Hand Milking or Machine Milking

dairy on the homestead

Milking goats and cows is such a rewarding experience.  There’s something so relaxing and soothing about spending time with our animals, talking to them and sometimes singing to them while they contentedly chomp on hay during milking time.  After years of milking by hand, however, I found myself tempted to get a milking machine to cut down on the time spent in the barn… along with the wear and tear on my hands!  Fresh milk is worth the effort, especially knowing where it comes from, how the animals were raised, how the animals were handled, the genetics of the animal (such as A2/A2 beta-casein), and how the milk was handled.  Plus, raw dairy is no longer available in many areas anymore unless you raise your own animals and milk them yourself…

But, no doubt about it, raising animals takes time and resources; as does the milking, cleaning up, and processing and/or preserving the milk.  So, anything to help make the process more efficient was worth looking into, as far as I was concerned!  I did tons of research, talked with other homesteaders who both machine milk and hand milk, and here are my conclusions.  There are pros and cons to everything, including how to milk.  So, do I invest in a milking machine?  Or should I continue to milk by hand?

Pros of Using a Milking Machine:

  • Most milking machines will milk out an average dairy cow in about 10 minutes or less.
  • The machine does most of the work, saving sore and tired hands.
  • Milk basically goes directly from the udder into the milking pail keeping the milk relatively clean with less exposure to possible contaminants.
  • Milk can be cooled faster for fresher tasting milk.
  • Easier to get someone else to help you with the milking or cover for you if you need to be out of town for a day or two.
  • Machines can easily milk any sized teat, even short ones or teats with small orifices.  Some cows and goats are just hard to milk by hand, especially if they won’t stand still for long periods of time, like to swat you with their tails or try kicking over your milk bucket.

Cons of Using a Milking Machine:

  • Cost of most milking machines can be inhibitive unless you can find a used one… but used machines still need new parts and maintenance.  The most economical machine I could find was around $500 and the reviews on it were not the best.  The average cost of a milking machine for a small homestead like mine was around $1000.
  • Milking machines are loud, taking away the relaxing and serene time often found with hand milking.  Animals not used to the machine may take some gentle training to get them used to the noise.
  • Cleaning the machine can be tedious, taking away some of the time savings from machine milking versus hand milking.  It is imperative everything is completely cleaned and sanitized which can take close to half an hour depending on the machine and the setup.
  • Machines don’t feel the udder, so problems may go undetected that would otherwise be caught from a discerning milker who knows his/her animals.
  • You usually need a good designated milking area with power for the machine.  Hand milking, technically, can be done just about anywhere.

When interviewing other homesteaders about their preferences, pretty much everyone told me that it really is a personal choice based on several factors including time, budget, nature of the animal, and facilities.  I heard several opinions that just one or two goats are not worth the extra cleaning and expense of getting a milking machine, that one cow could go either way and that more than one cow really made sense to get the machine.  The great thing is that there really is no “right” or “wrong” answer.  For me, with just one cow to milk, I could go either way.  I enjoy spending time in the barn milking (most of the time), find it therapeutic, and adjust pretty quickly to the strength needed in my hands.  However, I am intrigued by the thought of simplifying the process and am saving up to get a milking machine.

After I am able to experience it for myself, I’ll be sure to update this post on my personal thoughts and findings on whether it really is worth having the machine.  Until then, Happy Homesteading!

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