Obviously, all the big dairies use machines to milk their cows. Many small farms do too. However, when a family considers whether to milk by hand or by machine, the real benefits of machine-milking are overblown. Machine-milking should only be considered when hand-milking is impossible, i.e., when there are more cows to milk than hands to milk them.
People will say that machines allows more milk to be collected from cows. This is true. However, the amount is not that big of a deal. One study showed that hand milked cows produced about 1 gallon of milk per milking. The amount produced by machine-milked cows was 1.3 gallons per milking. Therefore, a machine-milked cow can produce over 1/2 gallon more per day.
That has to be weighed against two factors that I believe are important on a family farm: (1) the cash required to purchase and maintain the machinery and (2) the value of manual work on the farm.
The cheapest milking system costs $1,500 (bucket included). It would therefore take just over 12 months of milking to pay off the milking machine. Now, after one year, the machine hasn’t profited the farm at all. You stand just where you would have by hand-milking. You’re fooling yourself if you think that your milking system isn’t going to need maintenance and replacement parts after a year of daily use. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. You’ll have an experienced cow who will hand-milk easily, you’ll have $1500 in your pocket and you’ll have a son who’s a year older…and more efficient milking by hand. I argue that hand-milking is better. The family–especially the kids–needs work to do to avoid idleness and gain the satisfaction that comes through productive labor and makes family members love and appreciate one another. Don’t underestimate the importance of work.
You’re going to have plenty of milk whether you milk by hand or machine. If you’re the kind of person eager to avoid manual labor, what are you doing on a farm?! The farmer who is averse to manual labor will be selling his farm soon enough. It is by the diligent labor of an entire family that the farm becomes happy and beautiful. If you’re looking for electric-drive conveniences, move to the suburb.
The entire world has milked cows by hand for over 5,000 years. The milking machine is not a necessity–especially for the family farm.