Milking Options: By Hand or Machine
When you are considering the purchase of a family dairy cow, one of the biggest considerations is whether to buy an electric milking machine or to milk by hand. Knowing the pros and cons of both options will help you decide which method fits best with your cows, your budget, and your lifestyle.
When you have established a milking routine, you and your family will be able to reap the benefits of raw milk. The taste of raw milk is amazing and it is fabulous for making cheeses and butter. Michael Pollan, in an interview with NPR, stated, “Raw milk, because it has so much bacteria in it, has a lot more flavor. Every kind of bacteria in raw milk is producing an enzyme… that is itself breaking down products in the milk and creating flavor.”
Milking with a machine is one of the easiest ways to milk a cow. She goes to her stanchion, you wash her teats, hook up the machine, and five to eight minutes later, she’s milked out and ready to leave the barn. If your cow has very short teats or she’s a nervous heifer who struggles to stand still for long milking sessions, a milking machine will help break her in. Also, when you milk by machine, the milk is usually cleaner than when you milk into a pail or bucket.
However, there are some disadvantages to machine milking. First, is the cost. Buying a pump and the milker itself is likely to set you back $500 or more. For small farmers on a limited budget, a milking machine represents a sizable investment. Owning a milking machine also means more clean up every time you milk. The bucket, tubes and inflations must be completely disassembled, scrubbed with hot water and dairy detergent, and left to air dry. If you are milking twice a day, that means plenty of washing. Additionally, you have to have a good set up to machine milk. You’ll need a source of electricity and a spot in a barn or outbuilding to be designated as a milking area. Another disadvantage to some people is that machine milking can be downright noisy with the sounds of a pump running throughout the milking session.
Hand milking is the way that people have milked animals for centuries. To do this, you simply need a high quality, stainless steel bucket. It is much less expensive to start milking if you plan to milk by hand. Many hand milkers love the peaceful rhythm of milking each day. The cow learns to think of her milker as one of her babies, and the relationship is often an affectionate, close one.
Milking Options — Hand Milking or Machine Milking?
Hand milking can take place anywhere if the cow is cooperative. Yet, there are a few disadvantages to hand milking. First, when you have never milked before, your muscles will hate you for the first week or so of hand milking until you have built them up properly. Additionally, hand milking takes longer and a nervous cow may take offense at your handling of her udder. Sometimes the milk is not as clean when you hand milk, since dust in the barn and insects can drop in the pail while you are milking. Finally, one wrong step of the cow can ruin an entire morning’s milking if her manure-caked hoof ends up in the pail.
Think It Over
Before you decide, be sure to consider all of the factors that might play into your decision. Do you work a job off-farm and need to get quickly out the door each day? Do you plan on selling your raw milk and need it to be as clean as possible? If any of these are true, you may want to opt for a milking machine.
Do you enjoy the hands-on process of milking an animal? Do you look forward to building those milking muscles? Is the budget super tight on your farm? Is there no good place on the farm to install a pump and stanchion? Then hand milking may be the best choice for you.
As with many farm decisions, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to the question of whether you should milk by machine or by hand. Think it over and make the wisest decision for your situation. Above all, be flexible and learn to try something new if things are not working out after a few weeks.