Farmer Jan...

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Jul 5, 2012
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Something I've meant to ask about for a long time. I know you have said on top of your beef cattle and haying, you do milk testing for various dairies and tho I've been around a few in my life (had two different uncles that had dairies when I was young) I have no idea what you mean by 'milk testing'.
Could you tell us a bit about it, how you got in to it, training etc and exactly what you test for?
Is it a daily thing? How long have you been doing it? Do you get the samples right from the teat or from a tank?
Did you have to certify with a govt agency to be able to do it?

Curious mind wants to know!
The ultimate milk test is performed by a 3 to 5 year old boy, by blowing hot air into the milk to see how many bubbles he can create, and how long they last.

When I was that age, my mom had a Girl Scout troop (the cute little Brownie's). It was snack time and I was teaching all of them the proper way to test their milk. Then mom demonstrated the proper way to tenderize azz.
Nope, never 'herd' of it. :)
It is or was real common. Especially back in the day of lots of smaller dairies. I will have to let Jan explain it is some detail. Basically it provided the farmer information on which cows are producing and which ones need a trip to town.
Jan knows a lot more than me, but milk is routinely tested. Federal Milk Marketing Orders establish rules for dairy processors purchasing fresh milk from dairy farmers supplying a marketing area. Each Order establishes monthly uniform prices paid to farmers by first classifying milk by its end use. Milk can fall into one of four classes. I believe that Jan is in Order 5, but she is somewhat close to the line.
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we used DHIA on the dairy herd 20+ years ago. a DHIA supervisor (which I am guessing Jan is) would come to the farm once a month at milking time. the farmer (me) would milk as usual but with a DHIA milk sample devise in the system. the devise would separate a calibrated % of the milk from each cow and supervisor would record milk weight and take a small sample to send to the test lab. about a week later, you would get a report of the cow's estimated milk production for a year, SCC, protein, %fat, and probably others that I have forgotten. report would also contain other info that you could provide like days in milk, next calf due date, age, and other info that I have probably forgotten. the report was probably the best source of info for culling cows or for embryo donors.
That's a lot of complicated milk stuff. I'm still sticking to the milk through the nostrils technique. Nobody appreciates milk until they've blowed a batch or two out their nose, or scored a Brownie in the process.
Hey... I have been busier than busy the last 2 days... will sit and give a coherent explanation tomorrow when I am not this tired.. @sstterry and @Dsth are right...
My farmer cancelled testing tomorrow morning since his dad went in the hospital this morning with some sort of seizures and he is with his mom and his sons are holding the fort at home...
I was not ignoring you @greybeard .
@Dsth had it pretty much in a nutshell.
I work for DHIA...30+ years as a milk tester.. now we are called "supervisor technicians", looks good on paper!
We are a management tool for a dairy farmer. They give us info and we collect milk samples and they get back a report that basically tells them the value of a cow in the herd. The more info they give us, the more complex the info they get back and the more accurate the value of the cow in their herd. This is a comparison of their own cows, there are a few generalized graphs and things comparing overall herds, but this is for the farmers OWN use.

When this was first started you went to a farm 2 consecutive milkings; to give an accurate accounting for a cow's production in 24 hours. I use special meters that are attached to the milk hose coming from each cow, it collects a sample of milk through the calibrated meter, and the sample gets sent to the lab for all that dsth said, for the basic test... SCC is somatic cell count; basically it is measuring how "clean " the milk is of infectious things like staph and strep, things that exist in every human and mammal's milk.. the key is to what percentage as high scc is an indication of an infection. Infection means mastitis.
But the key is the low percentage of scc means milk will keep longer.

Long shelf life is important in the "fluid milk market", some of what @sstterry was referring to. Here in the southeast most of our milk goes to the fluid milk market, drinking milk; and the lower the scc, the longer it will be able to sit on the shelf in the store and be "fresh" and not go bad. Milk has a sell by date... and SHOULD be good for at least a week after. It will stay good in the fridge longer. For example, when I do not have any of my own cows milking, I get my milk from a former dairyman that keeps a few cows still. He got out after getting hurt and several surgeries. His farm was always coming in 1st or 2nd in our area assoc every year for the lowest scc... attention to detail, cleanliness, and culling cows that were high scc cows. His milk will often keep 3 weeks in the fridge and still taste fresh; raw milk, not pasteurized.
The scc count is more important for anyone that consumes raw milk, because it means healthier milk to drink.
Milk in the Wisconsin area, is mostly for cheese processing, and undergoes more processing and gets paid for differently than fluid milk. It is called cheese yield. However, most of the milk also gets more premiums for higher butterfat and for higher solids non-fat that is important to cheese making. I am not an expert on the different federal milk marketing orders; but it determines the amount of money that must be paid for the milk, minimum.. and yes, some of the rules on what the dairy processing companies can use and not use. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA); Maryland-Virginia; and Land o Lakes, are the 3 companies that a dairy farmer has access to in this area. You HAVE to belong to one of the companies in order to sell milk. Today they are very picky about who they take on; and are pushing the small farmer out by charging more and more for small farm "pickup stops".
What most farmers that start testing are looking for is the SCC counts. The truck that picks up milk takes a sample of the tank before they pump it on the tanker; that sample along with any other farms they have picked up at, are run through the lab at the milk plant, BEFORE the truck is unloaded... they are looking for #1 antibiotics. FIRST MOST CRITICAL, and the amount allowable is miniscule in PPB (parts per billion)... #2 scc... because a high cell count can affect what the milk is used for... at that plant OR in some cases, the milk can be sent to a manufacturing plant to salvage. If it passes the tests... the tanker is unloaded into the silos that the milk is kept in to use as the plant processes the milk and packs into the qts and gallons that you get at the store.
Many farms have started testing because their tank scc is high, and a representative from the company they ship to, comes and says, you have to find out what cows are contributing the high scc, either cull them, or they need to be treated.. they will refuse to pick up the milk if it is not remedied. Limits used to be 1,000,000 scc count; dropped to 750,000 and now is 500,000; AND the milk companies pay a premium for low scc counts.
Example; these are round figures... 250,000 is considered the average top amount allowed. Paying $20.00 per hundred lbs of milk (gallon is approx 8.6 lbs... 12 gallons= 100 lbs) with 3.5% butterfat... butterfat is worth 3.00 at the average.
Farmer ships milk at 125,000 scc... he gets $.10 MORE per hundred...ships under 90,000 scc he gets $.25 more per hundred... That can translate into $50 -$200 more PER pickup...milk is picked up normally every other day... usually 4 milkings is standard. Well at 15 average pickups a month... at say $100 per pickup that's an extra $1500 a month.
Say the farmer is shipping 10,000 lbs a pickup... average for 75 good milking cows that are averaging 65-70 lbs a day...$20/100 lbs = $2,000 every pickup....add another $100 PER PICKUP for no extra costs... just good quality milk from paying attention to details and having good quality milk.
On the flip side, if the scc is over 250,000 they DEDUCT from the amount paid... so you are losing $100 to $200 per pickup... that's a chunk of money at the end of the month. And some companies will "cut you off" and refuse to pick up if you have too many times of over the limit. I am thinking that they are actually down to 400,000 limits now.
So, by testing the individual cows, the farmer can find out which ones are contributing to the problem.. and part of the reports they get back lists the highest scc cows and what percentage of the high tank counts they are contributing... it depends on if they are making alot of milk or not... Also, there are cows that are chronic high scc ones... and those cows are often treated and a couple months later have high cell counts again... those are often high staph or strep cows and it is in their systems, and they should be culled if they cannot be cleared up...not enough to make the cow sick, but enough to make the milk constantly show up as high counts.
Add into that, the farmer is getting more for higher fat percentage also, so a low scc and high butterfat shipment can net a farmer a couple thousand EXTRA in their check every
Getting back to what I do. So, I get a milk sample from every cow that goes through the milking, and it is sent to the lab and checked. I also record any pertinent information on the cows. Calving dates, dry off dates, heat dates, breeding dates, vet preg checks, cows leaving farms and reasons, sold, died whatever. We can also record more management tools like hoof trimmings, shots given; all sorts of other protocols done on the farm. There are more an more farmers... doing their own recording of these things through one of our programs on their own computers that are in the dairy farm office... because farmers are getting bigger and bigger and they need this stuff up to date on a daily or weekly basis, not once a month like when we come test. They can record things daily and get all sorts of lists generated for things like when to watch for a cow to come in heat, lists of the next ones to go dry for 30 days out; lists of due to calves so they can group according.
With the advent of computers, they can print out daily or weekly lists as needed; they have access to the results of the milk testing within 24 hours of the samples being processed at the lab; they don't have to wait for the mail to bring the results.

With all this info, a farmer can go through and make culling decisions. It is not always based on milk production... Say you have a cow milking 100 lbs avg a day and another one making 65 lbs a day... 100 lbs a day says better? BUT...the one making 100 lbs a day has a high scc AND you have had to treat her for mastitis 3 times in 3 months...and her milk CAN NOT go in the milk tank... so is discarded. Even with high production, she is not making money those days her milk is kept out of the tank...The one making 65 lbs has a real low scc count and never needs treating... she is not making as much milk but is actually contributing more to the income REGULARLY.
As in beef cattle...the ideal dairy cow calves every 12 months... 2 months dry period and 10 months producing. A high producing cow often will not breed back as fast as her "body" is focusing on milk production and they often will not cycle. because she is in a net negative energy balance; putting out more than she can eat and put back into her body... reproduction is one of the first things to "shut down" when not in a positive energy balance. Same as a beef cow; she is producing milk for the calf, it is cold, the feed isn't as great; and she will not come back in heat at 60 days because her body is dictating that she cannot make milk to feed the calf, gain weight back and get pregnant.
This is why dairy cows are fed the concentrated rations they are fed, and the feed consultant business is so important to dairy farmers, to get the max out of the cows ALL THE TIME

So, a cow making a little less milk, low scc, breeds right back and calves every 12 months, may very well make more money than a high producer with scc/mastitis problems and calves every 15 months.
That said, many high producers that do not have a scc problem, make money even when calving every 15 months.
The information that gets compiled through DHIA testing, gives that to the farmer, all in one place, and ranks his cows against their herd mates in his herd.
Salmonella is not in the routine testing. I am thinking that the lab can test for it... it is a special request... but I have never had anyone ask for it. We can do things like pregnancy milk test, and testing for Johne's from the milk samples, I have had a couple farms do milk preg tests... 2 have done a few Johne's tests... and one has done several cows for the A2A2 factor... which only gets done once... they do not change once it is determined if the milk is A2A2 or any other combination of A1 and A2. A2 milk is supposed to be more digestible and assimulated in the body... Most Jerseys are A2... some A2A2, some with an A2A1 or combination. Many holsteins were A1A1 but some have the A2 factor. Seems like BUT NOT LIMITED TO, the higher fat and beta carotene breeds have more A2 factors.
In states like Pa where it is legal to sell raw milk, farms routinely test for more things so that the milk they sell will not make anyone sick and have it come back to "bite them" with law suits and such. In Va we cannot legally sell raw milk... there are "cow share and herd shares" that are done and that is a way to get around it. It is too much "cloak and dagger" stuff... and it would be better to just make it legal with some minimal requirements and be safer in the long run... but "outlawing it" it was like prohibition..... lots do it and do it under the radar... The thing is, milk can get contaminated at any point in the handling process or directly from the cow... and somewhat like the joke about not drinking the water in Mexico... the locals are accustomed to the "bugs" and germs in it, but outsiders are not and get Montezuma's revenge... drinking raw milk can cause disruption in the stomach if you are not used to it. Not to mention things that can get in it that can cause some real sickness...
Then again, there are recalls all the time on all sorts of food that have some "pathogen" ... bacteria or something, that can be in it...
We all still eat though, and in nearly all cases, food borne bacteria and digestive upsets are overcome. Some people do die from food borne illnesses... so do some people get sick from swimming in certain water...
Not making light of any food induced sickness.. but breathing is a risk, so you try to make intelligent decisions and do what you feel is best.
Personally, I have been drinking raw milk for over 40 years...and eating my own beef most all the time... You can't live in a bubble with not exposure to everyday life.
I love seafood, one of the things I mostly ever eat if I eat out... because I do not grow it... People get sick from eating seafood too...
@sstterry , I am not versed in the different milk marketing areas... other than farmers telling me that this area is predominantly for fluid milk sales, and that the areas in the northern central states is predominantly cheese and processing milk. Other than that I really am not sure what is what or where. The milk checks I see are from the milk companies that the farmers sell to, and that is where I get my milk prices from... If I can remember, I will ask one of my dairyman about how they determine all that...
@Dsth had it pretty much in a nutshell.
I work for DHIA...30+ years as a milk tester.. now we are called "supervisor technicians", looks good on paper!
We are a management tool for a dairy farmer. They give us info and we collect milk samples and they get back a report that basically tells them the value of a cow in the herd. The more info they give us, the more complex the info they get back and the more accurate the value of the cow in their herd. This is a comparison of their own cows, there are a few generalized graphs and things comparing overall herds, but this is for the farmers OWN use................

Farmerjan, That is an excellent article. You did marvelous!! Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us as I greatly enjoyed reading it. It took you a long time to get that all down, and it is very important knowledge for all of us to know.

I had to chop your article off as it said it was to long to include it all.

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