The white gold – when the mechanization came into the barn


HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. The increasing milk production from the end of the 19th century increasingly forced work out of maids, servants and statesmen. Gustaf de Laval wanted to mechanize the process, but his first milking machine revealed that the innovative industrialist did not know much about cows.

Ivar Lo-Johansson called it “the white whip”, which above all also affected female farm workers. Up before dawn, seven days a week, to hand-milk the cows sitting on a box or stool. In the afternoon it was time again: a heavy work in uncomfortable postures, which over time caused wear and tear and pain.

And milk production increased in Sweden. From the end of the 19th century, the world market was flooded with cheap grain from the USA, which pressured many Swedish farms to switch from fields to cattle farming. About the same time, the pasteurization came, which made it safe to drink fresh milk – previously it had been considered almost toxic, as it could transmit tuberculosis.

After the Swedish inventor Gustaf de Laval also patented the separator, which separates the cream from the milk much faster than with traditional methods, a regular dairy industry began to emerge in the country. The company AB Separator (today’s Alfa Laval) was founded, milk became something of the Swedish people’s national drink, and “the white whip” demanded an ever-increasing tribute of maids and state wives.

Painful for the cows

But Gustaf de Laval wanted to take the mechanization all the way into the barn. His first milking machine was presented in 1896 under the name Lactator – and was a pure disaster. The machine was hung in straps under the cow, and resilient rollers were attached to each side of the udder. They pressed the milk into the tips of the teats, where two flat rubber flaps pressed it out. The machine was driven via mechanical transmission from a stationary electric motor, and was extremely complicated with many moving parts.

But above all, the technology was painful for the cows. Gradually, panic began to break out in the experimental barn, when the test staff came scrambling with their equipment in the mornings. The company that was started to manufacture and sell the machine had to be liquidated to a significant financial loss.

Experiments were also underway in other countries. In the UK, machines were developed based on the suction principle: tight-fitting copper was stepped over the teats and the milk was drawn out with a vacuum. But de Laval and other Swedish developers stuck to the printing principle, because the printing machines sent the milk directly into a bucket. The suction machines used long hoses where bacterial growth could occur.

After the Statens Maskinprovningar in 1910 came to the conclusion that the British suction machines were superior, Gustaf de Laval changed. His very last patent, obtained shortly before his death in 1913, concerned a “suction-only milking device”. However, it turned out that this machine did not measure up either.

Alpha-Laval Type A

After all, it was in the Separator sphere that the breakthrough came. Engineer John Daysh, who grew up on a farm and hand-milked cows throughout his upbringing, worked for their American subsidiary De Laval Separator Company. Daysh understood how to further develop the teat cups so that they became gentler on the udder, and to let the machine break the vacuum at regular intervals to imitate the breathing of a suckling calf.

It was launched in 1917, and the first 100 copies were sold with full right of withdrawal to American dairy farmers. Not a single one of the 100 “test pilots” wanted to return their milking machine. The following year, the machine was introduced in Sweden under the name Alfa-Laval Type A, and from the 1920s, Sweden became a pioneer in machine milking.

Since the 70’s, machine milking has been standard in the entire western world’s dairy production, but in the 90 ‘the next step was taken: the milk robotisation was started, in English called Automatic Milking System (AMS), which is today found in about 800 Swedish farms. The main computer identifies the individual cow on her transponder necklace, and via automatic gates, the system directs her to the robotic milking parlor at the right time. In this way, the farmer’s work becomes more flexible: you no longer have to follow the “white whip” of fixed milking times.


Source: Nyteknik – Senaste nytt by www.nyteknik.se.

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