A little back story, before I decided to start this milking machine project, I had a max of 2 Nigerian Dwarf goats to milk every morning and night. My second year with goats and sheep, I had 2 sheep and 3 Nigerian Dwarfs to milk and not enough time to milk them all. So I decided that I really needed to buy a milking machine but milking machines are so expensive. I mean, really unnecessarily expensive. When you break down their components, some are more expensive than others but it never adds up to the price many dairy suppliers give you, so I decided to build my own and save some money.
There are a few websites that will give you info on how to build your own milking machine but they will leave out small imporant details or just basically tell you to get this, this and this, slam it all together and voila, working milk machine. That didn’t happen to me and it probably won’t happen to you either, unless you follow my incredibly detailed instructions because I’m not just going to point you in a general direction, I am going to tell you exactly what I bought.
I built my machine for a little less than $500 in 2010. That is the least expensive machine I could make using a vacuum pump. Other machines are atleast $700 or more likely $1000. So building your own machine will allow you to save both time while milking and money on the cost of the machine. As you use your entry-level diy milking machine, you can get a feel of what parts need improvement and where you’d like to spend more money but this will get the job done for the first few years.
The three main places where I got my materials are:
The Home Depot
Here’s what you need to make a milking machine( a more specific materials list is posted at the bottom of this page. )
Vacuum Pump – to create vacuum
Milking bucket with lid – the bucket is to give the milk a place to go and the lid is where all your lines and pulsator will connect.
Pulsator - These will pulsate(turn on and off) the vacuum so the teats aren’t just on constant vaccum because you can seriously hurt an animal that way. This is the main difference between those hand milkers like the Udderly EZ milker, Henry Milker or Maddigan’s Milker and real milking machines.
Shells and Inflations - These go on the teats and replace your hands when milking. These cups, with vacuum in them and with pulsation are what makes the milk come out of your goat/sheep/cow.There are two parts here. The inflations go inside the teat cups. There are two main sizes of these. One size for cows and full-sized goats and another size for mini-goats and sheep. The size of the shells/inflations have nothing to do with the size of the animal but with the size of the teats. If you have a full-size goats with small teats, you need the smaller shell. Just imagine you’re fitting a bra, a pointy madonna bra.
Elbows or Claws – These will go in the bottoms of the inflations and connect to the milking lines.
Tubing – You need three main tubes
One tube from the vacuum pump to the vacuum line on your bucket lid.This carries the vacuum.
Some to connect your teat cups to the pulsator. This will cause the inflations to pulsate.
Some to connect your elbow or claws to the bucket lid. This will carry the milk into the bucket and so they should probably be food safe.
Vacuum Gauge – This is to gauge how much vacuum your system is producing, you need around 12 or 13 ” hg on your gauge for the pulsator to function properly. I’m not sure what more will do to the pulsator but I know that more vacuum can injure your animal. Too little vacuum and the pulsator won’t kick in.
Regulator - This is to actually regulate the vacuum. They go by different names. I bought mine in the air compressor section of home depot. It’s just a valve with a handle. I am pretty sure I don’t even need it since my system maxes out around 13″ hg but if you have a stronger pump, you will surely need one.
Connections: This is just what I am calling the series of brass fittings I needed to connect the vacuum pump, to the regulator, to the gauge to the vacuum tube, which goes to the bucket lid.
Adapter: Depending on which bucket, lid and pulsator you use, you may need an adapter. I will explain my set-up below. If you use a Surge Bucket and lid with Surge pulsator, no adapter is required.
You have 2 main sections for a simple milking machine. The bucket end of things and the vacuum pump itself. I will start with the vacuum pump side first.
In order to create sufficient vacuum to milk one goat or sheep, you need a vacuum pump that creates at least 6 CFM of vacuum. The pump I used for my milking machine is the Mastercool (MSC90066A). The lowest price right now for this 6 CFM pump is here at this link on Amazon with shipping included. There are much better quality pumps out there and there are some cons to this pump. It does require oil and the exhaust creates a fine smoke or vapor when in use. There can be issues if the pump is left out in cold weather, such as in the barn with your livestock. I avoid this problem by storing the pump in my home. I need to it clean the machine after use anyway. But I can overlook these issues for the cost and practicality of the pump. I use this about once a day for 20 minutes for around 6 months out of the year about and it works fine for that.
Once you have your pump, the next step is to get your connections, vacuum gauge and regulator put together and connected to the vacuum outlet. This will allow you to connect a tube to the vacuum pump while monitoring the vacuum level and adjusting it with the regulator. With my particular setup, I never adjust the vacuum because the gauge reading falls within the proper level of vacuum needed to run the machine without damaging the sheep or goat teats.
The other half of the milking machine is the bucket and everything that comes with it. My guide here is based on the surge bucket. This is a 5 gallon belly-pale which was intended to be strapped to the belly of a cow while she was being milked but it works fine for any small scale milking purposes.
The bucket must have a lid, the lid is where most of the action happens. For this setup you have a variety of things associated with the lid. You first have the O-ring under the lid. This will help to make a proper seal. You then have the valve that will sit in the top of the lid. If you are using an Interpuls Pulsator as I am using, you will also need the Surger bucket adapter. This is an L-shaped device that attached to the lid, over where the valve sits. The pulsator then slides onto the far end of the adapter. Once you have all these attached to your lid, you can move onto to tubing and inflations.
For the inflations, I went with the clear shells and silicon inflations for mini-goats or sheep. These are available from the Parts Dept. The inflations are placed inside the shells, really they are squeezed into the shells as it is a snug fit. The bottoms of the inflations will stick out of the bottom of the shells and there will be an opening in each inflation. These openings are where you will attach you elbows or claws which will then be attached to the tubes. For my setup I used the AutoValve Goat/Sheep claw from Parts Dept. You need one per inflation and they are sold separately. These will help minimize loss of vacuum when the inflations are detached from the teats. One other thing I recommend is caps for your inflations. You will use these to plug the inflations between goats/sheep, so the machine does not lose it’s vacuum and pulsation. This is important if you don’t have a reserve tank to keep a vacuum, which this set-up does not. Now your inflation assembly is complete. You just need to connect the inflation to the pulsator/lid with some tubes.
As mentioned above, you will need 3 types of tubing.
A clear tube to carry vacuum from the pulsator to the shells. These are connected to the side of the shells and into the black nubs coming out of the pulsator.
A silicon tube to carry the milk from the inflations to the lid/bucket. These will have one end attached to the claw and the other end attached to the holes in the lid.
A tube that will go from your vacuum pump into the back of your adapter to create vacuum within the bucket. This needs to be a strong tube. One of those reinforced tubes is best.
2 other tubes may be required if you only have 2 inflations but a 4 prong pulsator and lid. Actually all the lids have 4 prongs since they are intended for cows who have 4 teats. You will just need extra tubes to cover those holes and circulate the vacuum back into the pulsator or lid. Otherwise, you will completely lose vacuum.
Once all of this is connected, you are ready to start milking.
Operation of the Milking Machine:
Plug the pump into an electrical outlet. Make sure all tubes are connected as shown in photos. Any missing or loose tube connections and there will be no vacuum. Make sure the lid is also on properly and that the rubber o-ring is properly in place, inside the lid. Once all connections are secure you can switch the pump to on.
At this point you will either place the inlfations onto the animal’s teats or if you are not ready you milk, you can hold the caps over the tops of the inflations. This will cause a vacuum to form. Once vacuum reaches a certain level, around 13″ hg, the pulsator will switch on and begin pulsating. Before putting the inflations on the the goats teats, it’s important to milk the teats a couple times each by hand to get rid of the plug that forms and check for any problems with the milk before milking. If you do not do this, the teats can be exposed to excess vacuum that could damage them because the milk is unable to flow out of them due to the plug.
While milking with the machine, you should regularly bump or massage the udder to make all milk has come down. Once you determine that the udder is empty, you can move onto the next animal. Place the caps on the inflations between animals to keep the vacuum at the proper level. If you have no more animals to milk then just switch the pump off and you are ready to process your milk and clean the machine.
Cleaning of machine is simple. The most important thing to do on a daily basis is make sure the tubes are cleaned and disinfected after each use. I do this by holding the inflations, while the machine is on, under the bathtub faucet. I use warm water and the machine will just suck the water up through the inflations and into the bucket. I run a good amount of water through each inflation. Then I take a dilute bleach/water mixture and run these through the inflations in the same manner. Lastly I rinse again with plain warm water.
I then set them up to dry. In this particular set-up, the rubber portion of the claw can be removed and I do so to allow the inflation to dry more thoroughly. I also leave the lid off the bucket so that the lid portion and the bucket portion can dry. It is important that these don’t stay most or mold and bacteria will grow in them and ruin your milk. If you are using loops on the lid to close off one side of that lid, this loop must be removed and washed and allowed to dry after each milking.
An in depth cleaning should take place every month or so where all tubes are disassembled, the adapter is disassembled and these are soaked in a dilute bleach/water solution. The rubber o-ring under the lid should also be cleaned regularly.
Mastercool 6 CFM Vacuum Pump 90066-A ~$145 Surge Milk Bucket w/Lid ~$70 Interpuls pulsator 4 port #62824 ~$89 Interpuls pulsator adapter #62730 ~$20 Autovalve Goat Claw #920858 ~$ 20 each Silicon Inflation #64582 ~$12 each Clear Shell #64583 ~$9 each Inflation Caps/Pluggits #911383 ~$3 each Vacuum Gauge #945499-1 ~$30 Vacuum Regulator ~$25 Tubing ~$30 Brass Connections ~$30
A few notes about this list:
-Approximate prices are from 2010, list will be updated shortly.
– All # signs refer to part numbers on parts dept online.
-I chose inflations for a full-sized goat for the above example. If you have mini goats or sheep, you might want smaller inflations but these are not essential.
-if the price says ‘each’ you’re gonna need either 2 or 4 of them. Depending on what you are milking.
-I wasn’t sure about prices or location for the last for items as I bought them at Home Depot.
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