Below is a basic layout of the requirements for milking a cow.
It’ll either inspire you or cause you to lose your romantic notions!
Hopefully this section can provide an overview of the milking requirements and routine to give a good idea of how cows are milked.
Links to other pages will direct you to more detailed instructions.
Say Hi to Rosebud, our champion milker!
Milking a cow – Requirements:
- A willing cow that is lactating (making milk)
- A willing human
- Commitment to milk 2 times every day for 10 months
- Ability to hand milk or purchase of a machine and vacuum pump
- A source of water and electricity and a barn or secure dedicated milking area
- Milk bucket (a machine is the equivalent of hands and bucket)
- Milking stand/stanchion/tie
- pre- and post- dip for cleaning and protecting teats
- cloth for wiping pre-dip off
Teat dip –
We like the RJB style of teat dipper (see photo) and use a pre-mixed dairy iodine solution as pre and post dip. Iodine is safe and most effective in protecting both the cow and the quality of milk.
Pre dip is a thin solution put on the cow before milking. Let it set 30+ seconds to soak in, then wipe the teat and teat end until clean. We use cheap 18 pack reusable wash cloths from the store. (Tip: For a better clean, soak used cloths in warm water and rinse before putting them into the washing machine.)
Post dip is thicker and sticks on the teat longer as the teat end can take up to 30 minutes to close after milking.
If you want to use pre AND post dip, we suggest using different colored teat dippers (we have yellow and blue) to indicate that one is pre and one is post.
The Milking Stand:
A milking stand and location can be any combination of:
- a strong platform (1000# or more of weight) that can be kept clean (ability to sweep clean) and dry (under shelter at least in inclement weather)
- Easy access to reach the cow’s udder
- No pinch points – avoid building anything that would require you to go between the cow and a solid structure such as a side rail or wall. If you must put in a more secure milking stanchion, build above/below/around udder area.
- As close to water and electricity as possible:
- Water is necessary for clean up (and sometimes if the cow goes to the bathroom).
- Electricity is important for:
- Lighting (in winter months)
- Powering the vacuum pump, if using a machine
- Warmth – a cold pulsator doesn’t like to run properly
- Hot water is absolutely necessary for maintaining clean equipment
- CLICK HERE FOR DETAILED INFORMATION ON CLEANING
What we use:
We’ve milked in a number of facilities (click here for more detail) but our favorite is our current location (see photos above)!
- Proximity: We walk the cows from the barn to behind the house because it’s close to the basement where we can easily access:
- electricity for the vacuum pump;
- keep the machine warm, dry, and clean;
- quickly jar and cool the milk; &
- have ample hot water for cleaning.
- The cows feet get clean as they walk through the grass or wood chips, so they’re cleaner when they get on the stand.
- The milking takes place away from the barn, so less chance of shavings, flies, dust particles, etc. contaminating the milk
- Even in winter months, this short walk allows the cows to get some exercise, and they really enjoy the chance to leave the barn for a pre-milking treat and milkout.
- Hitching Post: You thought they were just for horses? The cows walk down from the barn by routine (they know what time it is!) and we clip them to the hitching post using double ties on the hitching post (so they can move a bit). Each cow has a leather neck strap that stays on her all day, that’s what we clip to. They do well walking around with just that, halters rarely needed.
- Platform: We weren’t sure what to build, so ended up with treated 2×8 lumber as a strong base, topped with a sheet of plywood painted white. We put another sheet with bracing on the front. We wanted to keep the platform low so the cows do not have to step up or down much. They enter from the back and exit to the side. Originally we built a bunk where the cows could be fed hay, but we have the cows on a “no treats at milking time” routine that works best for everyone. No attitude that way!
- Visitors: Family and friends often come to watch or help milk the cows. The steps to the upper porch provide the perfect resting place for any number of people to hang out at milking time!
Putting on the machine:
Click the photo below to watch a short video clip of Jay putting the machine on Rosebud:
When putting on the machine, have the machine fully assembled and the air hose attached from the pulsator to the vacuum pump. Turn the vacuum pump on before teat dipping, to allow the cow to get used to the sound of the pump and pulsation. If using a Surcingle, place across the back of the cow in front of the front hips and attach.
After wiping the teats clean, the machine should be put on within a minute or two. The process of cleaning the teats indicates to the cow that it’s time to let her milk down. Oxytocin is released into her system, which allows the milk to flow.
One at a time, place the inflation under the teat and slide on. Avoid losing air out the inflation by crimping the bottom part of the inflation as you lift up the inflation to put it on. (It’s a technique learned over time!) Adjust the machine if needed so that the inflations sit squarely and level underneath the udder.
If the cow is nervous or does not like to let down her milk, massage from the base of the rear udder in an upwards sweeping motion. Soothing words may help as well so she knows you care.
depends on the cow:
- How much is she milking (gallons)
- How well does she let down (completely or holds up?)
- How fast is the pulsator running – or – how fast can you milk by hand
Hand milking tends to take 30 minutes or more (from what I hear from others).
Machine milking on our cows takes approximately 5 minutes.
Some cows may take 10+ minutes if they are slow milking (teat muscles that only allow a small stream out at a time) or are holding up (a cow can physically stop the flow of milk if she is uncomfortable, in heat, wanting her calf instead of you, etc.)
“How do you know when she’s done?!?”
We get that question a lot.
The answer varies a bit, but in general:
A cow is milked out when her udder is collapsed down and the flow of milk slows to an insignificant amount or stops.
Note the photo below – The quarter on the left is shrunk small and the quarter on the right is full looking. The left is empty, so we took that inflation off to protect the teat from being over-milked and kept the left side inflation on to continue emptying. This is perfectly acceptable. Pretty much all cows will milk a different amount out of each quarter (for various reasons, but mostly just because things of this earth are not made perfect).
Click on the photo below to watch a short video clip of the end of milking, which shows some gentle massaging as each inflation is removed to ensure a good milkout. (Incomplete milkout can lead to mastitis.)
Be sure to dip the teats again after milking (but don’t wipe it off this time). Feeding the cow some hay can help ensure she stays standing up for a while after milking. 30 minutes is the rule-of-thumb for time to allow the teat ends to close. That means for up to 30 minutes, the teat ends are potentially open and exposed to bacteria, which is why a post dip is so important to protect against mastitis.
As soon as the cow is taken care of, work to get your milk cooled cleanly and efficiently. Click here to learn more about how to process milk safely.