That Was Then…

Melissa SandfortAgricultural Anthropology

Then: My grandparents started out every morning by pulling their one-legged milking stool from the wall of the barn, then managed a balancing act with the stool and a bucket between their knees to catch the cow’s milk. One at a time, the cows would file into the barn, all three to five of them in the herd, to be milked by hand twice a day. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to milk each cow. They used the milk at home for their family, and leftovers to feed the hogs; they also used a crank-handle separator and sold the cream. That was then.

Now: Dairy producers utilize modern technology such as rotary milking parlors that offer a constant flow of cows and ease of operation. With some set-ups, producers can milk approximately 40 cows in the 17 minutes it takes for the carousel to make a complete rotation. Slow milking cows can be held in their stall and go around again. The carousel has variable speed control and can be reversed if needed. Then milk goes into a cooled bulk tank.

Rotary parlors are designed for herds larger than 1,000 cows, which goes to show that milking cows has come a long way since the milk bucket balancing act.

But there were some every day “advantages” back in the good ol’ days. For instance, once they learned the proper mouth-wide-open stance, farm cats used to enjoy the occasional drink of milk. I doubt they dare to get in the way of cows entering and exiting a rotary parlor.

Until our next history lesson…