Modern Efficient And Affordable Bucket Milking Machines

Hand milking is tedious and tiring. Mechanization began in 1850’s when the first bucket milkers were invented. These bucket milk machines were crude and posed a health hazard to the cows. This was until around 1900 when improved bucket milkers were introduced in U.S dairy farms.

The History Of Bucket Milking Machines

Back in the 1800’s, farmers dreamed of having a machine that could simplify their milking. These dreams came true in 1895 when the Thistle vacuum milker was introduced. The thistle had a number of challenges prompting more research. In 1898, the USDA granted a pulsator machine approval.

Most of the milk machines developed between 1900 and 1920 looked more like clones of each other. The machines had upright pails that were on the floor. The buckets were made of brass, tinned steel, aluminum or copper. These materials posed a challenge to maintenance of milk quality as they added flavor to the milk. The quality was also compromised by the long rubber milk.

Pine tree milker, which was developed by pine tree milking machine Company, was one of the earliest milking machines. This was built by the Babson brothers (Henry, Gus and Fred). This was a mailing company in Chicago. Henry made friends with Thomas Edison with whom they sold Edison phonography, Burlington watches, shoes, and clothing, Babson Records and farm supplies. Their first dairy item was a Mellote cream separator.

In 1922, The Surge Bucket milker was invented by Herbert McCornack. Its base was made from a family roasting pan. The milk machine was held in place under the cow by a steel spring rod attached to surcingle straps (leather). Herbert was also the brains behind the Sharples cream separator, can washer and numerous farm tools. He boasts of over 50 United State patents.

Advantages Of The Surge Milker

  • Better milking experience owing to the short pulsation tubes.
  • Parts and services were easily accessible (at least once per year)
  • Had a 3 year warrant
  • All parts were rust proof
  • Was easy to take apart and clean

A new surge milker was introduced by Babson Bros Co in 1950s. This milking machine features a steel bucket. It was developed in Belgium. The technology was adopted in Chicago where seamless steel bucket milking machines were produced in three different sizes.

The new surge milking machine had numerous improvements. It had a lid with slanted milk inlets. The slanting was vital in distribution of pull and tug on cow udder quarters. It also ensured that milk doesn’t go back in the pulsator.

In the 20th century, two milking machine brands dominated the market. First and foremost was the Surge belly milker. This was a specialized milker whose pulsator and claws were combined into one assembly. Its production was stopped in 1999. It’s however still in use by small scale farmers especially by goat farmers. It’s a very effective goat milking machine.

The second milking machine was one developed by Delaval. This was different from the Surge belly milker in that it sat on the floor. Its milking claws had a milk line that attached them to the bucket while the pulsator sat on the bucket lid. This machine is still in use to date with its production being across the globe after the expiry of the original Delaval patents.

Tips For Choosing The Perfect Bucket Milking Machine

Bucket milk machines come in different shapes and sizes. All these machines will work for you but you need to be keen when selecting milking machines. To be on the safe side, consider going for Delaval or surge style milking machines. These are the machines that will serve you for years without the need to modify or upgrade.

Well, there are some universal bucket milking machines that can be modified to accommodate modern pulsators. These machines are however hard to find. You do not want to end up with an obsolete collector item.

What Are The Features Of A Good Bucket Milking Machine?

Basically, bucket milking machines perform two functions;

  • Exposing cow teats to a partial vacuum thus causing milk to flow
  • Massaging the teats to relieve of continuous milking vacuum

Features Of A Bucket Milking Machine

Vacuum Pump

Modern milking machines depend on the existence of a partial vacuum to perform efficiently. This vacuum is created when air is moved from a confined section such as the milking machine pipes. The vacuum level is determined by the amount of air drawn from the space/section.

The vacuum level is measured by a vacuum gauge. It’s measured in Kilopascals (metric). It’s also measure in inches of mercury vacuum. For instance, the removal of one half of the air would give a reading of 15 inches mercury vacuum or 50 kilopascals.

The Milking Unit

The milking machine unit comprises of;

  1. Milk receptacle:
  2. Teat cup claw (attached to pipelines of floor pail)
  3. Bucket
  4. Pulsator
  5. Teat-cup liners (inflations) and shells

The milking unit operates by causing the chamber between the liner and the shell to alternate from air source to vacuum. The teat-cup liner is always a vacuum. When air is admitted between the liner and the shell, the line collapses. The collapse transfers pressure on the teat. This results in a massaging action. This is referred to as the massage or rest phase. During this phase, milk does not flow.

When the pulsator exposes the space between the shell and liner, the milk phase kicks in. the fact that there’s equal pressure on both sides results in an opening effect. The teat is exposed to the vacuum and internal milk pressure that forces milk out of the teat.

Understanding The Pulsator
Pulsator Rate

This refers to the number of cycles in a minute. Most pulsators’ rates range between 40 and 60  cyles in a minute.

Pulsation Ratio

This is the length of time in a cycle during which the pulsator is in the milking phase in comparison to the massage phase. E.g. 60:40. This means that in every cycle, the teat cup milks for 60% of the time and will be closed 40% of the time.

Pulsation Phase

This refers to the pulsation method popularly known as simultaneous (4×0) or (2×2) alternating pulsation.

Simultaneous Pulsation

This simply means that the machine is designed to control all the teat-cups in the same sequence. This is to mean that all the teats will be milked and massaged at the same time.

Alternating Pulsation

Just as the name suggests, these milking machines are designed in such a way that the teat-cups will operate in an alternating manner. While two teat cups milk, the other two will be massaging. Milk machines differ as some will have the alternating effect starting from the left half and others from the right half.

How Are Pulsators Activated?

Most bucket milking machines are vacuum operated. Their pulsators thus use air to move the slide valve or plunger which blocks and unblocks the air passage thus producing the pulsating action. The plunger is housed in oil for lubrication.

The pulsation rate is controlled by the needle valve. This may be manually adjustable of factory set. The pulsation rate in vacuum pulsators may be affected by temperature changes.

Electric operated pulsators can be operated by master controls. Such controls send commands to the pulsator. Electric controlled or operated pulsators aren’t affected by temperature changes. It therefore produces constant pulsation rate.

Some pulsators allow the farmer to customize their milking machine. This is only possible with pulsators with variable pulsation ratios and rates.

Milk Receptacle

Bucket milking machines can either be claw type of suspension type. The claw type comes with a floor pail. It may also have a pipeline system transferring milk through a hose.

The milk is lifted by air into the pail or hose. This air is introduced through an inlet. The inlet is located inside the claws. It may also be located inside individual teat cups liner. The admission hole should always be clean. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the admission hole is not enlarged as excessive agitation can result in rancidity problems.

Alternatively, air can be administered by use of a two vacuum level system. This system pushes the milk up the hose as a column into the pail or pipeline.

Teat Cup Liners (Inflations) And Shells

Teat liners and shells are available in different combinations. You need to be very keen when making your order. It’s not every shell that will be compatible with your liner. You need to be sure that the liner has ample space inside the shell to facilitate total collapse without hitting inside walls.

Go for liners whose mouth piece has the capability of preventing downward spillage. Such liners will be effective in avoiding ridding up action on the udder. Narrow to intermediate bore liners are recommended. These liners result in less irritation to the udder.

Liner Softness

Liners (inflations) need to be replaced twice a year. Manufacturers have recommended replacement durations depending on the type of liner and milkings. They should however be replaced immediately if damaged.

Here Are The Recommended Replacements

Type (material) Milkings (Cows)
Synthetic rubber 1000-1200
Natural rubber 500-700
Silicone 5000-10,000


Using A Bucket Milking Machine With Ease

Generally, cows are terrified of milking machines. Their first experience with the machines may be nasty. Understand the machine and its operations before introducing it to the cows. Use your hands as test teats. Basically, have fun with the machine.

Once comfortable with the machine, introduce it to the barn. Stick to the basics. Ensure that the vacuum gauge reads between 11 and 15 inches. Normally, veterinaries will recommend 13 inches. Its pulsation should be 60 pulsations per minute. Each pulsation contains a pair of beats (upbeat and downbeat).

Most bucket machines will have an Allen screw. This crew is fixed at the back of the pulsator. It comes in handy in adjusting the pulsation. Always be keen when turning the screw. Listen to the pulsation rate as you do so.

The vacuum pump shouldn’t come in contact with the cow. Place it as far as possible. If possible, have it in a different room. This will be facilitated by increasing the length of the vacuum line. A long line has increased benefits as it caters for more vacuum reserve. While working with a long vacuum line, ensure that you have a vacuum gauge on the line. This makes it easy to monitor the line and vacuum levels.

Having the vacuum pump away from the cows lets the cow relax throughout the milking session. It also makes milking quiet. In areas prone to freezing, the vacuum pump should be located in a dry room. The temperatures should be controlled to avoid freezing.

Effective Way Of Introducing Milking Machine To A Cow

A cow may take off on the first sighting of a milking machine. Others will not run but will drastically reduce their production. The initial introduction determines the cow’s response. Bring the bucket milking machine to the barn but do not turn it on. Let the cow get used to it and feel comfortable around the machine.

Put the claws under the cow without turning it on. This lets the cow get accustomed to the machine and the feeling of claws on the teats. Do not be in a rush.

The learning process becomes easy if the cow has growing hearing and seeing the milking machine. Introduce the claws by starting with the furthest rear quarter. The final claw should be that of the closest quarter of the front teats.

Avoid sucking in too much air or losing the claw vacuum. If the pulsator isn’t beating, close the claw and wait for it to start beating. Remember that machine milking is similar to learning how to drive a car. At first, it will seem difficult with so much to remember but as soon as it becomes routine it will be very easy.

Ensure that the bucket has the capacity to hold the milk. Empty the bucket after milking every cow if you aren’t sure whether it can hold the milk from two or more cows. Too much milk in the bucket may see the milk getting sucked up by the vacuum pump. You have better be safe than sorry.

Maintaining Your Bucket Milker

Many people do not enjoy the milking machine cleaning process. Neither do I. I have been cleaning bucket milkers since childhood and it has always been tiring. Back then, the buckets would be broken down, scrubbed and left to dry. Nowadays, people have adopted some shortcuts. The claws are no longer broken down. Instead, it is put in a pail of water and left to suck water into the bucket. The bucket is then scrubbed with a brush. This becomes easy and saves a lot of time. Sanitizing solutions may be used to disinfect the milking machine.

It’s important that the machine is disassembled once a week. This allows complete cleaning. Milk residue may be hard to clean and needs lots of scrubbing.

Rubber inflations also need to get some attention. These inflations should be replaced after 1200 milking. It’s safer to replace them before they hit the 1200 milking mark. You may schedule to replace them twice a year even if they aren’t damaged.


Bucket milking evidently has more benefits over hand milking. It not only offers efficient milking but also guarantees milk-out consistency. It also gives the farmer the ability to engage in other chores as the cow milks.

Though the argument against bucket machines in regards to cow safety still stands, research has shown that properly fitted and maintained machines are no threat to cow health. The milking technology has been evolving over the past decade and the bucket milking machine hasn’t yet seen its best.