Monday 29 August 2016

Physics on the Farm

Possibly one of the most interesting tools on a farm was the cream separator.  Milk from cows was poured into the cream separator which seemed to magically separate the milk from the cream instantly.  When you look at it you wonder how can it just separate the liquid?  Here’s how:  using centrifugal force.  Who says you don’t need to know something about physics working on a farm.
Raw milk has a mix of big and small butterfat particles.  They’re held in a kind of suspension because they weigh more than other parts of the whole milk, kind of like mixing oil with water.  So, some lucky person got to stand by the cream separator and turn the handle on the side which caused the separator bowl to spin around really, really fast.  This forced the heavier milk to be pulled towards the walls of the separator while the lighter cream would collect in the middle.  Now the milk and cream could flow out of separate spouts into collection buckets.  This was way more efficient, faster, not to mention safer than having raw milk sit in a pan until the cream naturally rose to the top of the liquid.
The one in the pictures from our collection is a Vega R6 model made in Sweden.  As you can see in the picture below, the handle has “65 per min” on it. 

Cream separators are still used today, in fact, you can buy electric table top models for your own home.  Some old technologies really do stand the test of time. 
If you want to see a similar model in action, check out the YouTube video below.   No wonder people in by-gone years were more fit than we are today! 


  1. I remember the separator. My dad had one on our farm. The cream that was 'spun' off was so fresh and whipped up so well, perfect for 'real' strawberry shortcake. The farms around where I lived provided the cream for the strawberry festival at the church each summer.
    Ruth MacLean

  2. The separator was used only part of the year on the Marvelville farm home where I was raised in Ontario. Likely the winter time, when it was hard to get the milk to the cheese factory. Dad applied the muscle, I was too young. Mom washed up the utensils after. Mom also churned the cream into butter, the skim milk went to calves or pigs. Them olden days! Eldon Hay

  3. To the one who turned the handle, there wasn't anything particularly "magical". I recall being reminded to turn the handle evenly, regardless of how tired ones arms were! And I should mention the discs ... and how they had to be washed meticulously, and finally dried on a shelf in the sun.Great care was taken with the pails and equipment In my case the cream was placed in a cream can after each milking operation, and the can and its contents were stored in a cool place, e.g. cellar or immersed in a spring (water)to keep it cold until it could be picked up by a truck for delivery to the factory, in my case to Sussex Cream and Butter. We also kept some for the family's use as butter, and the occasional whipped cream. Yumm!
    Those were the days, eh? (That is an east coast Canadian "eh", not an "a"!

  4. Love all these comments from people who remember using the cream separator. It's possibly to buy modern ones; if anyone out there uses one, we'd love to hear from you!

  5. Cream Separator is the best way to remove the cream from skimmed milk. It is very beneficial to have in a dairy processing plant. Contact NK Dairy Equipments if you want to improve the efficiency of your dairy.