We had an opportunity to speak to a group of dairy farmers this week and during the presentation on milking equipment a comment was made “We do it just like the calf.”
One of the first engineering concepts I was taught was to “do with a machine as close to doing it naturally as possible.” In the case of the cow, nature designed the mother to feed the calf, nothing more natural than the design of a mother feeding her young. In the case of a milking machine, the vacuum the calf produces to extract the milk from the teat is about where that correlation ends. Today’s high producing cows were never intended to feed their one or possible two off spring. Serious problems would occur if we fed a two week old calf 12-15 gallons of milk a day, production and genetic selection has outpaced the needs of the calf. That being said we also have labor/time constraints that dictate we remove that volume in ever decreasing time frames.
So back to natural design, good in concept, failed in practice. So what do we do? We balance the needs of the cow against the needs of the owner. As they say, “Where the rubber meets the road” or in this case meets the cow. We extract the milk as quickly as possible while doing as little damage as possible. Not a perfect world, not a perfect parlor, all cows are slightly different, we must design the equipment to milk the average.
Take a look today, do the units stay on cows? Do the units come off the cows or do the cows “help?” Does milk flow start when the unit is attached and continues until slowing shortly before detach? Can you hand strip a little milk from each teat after detach? Are most quarters evenly milked out?
5 simple no-tools tests you can perform to determine if the machine is getting close to nature. As Aristotle once said,”If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature’s way.” Let’s do everything we can to make milking in the parlor as close to what nature intended as possible.