One of the folks on Exhibit Farm’s team can remember pretending to milk a cow when she was a kid. Our coworker didn’t grow up on a farm, but her local kids’ museum had an exhibit about farming. And one of the displays was a life-size cow statue with a rubber udder. Kids could squeeze the udder to squirt water into a bucket below. For a little kid, that was pretty cool.
There’s a surprisingly large number of these displays around the country, helping introduce kids to the world of farming. And they do important work — they give kids a hands-on experience to make farm work more real to them. But these exhibits about milking cows also have a drawback: they only present one aspect of dairy’s story.
Hand-milking is a time-honored and useful skill, but modern dairies don’t use that method anymore. In the last couple decades, automatic milking machines have made milking a lot more efficient, both for farmers and for cows.
So our friends at Michigan’s IQhub museum decided to present a milking demonstration of their own. Unlike most exhibits about how milking works, they’d show an automatic milker in action.
A Different Style of Exhibit about Milking Cows
We started with a pre-made cow sculpture painted gray all over. Our painting team soon gave her a proper, Holstein-like black and white coat. Other craftsmen, meanwhile, built the exhibit itself — the base the cow would stand on and the signage around her.
The heart of the exhibit is the milking machine, of course. The IQhub partnered with a local business, Roberts Dairy Services, to get a real automatic milking machine. Then, Roberts Dairy hooked up the milking machine to a button on the exhibit. When visitors press the button, the machine activates and starts pumping water through itself. (It simply circulates through the pump in a leakproof system.) But visitors can see how the udder attachments automatically contract and release, and how milk travels to the bucket.
Meeting the Farmers
And in addition to the milking demonstration, visitors get to hear directly from the farmers themselves. We mounted a video monitor on front of the exhibit to show video interviews with local dairy farmers. The farmers explain how they prioritize animal care, sustainability, and milk quality. It’s a glimpse into the day-to-day work of a dairy farm that most consumers don’t get.
One video even goes beyond the farming itself and highlights two large-animal vets. They explain their role in keeping the cows healthy and crafting a well-balanced diet for them. Since few consumers think about the behind-the-scenes jobs in farming, this helps illuminate all the work that goes into producing delicious dairy products.
With their modern milker and their spotlight on real dairy farmers, the IQhub can give consumers a realistic idea of today’s dairy farms. Not that there’s anything wrong with the hand-milked cow displays like our coworker enjoyed. But exhibits like these about milking cows present the updated version, so people get a full appreciation of the dairy industry and the innovations it’s seen.