Milking machines are devices used to extract milk from animals--most commonly cows, goats, sheep and buffalo.
Milk is removed from the udder and transported to a sanitary storage vessel (and eventually a cooling area) by regular pulsation of a vacuum upon the animal’s teat, somewhat like the sucking mechanism that a calf or kid would use to nurse.
Equipment size and specifications vary according to milking need. Today’s machines and accessories are being constantly updated as manufacturers cater to more productive breeds and management practices.
Key factors driving milking equipment specifications include the type of animal being milked, desired production quantity, speed and frequency.
For example, some machines designed for cows have two pulsation rates: one for the forequarter teats and one for the rear. Rear quarter teats are typically larger and take longer to eject milk. Having two rates for milking can improve milking efficiency and animal health
Most milking machines are usually electrically powered, but some may have additional emergency options such as internal combustion engines to power the vacuum and pulsator. Regular and complete milking is important to ongoing production rates, so having a source of backup power is highly recommended.
The two main factors in choosing equipment for different animals are number and size of teats:
Automatic take-offs (ATOs) for milking machines are milk-flow sensors that determine when the machine should be removed from the udder. Not every machine includes an ATO but this can improve overall milking productivity. “Numerous studies have shown a correlation between overmilking and slow milk flow,” says Larry Tranel, Dairy Field Specialist at Iowa State Extension and Outreach. ATOs can help standardize a milking system and help you manage the productivity of your herd.
Does herd size matter when choosing equipment?
A range of options are available depending on how many animals you have, from single animal systems with one bucket that must be emptied manually to entirely automated systems. Aside from the more technical considerations listed above, space and labor resources will also determine what equipment is right for your dairy.
Machine and operator hygiene is important to maintain milk integrity and animal health. Cleaning and drying the machine between animals and after use is imperative.
Residual water or other potential carriers of contaminants may lead to mastitis, an inflammation and infection of the udder tissue. Mastitis can be highly contagious. It also greatly reduces yield and can cause the animal pain.
Some types of machines offer a pre- or post- sanitizing spray option for the udder, though most small to medium farm staff still choose to inspect and sanitize manually for best outcomes.