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"Machine for Milking Cows." Patent no. 3429, filed by Austin Berry, 1874


Patent no. 3429. Filing year 1874.

"Machine for Milking Cows," Austin Berry.

It takes about ten minutes to milk a cow by hand. This may not sound like a long time, but multiplied by two dozen cows (a small herd) and then doubled or tripled (since cows have to be milked at least twice daily) it adds up to a very labour-intensive operation.

This wasn't an issue before 1850, since pre-Confederation farming families produced milk chiefly for their own consumption. Women did most of the milking, and their only tools were a stool and a pail. By the mid-19th century, however, a growing population boosted the demand for milk of a consistent quality, and various attempts were made to mechanize the milking process. Early machines employed one of three methods: insertion of tubes into the cow's teats, application of external pressure on the teats, or the use of continuous suction.

The machine above, patented in 1874 by Austin Berry of Shefford, Quebec, was an example of the first type. Silver tubes were inserted into the teats and milk flowed through them to a reservoir. A valve on the reservoir could be opened or closed to control the flow of the milk, which allowed the milker time to position the pail. A catch-spring on the pail held the end of the tube in place. Using a pail equipped with a number of catch-springs enabled the milking of several cows at once.

The main problem with this system was that inserting the tubes could damage the cow's teats. Machines that applied external pressure on the teats had similar drawbacks. The continuous suction method, meanwhile, could cause congestion in the teats, stopping the flow of milk. Eventually, devices that provided an intermittent suction and release (closely imitating the natural suckling action of a calf), proved to be the most successful. These machines, which appeared on the market in the late 1890s, featured a pump to provide the vacuum, hoses ending in rubber-lined teat cups, and a device to alternately compress and relax the cup liner.

Canadian dairy farmers, however, were slow to adopt the machines, which were often expensive and complicated to use. Despite the efficiency they promised, milking machines were not in common use until after the 1950s.

Other Canadian patents for milking machines in the database include no. 2732, no. 4668 and no. 46894. Dairy farmers also used devices to speed up the process of making butter. Barrel churns, including no. 32073, separated milk and cream and forced the fat globules together. Centrifugal cream separators, developed in Europe and available in Canada by the 1880s, were much more efficient than churns and enabled the production of high volumes of cream and butter.


Klingender, Franz. "Dairying Technology." Canada Agriculture Museum.
(accessed October 25, 2005).