Milk Scales Provided Proven Results

Early dairymen depended on Meloney Automatic Registering Milk Scale for production data


| October 2011



Meloney's Milk Scale

Push the button: Cow no. 3 is milked and the pail, full of milk, hangs on the spring balance. The dial arm with knobs descends. Now the farmer pushes the knob of column 3, perforating the card, recording the result of that milking. The spring, wrapped around the knob, reverts to the neutral position as pressure on the knob is released.

The first time I saw a Meloney Automatic Registering Milk Scale was in 1999, when a collector friend brought his latest trophy to a “show and tell” gathering at my home. You can understand the excitement I felt: to see such an unusual scale, totally intact, even including the cabinet, the original record cards with punch marks and handwriting from 1903. Recently, I was able to add the Meloney milk scale to my own collection.  

The Meloney milk scale’s history is related to the rise of industrial development in the middle of the last century, the rapid growth of cities and a big demand for food, including dairy products. Between 1850 and 1900, the population of cities in America multiplied by a factor of seven.

Measuring production

The developing dairy industry searched for higher output with a higher quality of milk, which meant more pounds of milk per cow and higher butterfat content (the main ingredient of cream). What a coincidence that in 1859, Darwin published The Origin of the Species, which now allowed breeding of superior dairy cattle, the Guernsey and Jersey, for milk with high butterfat.

The challenge for the farmer was to breed, feed and select cows for his herd according to their productivity. In the process, he recognized that the nutrition and feeding of the cattle, plus the quality of hay and composition of silage, impacted success. But there was still the unanswered question of how to measure production.

It had long been known that the specific gravity of milk changes with the fat content. The most logical step was to weigh the milk and define its specific gravity. This second step was later replaced with a more accurate method of defining the fat content, because temperature and composition of solids could lead to faulty results. And that’s the reason why producers today still measure milk in pounds and not gallons.

Butterfat is the key

In Adolf Schoenman’s Milk Testing, edited in 1895, the author leads us back in time. Farmer James Dietrich is the owner of two cows; his favorite is Bess, a fine large cow with a daily yield of 32 pounds of milk. Daisy, he says, will be sold; she gives only 22 pounds of milk and eats just as much food. So, one fine day he went to the cheese maker, who tested the butterfat content for Bess at 2.8 percent and for Daisy at 4.6 percent. Then it was calculated that good Bess produced a mere 0.896 pounds of butterfat, while Daisy, on the other hand, produced 1.012 pounds, almost 13 percent more.