Friday, October 10, 2014

My Thoughts on the Surge Belly Milker (Surge Bucket Milker)

This summer we bought another milk cow for the farm here; this one was fresh (in milk/lactating) and had a calf with her so with that came the need to milk her. I have tried some hand milking machines with the goats and was displeased by them and just reverted to actual hand-to-teat milking with them, but didn't really want to do that with the cow due to milk volume etc. I decided to sell some goats and some collectibles and go in and order a used/refurbished milking machine off of Ebay.

From all my research I decided to get a refurbished Surge Belly Milker made by Babson Brothers and I'm pretty sure mine was from somewhere around 1954. One of the main things to look for when getting one of these old milkers is to make sure you get the Seamless model. The earlier versions (pre-1950s) had a seam in the metal halfway up the can which was hard to clean and could lead to contaminated milk.

The version I bought was similar to the one pictured above but revamped with new tubing and gaskets and everything, and the pulsator (the little square thing right below the handle, which makes alternates the vacuum between hoses) was rebuilt I'm pretty sure. The seller I decided to purchase from claimed to have been refurbishing them for 18 years, and I have no reason to doubt them, because the machine and all its parts were in immaculate condition for a 60 year old piece of equipment. Sure there are some minor dents in the bottom of the can and you can tell some of the pressed logos and such have been worn down by cleaning and time, but there is no reason I won't be able to pass this fine piece of equipment on down the line to my son and it still be functional 50 years from now. It really is true what they say: "They don't make stuff like they used to."

This thing is heavy. It doesn't look it, but that can is big enough to hold 2-4 gallons of liquid depending which way you turn it; And don't forget it is made of stainless steel. It has four sets of hoses for the four teats but also included some jumper hoses so you can just use two if you prefer, which is what I'm doing right now since I am milking the one cow and it doesn't take a real long time to just move the teat cups around to milk her out. If I was milking multiple cows (which I hope to be doing soon) I might go to the four hoses to speed up the process.

Here is a similar ebay listing picture to the one I bought (from the same seller). The vacuum pump is small but sturdy; I am pretty sure it came from Harbor Freight or somewhere similar. The hoses are all new and much longer than the original stubby rubber ones so that you don't have to actually hang the milker under the belly of the cow for it to reach. It took a few goes to get the routine down, but once you figure it out its fairly simple. One thing I would say is that if you're using these longer hoses you have to watch very closely because if you lose suction or one comes loose it will fall to the ground and possibly suck up a chunk of manure and ruin your day and your milk. I set the machine down next to me and hold the hoses just to make sure if they fall I will catch them. Also something I've noticed is that the new hoses are as stiff and it causes them to start relaxing around the stub-outs from the pulsator lid which can reduce suction unless you hold them straight with your other hand. I am thinking about adding some stiff springs on the outside of the hoses to hold them up so they don't cut off flow and I don't have to manually hold them in the future.

All in all I give this thing a B+. The main strike against it is the bulkiness. Not only is the milk can heavy, but the vacuum, though small, is rather heavy as well. Couple those items with the fact that you have to carry a bucket with you to transfer the milk into so that you can seal it for transport to the house because you're not supposed to transport the milking can with pulsator intact because milk can get into the mechanism or even into the vacuum and screw things up. It does make the new-fangled milkers that come on a cart or hand truck type deal look a little sexier. But for the price difference I will either lug it around or build my own cart, and I honestly have to say I get a sense of pride using such an old, sturdy piece of farm equipment from the days of my grandfather. I have considered just getting a new vacuum pump to leave in the house so that I could leave one in the milking barn and then I wouldn't have to tote it back and forth (and I probably will do that eventually). The only other issue I have with it is that sometimes you have to push really hard on the pulsator lid to keep a seal while trying to start your vacuum; there may be a trick to this I haven't learned yet, but if there was someway of adding a latch that held the lid on that would be preferable.

If someone knew what they were doing and had worked with these before I am sure you could buy an old one and refurbish it yourself and save even more money, but I paid around $700 for this set up shipping and all. The vacuum pump costs around a hundred, and the rest of the parts I am sure added up a little, not to mention the time of cleaning and preparing everything. I am fine paying that much for my first machine, but if I ever get another one I'll probably get the parts and assemble it myself to save even more money now that I have an idea about how everything works and fits together.

If you did want to go find you one of these to buy on ebay, I recommend buying from the seller that I bought from. He had instructions and his own phone number included in the package to help with any problems you might have getting it set up.

His ebay seller name is:  wsennott
The address to his ebay store as well:

I hope this review tells you a little about this milker and its goods and bads. If you want to learn more about this style of milker head over to the website:

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Yours Truly,
The Crowsons