The first machine to milk a goat was designed over 30 years ago by a woman who used a hand operated water pump, according to Jim Vandergriff, Caprine Supply, Desoto, Kansas. Though her individual identity is unknown, that particular person, apparently fed up with hand milking her goats, was the catalyst to spark an industrial revolution in the world of milking goats.
There are still plenty of people who enjoy hand milking goats. But for some goat people a milking machine has improved their quality of life significantly.
"We went to machine milking for a few reasons," said Rebecca Johnson, Casa-De-Cabral Dairy Goats, Purebred Nubians, Alpines and Recorded Grades in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. "Milking 20 does by hand seemed to take forever and my mother, who is my relief milker, had carpal tunnel. My husband was having too much trouble milking ‘tiny teats,’ but with the machine, my 11-year-old son could help milk. He can even easily operate the machine if necessary. Besides it’s easier to milk with the machine once we have more than seven does fresh."
Johnson’s family purchased a Capralite two-goat system four years ago. The machine was built by Sig and Edith Stinle of Sig-Edi Welding Company in Poughkeepsie, New York.
"We love it and have had no problems with it," Johnson said. "Our machine was roughly $1,100 with a plastic three-gallon pail and $1,200 with the stainless three-gallon pail.
"To clean up we run a pail each of Joy dishwashing detergent, water, Clorox water, and clear water through. Then we dry the pail and lid and hang the inflations."
The amount of time it takes to clean a milking machine is something of an issue. But, Rebecca Johnson pointed out, there are reasons other than efficiency for buying a milking machine.
"If somebody has arthritis or carpal tunnel time is not an issue," said Vandergriff (Caprine Supply). "I believe that the break even time-wise for a milking machine is six goats. If you have less than six goats, a machine will take you the same amount of time as it would if you were milking by hand. There’s more clean up because you’ve got the big bucket and you’ve got the milk line, the inflations, and other parts to clean."
Vandergriff, who started Caprine Supply a quarter of a century ago because he couldn’t find what he needed to milk his goats, said a lot of people have turned to portable milking machines since then.
"When I started selling milking machines I sold about 20 in the first year and now we sell hundreds," he said.
Caprine Supply started selling a machine with an oil lubricated pump. Now they sell only systems with oil-less vacuum pumps.
"You don’t have the problem of dripping oil," Vandergriff said. "No matter how careful you are you’ll get oil dripping out here and there. You’ll also get an oil vapor and that makes things kind of messy at times, it can put a film on things."
Caprine Supply sells a line of milking machines, with oilless pumps, ranging in price from $1,055 for the System One Farm Model to the Caprine System Three Milking Machine for $2,395. The System One Farm Model can be plugged into a regular home electric system and will milk one goat at a time. It comes with a two-gallon, unbreakable, low-profile, tip-proof poly bucket rather than the seven gallon stainless steel bucket that the regular System One Milking Machine ($1,299) has.
"We have the small bucket because a lot of people don’t want to pick up a 60 or 70 pound bucket of milk," Vandergriff said. "The poly bucket is the same kind of material as Tupperware(r?) so it’s not grade A approved."
Caprine Supply is in the process of increasing the capacity of it’s smallest model.
"We’re remachining our little System One slightly so it will milk two goats at a time," Vandergriff said. "I’m doing that because I’m also selling them to farmers in cow dairies as a fresh cow machine to strip the high colostrom milk from fresh cows. They’ll be able to roll the cart right out to the cow and milk her out rather than bring her into the parlor. With the redesign you could still use the Fam Model for two goats but you’d have to empty the bucket more often."
Caprine Supply also sells the System Two Milking Machine ($1,695) that milks two to four goats at a time and the Danish made Caprine System Three Milking Machine ($2,395) which can milk up to eight goats at a time. Trying to milk eight goats at once, Vandergriff said, is a little like a one legged man in a jumping contest, however.
Roy Lunberger, Conde Supply, isn’t convinced of the merits of an oil-less vacuum pump. Conde Supply sells two models of portable goat milking machines. For each model they offer the choice of an oiless pump and an oil lubricated pump. The company also has a larger version that can handle up to eight goats.
"The disadvantage is the oil free pump is subject to problems if the pump gets damp or if water is sucked into the pump," said Lunberger, whose company specializes in the manufacture of oil-less pumps, said. "I recommend to people not to use it and to use the oil lubricated pump."
Paul Hamby, explaining the intricacies of dairy goat milking equipment to Juletta Brannon, at the 2004 ADGA National Show in PA.
Lunberger claims the oil-less pumps work better in more controlled environments. Vandergriff (Caprine Supply) said they haven’t had problems with their pump and, before the company sold systems with oil-less pumps, some customers found the oil lubricated systems objectionable.
The Conde Ultra System, which will milk one animal at a time, sells for $1,000 with the oil-less pump and $1,040 with the oil lubricated pump. The Conde Maxi System milks up to four does at a time. The oil-less vacuum pump version sells for $1,750 and the oil lubricated model sells for $1,790.
Both the Ultra and the Maxi models are mounted on wheels and can be plugged into regular household electrical systems.
Most milking machines have a 60-40 pulsation ratio. That means that the vacuum is on, putting milking pressure on the doe’s teats, sixty percent of the time and is off, letting the teat fill again, forty percent on the time. The pulsation ratio is not adjustable but the frequency of pulsations is. The on and off cycle can take place between forty-five and 120 times per minute on the Conde machines.
"Most people recommend 80 to 90 pulsations per minute but everybody has their own idea," Lunberger said. "It’s a simple adjustment to speed it up or slow it down."
Vandergriff and his wife, Joan, discuss pulsation speed in their own published, illustrated booklet, called the "ABC’s of Milking Machines."
"In our ABC’s booklet we tell people to go out and watch a kid nurse and figure out what he’s doing and set the speed of your machine at that," he said. "A goat’s udder is more delicate than a cow’s udder and we set up our machines the way I think they should be used. Cow dairies milk faster and they set their pulsation rate up faster because it means money. We recommend milking from ten to eleven vacuum level. The vacuum level is adjustable on the machine."
As in most matters of dairy goats there are gentle disagreements or, as Roy from Conde Supply said, "everybody has their own idea."
According to information from the Ontario Goat Milk Producers’ Association, "the pulsation ratio should be 50:50. Cow pulsators are usually set for 60:40 or even 70:30 ratios. These ratios are an open invitation to mastitis in goats. The number of pulsations (open-close cycles) per minute should be in the 90-95 range, give or take 5% or so, rather than the 60 used for cows."
Finding a machine with a pulsator with 50:50 ratio may be difficult, however, and the claim that goat milking machines cause mastitis is an "old wive’s tale," Vandergriff said.
"If the machines are used correctly, the chances of a doe getting mastitis are no greater than with hand milking," he said.
"Mastitis is simply an inflammation of the udder from being kicked or from a bacterial infection. With the bacteria, if you don’t do a good job of sanitation between goats, you’ve got the milk machine inflation and as you go from one goat to the other you have a real possibility of passing the bacteria on. Also people will forget and over milk a goat and bruise her udder. You could say that milking machines caused that but it’s really the carelessness of the operator."
Although milking machines are fairly easy to operate Vandergriff suggested a visit to a farm, even a cow dairy, where one is being used before personally trying out the machine one goats at home. Watching some one else operate the equipment will make it a little easier for the first time user, he said.
Caprine Supply’s ABC’s booklet is also useful. It explains how milking machines work and describes each part of a generic milking system. And, regardless where the milking machine is purchased, Vandergriff said to make sure they have a reliable and fast parts supply.
Some other companies that make goat milking systems include: Missouri based Hamby Dairy Supply; Parts Department of Trumbell, Connecticutt; and Hoegger Supply, Fayetteville, Georgia.
Hamby Dairy Supply, owned by Paul and Ronda Hamby, makes a number of models ranging in size from their two gallon Goat Milker Assembly, which they promote as being useful for milking at shows or for miniature goats, to a seven gallon stainless steel, or poly, milking bucket with Goat Claws, Interpuls pulsator, adapter and all necessary tubes and hoses to milk two goats. Hamby Supply has been inovative in providing clear milk lines and a clear seven gallon plastic goat milking bucket assembly for better visual assessment of the milking process. All of Hamby’s products can be set up for either full size goats or Nigerians. Hamby’s complete "Goat Bucket Milker System-four at a time" comes with two, seven-gallon clear buckets, two milking claws, and an oil vacuum pump, for $2,395.
Hoegger Supply makes the Deluxe 2-Goat Milking System which is portable and can be plugged into any home electric system. The system is unique in that it comes with a smaller, and therefore lighter when full, stainless steel milk bucket, called the belly pail. The Hoegger system also features an adjustable pulsation speed at either 40 or 60 cycles per minute. The machine, set up for milking one goat, costs $1,350. Set up to milk two does it goes for $1,595.
The market for milking machines like those made by Sig-Edi, Caprine Supply, Conde, Hamby, Hoegger, and others is likely to continue to grow as more and more goat owners realize the ease it can afford them.