An unusual cylindrical stone Wisconsin milkhouse
Milkhouses began to be found on dairy farms in great numbers during the early twentieth century when sanitary regulations required that milk be stored outside of the stable area. The milkhouse is a building erected to collect and temporarily store milk prior to shipment from the farm. Originally, spring houses provided the cleansing and cooling needed for dairying. As the milk distribution network increased, metal milk cans were placed in the milk house and were transported by farm vehicle to the local milk station or picked up from the farm by a wagon or vehicle of a nearby creamery.
Smyrna, New York milkhouse
Background: The initial efforts to separate milk production and storage by building a milkhouse occurred in the 1910s. The authors of a 1916 book, Barns for Wisconsin Dairy Farms wrote:
A milk room should be located near, but preferably not inside the dairy barn. The entrance of the milk room, it is often urged, should be gained from the barn only after going entirely out of the stable. Milk, of course, is easily contaminated by odors. This room could be conveniently located underneath the barn bridge or near the entrance to the barn.
The milkhouse became mandatory as a result of state legislation introduced in the 1920s. A milk storage building or milk house was required to be separate from the milking room. Most farmers chose to attach this small building close to the tie-up at the front of the barn. A selection of early milk house plans was provided in a Farmers' Bulletin published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A plan for a milk house suited for a small farm, milking 10 to 20 cows, is shown below.
A milkhouse from the 1930s was described in a bulletin of the New Jersey Agricultural Extension Service:
A separate milk room or house for the straining, cooling, and storing of milk is essential…and is usually indicated by sanitary regulations. A good milk house facilitates producing the high grade product the public is being educated to demand. For the producer, the milk house, by making handling convenient, fostering the principles of sanitation, quick cooling, and cold storage, opens the way to better markets or the ready maintenance of present outlets under increasingly rigid codes.
Milkhouse plan (USDA 1939).
Construction Techniques and Characteristics: The milkhouse had to be separated from the stables or outbuildings so that odors would not penetrate it. It had to be well-lighted, well-ventilated, and constructed so that floors and walls could be kept clean. Walls of monolithic concrete, concrete block, tile or brick had an advantage over other materials in maintaining a uniform room temperature. Wood-framed structures were also satisfactory but required frequent painting. Wood-framed structures were typically clad with cove, drop, or novelty siding, as well as vertical tongue and groove planking.
The type of milkhouse constructed depended on how the milk was marketed. When a dairy farmer shipped to a distributing or receiving plant in bulk, a one-room milk house with cooling tank and can rack sufficed. The retail dairyman needed provide additional space for aerating, cooling, bottling and storing the milk. Interior walls of wood-framed structures needed to be finished with wood sheathing or cement plaster on metal lath. Concrete walls were best finished with a cement plaster coating. Ventilation needed to be provided either with louvered or double hung windows. To facilitate loading milk it was recommended that a loading platform be placed adjacent to the building After World War II, separate milk houses for washing equipment and storing milk were introduced, dictated by state laws design to ensure an uncontaminated milk supply. Milk houses were transformed by modern milk processing. When milk houses were first erected, milk was shipped to creameries or milk depots in metal cans, but by the mid-twentieth century, local milk depots had largely been supplanted by regional dairy product producers. No longer could milk be shipped in cans. Instead, steel tanker trucks pumped the milk from the milkhouse. To accommodate the pumping, a steel, temperature-controlled tank, the bulk tank, became the centerpiece of the milk house. Most post-World War II milkhouse regulations follow the "Milk Ordinance and Code-Recommendations of Public Health Service." These required a milkhouse to be constructed as follows: The milkhouse or room shall be provided with a tight floor constructed of concrete or other impervious material, in good repair, and graded to provide proper drainage. It shall have walls and ceilings of such construction as to permit early cleaning, and shall be well painted or finished in an approved manner. It shall be well lighted and ventilated. It shall have all openings effectively screened including outward-opening, self-closing doors, unless other effective means are provided to prevent the entrance of flies. With bulk storage, the milk house must be located so that the tank truck has ready access to permit the pumping of milk directly from the storage tank to the truck. In many modern farms, the bulk storage tanks is associated with labor-saving pole barn milk parlors and pipelines connecting to the tank.
Elevation of Modern Milk House (University of Maryland Extension 1957).
Plan of the above milkhouse showing bulk tank location.Locations: throughout the dairy belt
Dimensions: Earlier milkhouses averaged about 12 feet by 14 feet in footprint. Modern milkhouses are typically of sufficient size to accommodate the bulk tank and could range as large as 16 feet by 36 feet in footprint.