It is only in the last few decades that machines have been available to facilitate the milking of cows and speed up the process. Before that, milking was done by hand. But how exactly was it done in the past? And how do the modern methods work?
Milking 50 years ago and earlier
Hand milking has to be learned
When the cows were tied up in the barn, you climbed in with them, sat close to a cow with a stool and placed a bucket under the udder. The teats were cleaned, rubbed with milking grease and massaged a little. The milking itself took a lot of routine and strength to get the milk flowing fast enough into the udder so that the cow would not feel any pain. It was a very laborious process and it took about six minutes per cow, if one was skilled. So one worker could milk only six animals per hour. The milk was collected in milk cans and then poured through a strainer. Then the milk cans stood in cold water overnight to cool. The next morning, they were picked up by the milk truck and driven to the dairy.
Milking in the wind and weather on the pasture
On many farms, cows stayed out in the pasture during the summer months. This meant going out twice a day and milking them there – in all weathers. Often it was the women who were responsible for the milking, with the help of the children. They took buckets and milk cans on a small milk cart or a bicycle. The cows were often cleaner in the pasture than in the barn and the teats were cleaned more quickly. But they grazed far from each other, so the women had to walk many meters to milk several animals. Most of the time, the cows stood quietly and let the milking happen because the milk was pressing in their udders. They were also praised and petted for their patience. But young cows could also be restless and kick at the milker. Then a second person was needed to hold the cow. One also had to watch out for the tail, because it could painfully hit the milker in the face. There was hardly any milk yield during thunderstorms, because the cows did not stay still for long and ran across the pasture in panic.
Milking today – supported by automation and robotics
The milking parlor and the milking robot
Technological progress did not stop at the cowshed, of course. Nowadays, there are various types of milking parlors that automate milking to varying degrees. In most of them, human labor cannot yet be completely dispensed with, but significantly fewer workers are needed. Milkers stand in a pit that is lower than where the cows stand so they can attach the cluster to the udder without bending over. Four teat cups – one for each teat – mimic the movements that a sucking calf would make. Negative pressure is used to draw the milk from the teat. It flows through hoses directly into a milk tank.
The different milking parlors
In the side-by-side or parallel milking parlor, the cows stand at right angles to the milking pit and the milker reaches through the hind legs. The herringbone milking parlor is similar, except that here the cows stand at a slight angle to the milking pit so that the animals can enter and leave the milking parlor more quickly. Both variants have the disadvantage that the cows have to wait until they are all milked out before they can go out again. In the tandem milking parlor, the cows have their own gates. They stand one behind the other parallel to the pit and all face the same direction. This allows them to watch what is happening and, if necessary, behave more calmly. Larger farms often work with a milking carousel. Here, the cows enter a rotating platform and have the milking cluster attached to them. After three-quarters of a turn, the cow is finished and can exit the platform to a separate area, freeing up her space for the next cow.
Easier work and improved animal health through robotics – advantages
There are milking robots that do all the work without human intervention. These are equipped with optical sensors, ultrasound and lasers and can independently attach the milking cluster to the cow. Cleaning the teats before and after milking and stimulating the flow of milk also happens automatically. The robots also do their part for animal welfare: they analyze how much milk is still in the udder so that no health damage is caused by milk residues. The milking cluster is disinfected after each cow to contain pathogens. Some models can even check the electrical conductivity of the teat and thus estimate the cow’s risk of disease.
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