Old dairy farm families keep, display vintage dairy equipment

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A four-light system could be purchased with the engine to power the milking barn lights – before electricity reached most farms nationwide. There was even a built-in water heater, which heated 4.5 gallons of water for washing milkers and other milking equipment.

The system used vacuum control to move milk through the lines. It also has a sanitary trap that would catch any liquid or foreign substance.

The small engine and the mainline were the only parts on display in the shop. Over the years milkers and lines have been lost or scrapped.

But, all the same, it was a fascinating look at the history of dairy equipment in his workshop. I knew these machines were basically the first stage of automatic milking systems, but I had never seen one in person before.

Perhaps it was my own farming family’s story revolving around dairy farming that I found this piece of equipment so fascinating. As I have written in the past, previous generations of my family were dairy farmers.

My great-grandfather, my grandfather and then my father all milked cows on the same farm. They started milking by hand in the barn, then moved to a system with booster buckets. Then, in the late 1950s, my grandparents built a milking parlour.

My grandparents sold their farm around the same time I was born in the mid-1970s, so the milking facilities were also sold. My father leased a farm long term and then bought the buildings, but the farm had no milking facilities.

He kept a handful of his last Holstein heifers after his Holstein dairy cows were sold, and then he bought an Angus bull. This was the start of his herd of beef cows, which we still have today.

We too have some interesting agricultural artifacts in our old shed, but nothing as cool as a vintage milking machine.

We have about 10 metal milk cans, which I believe held 10 gallons of milk each. From what I learned, most dairy farms would have two sets of milk cans. One set went with the milkman full of milk, while another remained on the farm to be refilled until he returned and the set of boxes was exchanged.

Somehow, a large glass bulb from my grandparents’ milking parlor has survived three farm moves in the last 50 years and sits on a shelf in our only shed. As my father tells it, the milk flowed from the milkers onto the cows through the lines and through that glass bulb before the milk ended up in the milk tank in the other room.

We also have a bucket with thin chains with a brown numbered tag on each chain. I guess my grandfather bought Guernsey cows in the late 1950s, and those cows had these chain ID tags when he bought them.

Again, nothing like an antique milk machine, but still dairy products which I think have always been interesting.

I would love to hear what interesting vintage dairy products you have. Please send me your stories, and we’ll post them in future columns.

Russ Quinn can be contacted at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

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