rattled the bucket, and said, “Come on, cow, give milk!” At that, the farm hand who was milking the next cow in line fell off his stool from laughing.

Of course, the new guy had to learn that you can’t just set the bucket under the cow and expect her to fill the bucket by herself. Interestingly, though, there was an ounce of truth in his asking the cow, “Come on, cow, give milk!” The cow does in fact need to be induced to give down her milk. So you don’t go around the cow clanging buckets and yelling or making a ruckus. You handle the cow gently and come around in a calming way, speaking in steady tones, possibly washing the cow’s udder with warm water, providing some grain feed, and beginning milking as a little calf might approach it’s mother. With a minute or so of patient squeezing, the cow usually will “let down” as we used to say, but still not automatically.

A new milker needs to learn to form a progressive hand squeeze which moves from top to bottom, fi rst forming the squeeze with the thumb and fi rst fi nger, and holding that pressure as the other fingers join in. One doesn’t start squeezing with all fingers at once, it starts as a one, then two, then three and four, so that the hand forms a squeeze wave going down. That should produce a stream of milk into your milk pail. Of course you have to learn to aim and hit the pail, too. Then you have to work on the rhythm, left right, left right, kind of like a soldier marching. Of course if you are a young boy doing the milking, probably now and then you have to aim a stream at the cat, or at your brother, especially if Dad just stepped outside the barn. Once you are fi nished milking the cow, you carry the milk to front of the barn and pour it through the strainer into the 10-gallon milk can.

Our fi rst experiment with an electric milking machine was a disaster. I can’t recall the brand name of the milker Dad bought. It was from a store on South Main in Bentonville. It was a self-contained unit mounted on a cart. The electric motor drove a double piston vacuum pump to supply the suction. It did draw milk into the vacuum sealed pail — but, the trouble was, before long our cows were developing mastitis and sore udders, and we were in trouble. We learned the hard way that mere suction power doesn’t do the job of protecting the cows’ health. If we used a milking machine it would have to be one more sophisticated, gentler on the cows, and able to maintain normal blood flow in the cow’s udder and teats while they were being milked.

One of the early challenges of designing a successful electric milking machine was to make the machine’s action more like that of a little suckling calf. The solution was to develop what are called pulsators, which rhythmically release air into the metal shell of the teat cup, causing the liner to massage like the suckling of the little calf. In other words, the milking machine has to imitate nature.

After our experience with a “bad” electric milking machine, we went back to hand milking our herd of about 20 milk cows until 1954. We built a new house on the farm in the summer of 1953 (it cost us nearly $7,000), and as 1954 came around Dad started thinking of ways to bring in more money. By then, milking parlors were becoming popular, and were rapidly replacing the traditional stanchion barn for milking. Milking parlors were special milking barns designed to have the cows standing on a raised platform, so that the men or women doing the milking could walk upright as they worked, moving the milking units from cow to cow. Usually milking parlors were outfi tted with pipeline milkers, so that rather than having the milk go into pails, it passed through a stainless steel or glass pipeline into an adjoining milk room where the milk streamed into a refrigerated cooler. In 1954 we designed and built our milking parlor, put in the pipeline milker, started producing Grade A milk for drinking, and began building a larger herd of milk cows.

Community, Pages 5 on 10/23/2013

Print Headline: From hand milking to the milking parlor

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