Dairy farming has been part of agriculture for thousands of years and was usually done on small farms around villages and cities where residents were unable to have cows of their own. Farmers could make some extra money by having additional cows and selling the milk at the market place.
Before mechanization most cows were milked by hand. The first milking machines were an extension of the traditional milk pail. This early milking device fit on top of a regular milk pail and sat on the floor under the cow. After each cow was milked, the bucket would be dumped into a holding tank.
The next innovation in automatic milking was the milking parlor, which streamlined the milking process to permit cows to be milked as if on an assembly line, and to reduce physical stress on the farmer by putting the cows on a platform slightly above the person milking the cows to eliminate having to constantly bend over. Milking parlors allowed a large concentration of technical equipment in a central location, which permitted automatic milk take-off devices. Before this, milking was not entirely automatic, and each cow needed to be monitored so that the milker could be removed when the cows were almost done.
Keeping milk cool helps preserve it. When windmills and well pumps were invented, one of the first uses on the farm besides providing water for the livestock was for cooling milk and extend the storage life before being transported to the town market. The naturally cold underground water would be continuously pumped into a cooling tank where the milk cans were placed until they were taken to the market.
Modern dairy farmers use milking machines and sophisticated plumbing systems to harvest and store the milk from the cows, which are usually milked two or three times a day. Some dairy farms milk 24 hours a day to get maximum production from their animals.
At the museum we have a full size dairy cow that you can actually milk. Come and visit our cow “Daisy” and see what it is like to milk a cow by hand.