I’ve tried to do milk test almost every year since I started milking my goats. Milk test is where you weigh, sample and have your milk analyzed by a lab on a regular basis. 2023 is the first year where I feel like I’m doing it well. What helps motivate me and keeps me going might not be what motivates you. What is easier for me also might not be easier for you. Below is what I do as well as a bit more information.
When I say I’m doing “milk test” what I’m saying is that I’m participating in Dairy Herd Improvement for the Registry which is an American Dairy Goat Association Performance Program. It is essentially a sampling program to give information on milk production and components which is then tied to that goat, her relatives and compared to others of the breed. There are various awards that can be won through this program, but for this post I’m just going to focus on the process.
To participate you need to sign-up with ADGA, sign-up with a lab and take a test to get certified as a milk tester. I currently use Langston University’s lab, but I have used others in the past. After this you will on ideally a monthly basis weigh, take sample, record information and send them to this lab. This then is recorded and you receive information back about both the samples and estimates of how much the goat has milked and how much she potentially will milk over a 305 day lactation.
There are three main sampling programs related to this process. They are designed for the integrity of the process and involve somewhere else weighing and sampling the milk at some point under various schedules. I have tried all three in my quest to do milk testing. Technically there are way more than I’m listing below, but really it comes down to a few questions:
- Do you prefer to test when you want and handle your own samples, but there are other requirements.
- Do you want to do the gold standard?
- Do you have friends that also want to do a variation of the gold standard and you don’t mind handling milk for others.
These may seem like opaque questions until I lay out further information, below are the main plans.
Types of Test Plans
Standard Test (DHIR 20): In this plan a testing supervisor comes and takes samples in the morning and the evening test day. They handle the samples and also take them to the Post Office for mailing. Many people have a friend or neighbor get certified to do this. Your testing supervisor can’t be a family member, someone who co-owner your herd or has another interest. A lot of people believe you can’t pay the person for their time, which is incorrect. I believe there are some labs that offer the supervision as a service, but I had a difficult time finding information about it. There are no minimum number of tests for this plan, you don’t need a verification test and it is eligible for all awards.
Group Test (DHIR 20): This plan is almost exactly the same as the Standard Test except you get at least two other herds to join you. Everyone needs to get certified to be a supervisor and you take turns supervising each other’s tests. Just as with the standard plan there are no minimum number of tests and you don’t need a verification test.
Owner Sampler (O/S 40): For Owner Sampler you the herd owner do most of your sampling and mailing of your samples, except for one test day where you need someone else to supervise it. This plan sounds much simpler, right? Well in some ways it is, but you have to perform at least eight tests and does need to be milk for at least 240 days. This form of testing is not eligible for the Top 10 Breed Leaders Awards, which are the Top 10 goats in production for each breed.
What works for me
When I first tried milk test my friend’s niece was my tester under the Standard Plan, there is no age minimum for this as long as they can pass the Supervisor Test from the lab. This worked pretty well for me until COVID-19 hit and then picking up someone (she was too young to drive) and returning them for milk testing didn’t seem like a good idea. It was also a little hard to motivate myself to schedule the test and get it done.
Next I tried Owner Sampler, which I thought would be easier. It was in some ways, but the milk production on some of my goats was really low that year and I got discouraged so getting to 8 tests was hard. I never got around to getting a verification test and gave up. I was also not great about actually getting around to testing.
This year I’m doing Group Test which seems like the perfect option for me because it is a group activity and a social aspect. Also scheduling times to go test for others encourages me to get my own tests scheduled. I also feel like I have a built in support network. It also helps that 2023 is the year I finally figured out feeding for milk production and many of my goats are milking well and will receive their milk stars. I was really lucky to find two other herds less than two milks from my farm that also wanted to start on test. There is no verification test required as nobody is going to be a Top 10 Breed Leader and I can dry up my does at anytime I want, still getting award for them.
Components and Volume
When people talk about milk test you will often here them talk about components and volume. That is because there are different aspects to the test. Volume is the overall quantity of milk, the weight you record on test day. Components are the fat and the protein in the milk, these are determined by the lab and then calculated based on the percentage in the sample. There is a third item the lab looks at which is Somatic Cell Count, which is a useful measurement to look for sub-clinical mastitis.
Awards and Recognition
There are many types of awards one can get with milk records. The main one that I’m working on are the *M which is the main type of milk star. The minimum’s required are available here. There are many other awards that may be relevant to you including Superior Genetics, Top Ten Breed Leader and Elite List. I’m not going to go into those here, but may break them down in another post someday.