Monday, January 5, 2015

Cramming for the Test-Bringing Milk Weight and Component Testing to My Farm

It was time. Time for our ladies to get TESTED, and it wasn’t going to be a true/false or multiple choice kind of test. Sure they were a little nervous at first, but the test anxiety quickly wore off, and the work began. Now with it over, all they can do is sit back, relax and wait for the results.

Okay, so it may not have been that kind of test, and our herd of dairy cows may not have felt any stress whatsoever, but it was an exciting day for me, as our dairy completed our first unsupervised (owner sampler) test. I had been talking about this day for about seven years, since I first became a part of the farm with my Husband and In-laws. Sampling milk from cows was not new to me. I grew up on a farm that was on what we called official test or supervised test, (See more about the DHI service options at but it was certainly a foreign concept to my farm by marriage. 

I was excited. Did I say I was excited? Maybe I should tell you this also qualified in my book as a date night! My husband set up a babysitter to watch our 3 and 5 year old, I donned my best barn attire, and across the yard I went to meet with our DHI Field Technician, Patty. She unloaded the meters, hoses, test bottles, clipboard and data sheets. We hooked the meters up to our milkers, got out a waste milk bucket and improvised a table. 

It was time to start milking. Patty stayed with us for the first five cows or so, providing great advice on making sure the meters hung straight, how to read weights accurately and mixing the samples before putting a small amount in the sample bottle. 

Then we were on our own. Well, not really, she made sure we had her phone number, so we could call or text if we had any problems.

The rest of the milking went along flawlessly. My Mother-in-law had worried our cows would be afraid of the meters or lick them to the point of breaking, but our ladies didn't even seem to notice the extra apparatus hanging from the pulsation line

It was enlightening to see how much milk the cows were giving and kind of fun cheering on the pet cow, willing her to give just a little more.

I am not really sure why I didn't push a little harder to encourage testing on our farm. A little research on the topic revealed this gem from the AgSource website, “Just comparing average non-DHI production to the average AgSource member's production shows AgSource members gross over $1,000 per cow more annually than non-DHI producers through higher levels of productivity and superior milk quality.” You can bet I will be sharing that fact with everyone this evening!

Perhaps it was the small size of our herd that made us think milk testing wasn’t necessary for us, but it can certainly benefit farms of all sizes. We thought we had an idea about how well each and every one of our ladies was producing, but now there are no questions. Plus, we will receive all kinds of additional information including somatic cell count, butterfat and protein. In addition, reproductive information will be conveniently located on the reports to assist us in culling and breeding decisions. What’s even more ideal is test results can be sent via mail, email or fax. Or with a little additional set-up can be uploaded for use in on-farm software programs. AgSource also recently released MyAgSource, an online database and benchmarking program that gives a producer access to all of the report options that they offer via the internet.  This program allows the user to benchmark their herd against peer herds, sort and filter data, and have access anywhere they get internet access, instead of, or in addition to traditional paper reports.

Stay tuned for my next post on receiving and interpreting our results! – My Father-in-law may not admit it, but he was the first one to ask me last night when we would get them in the mail!

Author Brenda Brady is our Communications Specialist.  Brenda graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in Agricultural Education.  She went on to teach high school agriculture for 13 years. Brenda grew up on a small Registered Holstein farm in central Wisconsin and now farms with her husband and in-laws.