Around the Nation
by Tom Van Dusen
The astute editor of this news service spotted something on Facebook he thought was curious, a site simply called “Used Milking Equipment” offering exactly what the title suggests.
That alone isn’t overly unusual. There are all kinds of clubs and sites on FB, many that you have to sign up to. What captured the editor’s imagination was the number of members: 12,800! He called the enrolment “striking”.
I have to admit that number made me sit up and take notice as well. That many people in the rich agricultural dairy sector want to buy used? Well, farmers are by nature frugal and most are recycling specialists. Then I figured out what must be a large part of the riddle: This site has to be U.S.-based where dairy is unprotected by a quota system and small farmers in particular are left wide open to the vagaries of the market. The simply don’t have sufficient cashflow or borrowing power for the newest and brightest.
The U.S. system is dog-eat-dog: the Big Dawgs thrive and the smaller breeds fight for the scraps. Over the years, some rebellious Eastern Ontario dairymen have headed south of the border to try their luck and many have returned to the warmth of the quota system, if not with their tails between their legs, certainly chastened by the experience.
Some smaller operators simply can’t afford the sky-high costs of new equipment. After I decided to sign up and find out more about it, I was immediately inundated with a wide variety of posts seeking and offering milking machinery; not being a dairy farmer, I didn’t need any of it, but being a farming fan, I found action on the site intriguing. I decided to track the origin.
Alan Wheeler manages the site established in 2016 and the membership, and he was easy to reach on Messenger. He even sent a hazy photo of himself at my request.
Based in Odessa, Michigan, Alan is a former dairy farmer with 50-60 cows he sold in 2010 and went to work as a government food inspector: “Low milk prices made a steady paycheck with benefits appealing.”
He got involved with specialized internet groups to stay connected with cows: “I followed people buying expensive portable vacuum pumps and bucket milkers, or light weight off-brand imported equipment, or syringe-direct vacuum contraptions. At the same time I knew used pipelines could be found for a couple of hundred dollars.”
Wheeler isn’t sure about the level of Canadian participation on the site, although there’ve been a “surprising” number of requests from Alberta: “The group is very diverse. It seems that even with the current trends in agriculture, there are still those interested in getting started in dairy. There’s also some interest from the maple syrup community.”
Like so many things in farming, what became a massive group began simply and logically: “Someone was making a trip through Minnesota and Wisconsin dairy country and were hoping to pick up a bucket milker. I did a quick check of Craigslist and other sources and came up with some possibilities.”
It occurred to Alan that if he had a place to park postings as he found them he would be better prepared to help out in future. It seemed a Facebook group could work as a platform: “I personally think that at the family farm level older equipment is better. Surge bucket milkers are still abundant on Ebay.”
In addition to buying and selling, members also share support and advice. In a recent post, Jeannine Cook asked for help in identifying a part she picked up at a Goodwill auction which turned out to be a DeLaval pulsator: “We want to put together a single or double cow pulsating milker,” Cook explained. “What else to I need?” She got a stream of suggestions.
Summing up the group’s intent, Alan said there was a recent post for a gutter cleaner that hadn’t been used in 18 years. It looked to be in very good condition, most likely from a “nice” barn where the chances of reintroducing cows were slim.
“Somewhere, someone is struggling with a worn-out gutter cleaner. I’m hoping to help create a network to connect those looking to start, upgrade, repair, or add a spare with milking equipment sitting in an empty barn, a dealer’s warehouse, or from a retired Surge dealer’s inventory.”