Technological advances in dairy farming

    There are numerous advances as far as technology on the farm goes, from crop rotation, bigger and better tractors, and much more.  this page focuses on advances more directly related to dairy milking including changes in milking procedure and equipment, different types of milking parlors, types of silos, and the computerization of the dairy farm.  


Milking Machines 

            Having heard the stories of our interviewees, we noted big changes on their farms in the way of milking techniques.  Henry Strohmaier, Bob Fowler, and Alvan Lawrence all remember well the slow process of milking each cow by hand two or three times a day.  Each recalls the revolutionary change that came with the introduction of milking machines on their farms.  We found this interesting and decided to look into the history and progression of milking techniques, especially milking machines and milking parlors. 


In the early days milkers used stools,  buckets and their hands


            The first successful milking machine was introduced as early as 1870, however they were not commonly used until several decades later.  In the early milking years of these farmers, milking machines were available, but at that point the ones on the market weren’t too effective. 

The first milking machines were pretty brutal.  Tubes were inserted into the cow’s teats forcing them open for the milk to flow out like in this 1875 model. 


This was injurious to the cow and often led to continuous dribbling and an increased risk of contamination. 


            Hundreds of patents were granted for milking machines in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  They were designed either to imitate hand milking, using mechanical pressure, or the sucking calf, using a vacuum.  Early vacuum milkers created problems because the continuous suction made blood pool in the utter and damaged it.  The invention of the pulsator opened the gateway to effective milking machines.  First introduced in the “Thistle” vacuum milker in 1895, the pulsator allowed for intermittent flow so that the teat would have time to refill and the vacuum action of the machine would not be damaging. 

Mehring milking machine, 1890s


A big milestone in the way of milking machines was  the Surge milker.  Alvan Lawrence remembers using this milker around 1960 on the farm where he grew up in Morristown. 

  Invented by Herbert McCornack in the fall of 1922, the surge milker used a pulsating tug and pull movement like that of a calf.  The new milker surpassed all expectations. The biggest advantage was the ability to easily clean and sanitize the Surge. There were only 4 inches from the teat to the pail unlike the long milk tubing highly prone to contamination of the earlier standing models where the bucket would set on the ground like this one.

         This revolutionary Surge milker would hang under the cow suspended on a steel spring rod that was attached to a leather surcingle strap over the cows back.  If the teat cups were to fall off they’d automatically shut off and the design kept them be far from the dirt and so they’d remain clean, whereas longer tubing models would often suck dirt into the machine when they fell to the ground. 



 1946 Surge ad     

         Modern milking machines are completely closed pipeline.  The milking machine is attached to the utter and the milk line goes directly to the bulk tank.  Watch this clip of a modern milking parlor and milking machines at the local Fillmore Farms barn on Rt. 9 in Bennington.



Milking Parlors

        The most common milking parlor designs are parallel parlors, herringbone parlors, and rotary parlors.  The most efficient parlor is not necessarily the one that milks the most amount of cows at one time, but rather the one that milks several at once with the least amount of men working the machines. 

Our interviewees mentioned using both parallel and herringbone parlors.

parallel parlour
Parallel milking parlor Herringbone milking parlor Rotary milking parlor



        There are basically two types of silos: vertical and horizontal.  Of the vertical silos, there are both open-top silos, silos that are open to the atmosphere on top, and there are oxygen-limiting silos, silos that are closed off.  These types of silos are either accessed manually at the bottom, or they require a machine to get the feed.  

These silos were made between 1912 and 1915 out of cement. This is an example of more modern silos.

        As far as horizontal silos go, there is the trench silo, which is a silo built into the ground by digging a trench and filling it with feed, the bunker silo, a silo built over the natural grade-line, and the stack trench, a pile of silage with no structural walls.  Significant advances have been made over the years which have reduced storage spoilage, although it remains a problem no matter what type of silo is used.


Bunker Silo Trench Silo Stack Silo


Computerization of Dairy Farming

        The computerization of dairy farming has also made a huge impact on how cows are milked and how the milk is collected.  In the following clip Rob Holden explains how technology has effected the farm, especially how computer filing and tracking has helped to pinpoint the peak production of the cows.