How to Use a Bucket Milker

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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Bucket milkers were the first mechanical milkers to be used successfully on cows. Two breakthrough discoveries that made the machines—which date back to the late 1800s—effective and safe for cows were the ability to make the milker pulsate in conjunction with a vacuum and the development of a two-part inflation to massage the cows’ teats during milking. These developments were welcomed with glee by most dairy farmers. Even though newer and more efficient technologies have been developed since, bucket milkers are still used by many dairy farmers with a small herd (30 or fewer cows) with much success. Here are my best practices for using a bucket milker on a micro-dairy.

What is a bucket milker?

First things first, let’s get a clear understanding of what a bucket milker is. Most standard systems consist of a vacuum pump, a bucket and lid, a pulsator and a claw. The vacuum pump is connected to the bucket milker via a vacuum line. It’s job is to maintain a steady vacuum for the proper operation of the bucket milker. If the vacuum pump and regulator aren’t functioning properly, a cow’s teats can be injured. Most bucket milkers hold 4 to 8 gallons of milk from one, and sometimes two, cows before it must be emptied into a bulk tank to be stored and cooled.

How to use a bucket milker

Learning to operate a bucket milker is similar to learning to drive a car. There is a lot to learn up front, but it soon becomes a matter of habit. Eventually, you will operate the machine on autopilot.

Properly clean the cow and start her with your hands. Check out my last blog for tips on how to milk a cow by hand.
Hook the vacuum line to the vacuum port on the bucket milker and turn on the vacuum pump.
Place the bucket on the ground beside the cow next to her rib cage. This leaves you room to access her udder. 
Grab the claw and hold it under the udder with the milk hose pointed towards the front of the claw. Once you, the cow, the bucket and the claw are in position, open the vacuum to the claw and listen to make sure that the pulsator is clicking properly.

Put the inflations on the cow’s teats one at a time starting with the teat farthest from you.
Make sure the claw hangs straight down from the udder. It cannot be twisted during milking. As you develop confidence with your milking skills, you may find that pulling the claw forward or otherwise adjusting its position on the cow will speed things up. This will take time and is not to be rushed.

Don’t Forget to Relax

As I always say, the most important thing is to relax so that you and your cow can enjoy the milking process. If your cow is not used to being machine milked, give her time to become acquainted with the sight and sound of the milker. If you’re doing things right, she’s not spending all day in front of machines. Move slowly and talk to her in soothing tones of voice. Most cows enjoy being milked. I have even had a few cows become so comfortable during milking that they lay down with the machine attached to their udder. It’s surely a comical sight—and not a problem just as long as the claw doesn’t break.

Next up: Why Time is Money and the Value of Pipeline Milkers on a Micro Dairy.