5 Reasons to Milk Test Your Does (or Cows)

5 reasons to milk test your does (or cows)

I admit that we started milk testing because my daughters wanted our does to have those fancy stars and letters after their names like *M in ADGA and *D in AGS. However, after getting started, we discovered there are many reasons to be on milk test beyond bragging rights. Now in our seventh year of milk testing, I can’t imagine managing our herd without it. Why? Basically, it allows me to compare all of our does to each other and to other goats of the same breed.

Milk testing

1. I know how every doe’s production compares to other does.

No guessing when it comes to deciding which does to sell for low production. Having this is invaluable, as I am often surprised when I look at the totals.

2. I know how much butterfat each doe is producing.

If you make cheese, it is great to have this information because higher butterfat means better cheese yield. Unless you send your milk to a lab, you have no way of knowing which does have the best butterfat production. Not only do I get monthly butterfat production numbers, but I can also see their average butterfat over the course of their lactation — and it requires no math on my part! Again, I am sometimes surprised to see which doe has the highest average butterfat. It is not always the one that has the highest butterfat peak.

3. I know if a doe has a sub-clinical case of mastitis.

Every sample of milk is tested for somatic cell count, which is an early indicator of mastitis. In many cases, a doe’s SCC will go up before she gets clinical symptoms of mastitis such as a hard, hot udder. When we can catch a mild case of mastitis, I prefer to try alternative treatments such as peppermint oil on the udder, whereas I tend to panic and reach for the antibiotics once a doe has obvious symptoms.

4. I can see a doe’s mature equivalency, which is her projected total for a 305-day lactation.

Although it isn’t always 100% accurate, it gives you a good idea of whether or not a goat’s complete lactation will be respectable or extraordinary or in the culling category.

5. I know each doe’s persistency of lactation curve.

Prior to milk testing, I had never even heard the term! Now, it is one of the most important things to me. Basically it calculates how quickly a doe’s production declines over the course of her lactation. The lab uses averages for your breed, and the persistency of lactation curve tells you how your doe stacks up to other does in the breed in terms of how well she can sustain her lactation. Goats with low persistency ultimately produce less over the course of their lactation. If a doe’s persistency is 100%, it means she is average. Below 100% means below average, and above 100% means above average. Although you can see how well your doe maintains her lactation by keeping barn records, you can see how your doe stacks up against the entire breed when you see her persistency of lactation curve.

This is Part I in a series on DHI 305-day milk testing. Here is Part II: 5 Steps to Getting Started with Milk Testing. Although we have a herd of dairy goats, this information also applies to cows.

For more information

Check out Goat Milk Testing: What, Why, and How. In this podcast episode, Lisa Shepard, board member and former Performance Program Coordinator for the American Dairy Goat Association, joins us to talk about the different types of milk testing, how to get started, and more!

5 reasons to milk test your does (or cows)

4 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Milk Test Your Does (or Cows)”

  1. Hi there! I am just small time self sustaining homesteader type. I raise chickens I garden and I have dairy goats just for providing for my own household or give to other family members or friends.

    I have a couple pet wethers and I have a doe that I milked one year but do not plan to breed again so she is now also a loved pet.

    But I do have two Alpines does, one of which is being milked this year and next year I will breed the other doe. So my plan is to alternate year breed so that I can have one doe in milk through the spring, summer and fall each year hopefully.

    I do drink raw milk and make kefir and yogurt. I educated myself on fresh goat milk handling and am very very careful with my hand milking protocol. Actually most people would probably consider that I was obsessive 🙂 I pretty much do the CMT once a day just because I want to make sure I catch any potential mastitis problem before it causes specific symptoms like off flavored milk or flakes or lumps or hot udder.

    So I was thinking maybe I might want to send off milk a couple time during the year for testing for possible sub-clinical cases that wouldn’t necessarily show up on the CMT plate? Maybe once after being in milk a month and then maybe towards the end of the milking period? Does anybody do this? Can you recommend a lab for a small timer like me? I am in the panhandle of Florida

    Thanks for any advice here:)

    • CMT works fine for detecting mastitis. If you look at the info on how to interpret the test, it shows you how the thickness of the milk correlates to the SCC. If you get a lab report of a high SCC, the first thing you’d do is a CMT to figure out which side has the infection.

      Doing a single SCC would not really be that helpful for you because goats’ SCC runs higher than cows, because epithelial cells wind up in goat milk, and it’s included in the SCC, giving readings that are always abnormally high. When you are on monthly test, you are looking for a sudden jump in that number — not just a high number — because some goats may simply shed more epithelial cells than others.

      It does sound like you are worried about this far more than you need to be, assuming you have goats with healthy immune systems that are living in clean conditions (not a muddy pig pen). Most people will do a CMT once a month at most. I never do one unless I am worried about a doe, and I actually can’t remember the last time I did one. In 16 years with up to 22 milkers, I’ve only had 3 does ever get mastitis. Using a strip cup with a screen on it would be more than enough as a daily screening.


Leave a Comment

Join me online