Cheap isn’t always better.
I’ve learned over the course of my homesteading journey that sometimes being willing to pay a little more for a higher quality item is completely and totally worth it in the end.
Going for the cheapest option, while tempting at first, can often bite you in the rear later down the road.(Says the girl who’s had to rebuild several fence lines, due to using the crappy fence posts the first time around…)
When I find something that saves me money AND still works well, I’m a happy, happy camper.
And that’s exactly the case with my improvised cheap milking equipment.
Starting with dairy goats or a milk cow is definitely an investment…. But it doesn’t stop there. Once your animal freshens and you are ready to milk, you need a specific set of equipment to make sure that precious fresh milk is the tastiest and safest it can be.
Buckets, lids, jars, filters, strainers, separators… You can spend a LOT of cash on these items if you through a dairy supply store.
Thankfully, there are some incredibly frugal and easy-to-find options you can use instead. Here’s how I have handled my fresh milk for the last 4+ years, using improvised equipment costing me just a fraction of what I would have paid at the dairy supply store. Sometimes, cheap milking equipment is totally okay and actually quite practical. —>
Cheap Milking Equipment for the Home Dairy
(this post contains affiliate links)
Arguably the most important part of your home dairy set-up, a good bucket is worth paying a bit more for.
There are two things to look for when shopping for a bucket:
- It MUST be stainless steel so it can be properly sanitized
- I highly, highly recommend getting a bucket with a lid
There are many stainless steel buckets WITHOUT lids available on places like Amazon, but trust me– you’re going to want to have a lid. The minute you get done milking, the universe will start conspiring to get junk in your milk. The wind will start blowing, the cow will kick up a manure dust cloud, and the cats/dogs/chickens will have their “fresh milk radar” on full alert.
You need to have a lid to slap on the bucket while you finish up in the barn. Some people use a dish towel secured on top with clothespins, but honestly? I’ve found that to be a huge hassle, and the wind will blow it off anyway. Moral of the story? GET A LID.
A 13-quart to 16-quart stainless steel bucket with lid will set you back $150-$170 at most dairy supply stores.
I personally use a 13 quart (that’s slightly over 3 gallons) bucket with lid I nabbed off eBay a loooong time ago. I think I paid around $50 for it, and it has served me well.
If you’re milking goats, sometimes you can find smaller stainless steel containers/buckets at kitchen supply stores too.
So definitely shop around before spending the big bucks on a bucket. However, if you can’t find a cheaper option, don’t feel bad about investing a little more in a good bucket or two (like this one). It’s worth it.
Straining your fresh milk is a must. No matter how careful you are, “floats” are inevitable… And fishing a cow hair out of your mouth while drinking a big swig of fresh milk is a surefire turn-off.
An “official” milk strainer will set you back around $40, plus you’ll need to buy replacement filter disks when you run out.
My strainer/filter set-up cost me less than $10. And I never have to buy replacement disks.
I discovered long ago these little reusable coffee filters are pure magic for straining milk.
They can be popped into the dishwasher for sanitization, and in all the years I’ve used them, I’ve NEVER had a floatie get through.
Just make sure you get the cone shape, not the kind with the flat bottom, as the flat-bottom ones are much slower to drain.
I can set the coffee filter right in the mouth of my larger gallon jars, and it fits perfectly.
If I’m using a wide-mouth canning jar, then I pop a canning funnel in first, and set the filter inside the funnel.
Although I generally do NOT use plastic around my raw milk (due to its ability to hold in off-flavors), since the milk hardly touches the funnel at all, I do use a $6 plastic canning funnel here. Or, for a little more, you can get an awesome stainless steel one that even converts between regular and wide mouth jars (great for canning) right here.
However, if you really want to splurge, then shoot for the $8 stainless steel canning funnel instead.
BAM. I love saving money.
Glass is definitely my material of choice for storing milk. It won’t hold weird flavors, and is easy to sanitize. If you are milking goats, then one-quart or two-quart canning jars will probably suffice.
However, if you have a milk cow, then you’ll want to have plenty of gallon glass jars around.
I searched high and low for gallon-sized glass jars when I first started milking, and it wasn’t always easy to find them.
One very frugal option is to save back (and have your friends save back) gallon-sized pickle jars. These will work wonderfully, as long as you wash them well first. (Pickle flavor + milk = gross.) Some people have also had luck asking restaurants to save glass jars for them.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any restaurant connections, and I’d rather make my own pickles, so those options didn’t really work for me.
Individual gallon glass jars on Amazon will set you back about $12 each (yikes), but I found a much better deal through Azure Standard, where I can get gallon glass jars (with lids) for $14.80 for a set of four.
The downside? Azure Standard isn’t available in all parts of the country… So if you don’t have access to an Azure drop point, that info won’t be much help.
On the other hand, I’ve found that Lehman’s has a great selection of mason jars in general and if you’d like to use 1/2-gallon jars for your milk (which are much easier to lift and pour from, of course), Lehman’s has a set of SIX 1/2-gallon jars for a steal!
The Cream Separator
Ah yes… the cream separator debate… Should you get one, or should you skip it?
Well, the choice is entirely yours, but after four years of milking, I’ve never once felt like I needed one.
A manual (non-electric) cream separator will typically set you back around $650. This old-time cream separator, at Lehman’s, is much better priced than you’ll find others to be. But be sure to factor in the time it takes to properly clean the separator after each use. Overall, I’m just not a fan of separators in general.
So I use this instead:
Yes… just a good ol’ fashioned ladle. I used plastic for a while, but recently upgraded to a snazzy stainless steel one.
Ok, Ok… I know it’s not exactly equivalent to a fancy separator machine, but it works beautifully for me, and clean up is a breeze.
So, as you can see, home dairy equipment doesn’t have to be fancy to be functional. Get creative, scour the aisle of your local stores, and see what simple solutions you can find for cheap milking equipment.
And you may be interested in listening in on a podcast I just recorded about how we breed and calf our cows, cause, after all, that’s necessary before you need any dairy equipment…
Other Home Dairy Posts You’ll Enjoy:
- Family Milk Cow FAQs
- 10 Tricks to Stop Your Milk Cow from Kicking
- Breeding a Cow with Artificial Insemination
- Are Twin Cows Sterile?
- Why We Drink Raw Milk
- 3 Home Dairy Myths