5 steps to getting started with milk testing

After reading my post on 5 reasons to milk test your does (or cows), you have decided you want to get started! So, what next?

1. Read the rules. If you have goats, you can do DHIR (Dairy Herd Improvement Registry) milk testing through the American Dairy Goat Association or American Goat Society, whichever one you use to register your goats. (Click on the name of each registry to see their rules.)

2. Do the paperwork with your registry to sign up. The test year runs from January 1 to December 31, so you should sign up towards the end of this year if you want to be on test next year. You should begin testing each doe early in her lactation. There are a variety of test types available so you can choose one that works best for you. In “Standard 20” testing, a tester comes to your farm twice in a 24-hour period to watch you milk your does and take a sample of the milk. In “owner-sampler” you do all of the sampling, weighing, and recording of weights. And there are several other options between these two extremes. An advantage of Standard testing is that you do not have to have a verification test done unless you think one of your does might be good enough to be in the Top Ten. All of the other types of testing require a verification test, which means a different tester comes to your farm once a year.

3. Choose a lab. Each month after you milk your does for the test, the milk will be sent to a lab where it will be tested for protein, butterfat, and somatic cells. You can get a list of the labs through ADGA. You do not necessarily have to use the lab nearest you, so research your options. Although each registry has rules and standards for what you need to do in order for your does to be awarded stars for their achievements, you will also need to have a DHI lab, which may have additional rules that may make it more challenging for some herds to participate. For example, I live in Illinois but use a lab in New York because the labs closer to me have rules that would make it financially impractical for me to use them. One of the labs would require an employee to do my verification testing, which would wind up costing me several hundred dollars for a single test because I’d have to pay for that person’s travel expenses from out of state, as well as his or her hotel room and meals for the 24 hours that the test takes.

4. Find a milk tester. Although some labs might require an employee to do this, others will allow someone you know to take the certification training and exam to get certified. The tester cannot be a family member, farm employee, or someone who has any financial interest in your herd. We asked our children’s 4-H leader to be our tester, but others have had friends or neighbors who have been certified to do the milk testing. If you are on the owner-sampler program, you are the monthly tester, but you will have to have a verification test done by someone, so be sure to ask the lab if you can have someone local do that test. I have heard of some labs requiring a tester to have a certain number of years experience before being allowed to do a verification test.

5. Buy a scale for weighing the milk. Traditionally, hanging scales with dials were used, but digital scales are now allowed if they read milk in pounds and tenths of pounds, rather than pounds and ounces. Your scale’s accuracy must be certified annually. This service is usually available from the lab you are using.

Now, you are ready to schedule your first test!

12 thoughts on “5 steps to getting started with milk testing”

  1. This is excellent information for those of us wanting to have our herd on milk testing. I now know the proper steps and what to do to get started. You explaining when to sign up has helped me tremendously. Your article has answered many questions that I had. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with me.

    Reply
    • If you search for “dairy scale,” you’ll find a few options. Mine is a Hanson, but I just searched online, and I’m only seeing used ones, so maybe they quit making them. We also have a digital scale that we use in the kitchen for weighing milk, which is supposed to be acceptable now.

      Reply
  2. As a fairly new goat raiser I really appreciate this info.. I see the letters and stars and want good goat. Thair are too many very underaverage goats out here that come nowhere near the average amounts I see in written info. I don’t want to breed that kind of animal.

    Reply
  3. I used to test milk years ago & would like to start back. I’m having troubles finding where I can get certified at now. Do you have a website to guide me to?

    Reply
    • If you mean get certified as a milk tester, your lab does that, so first you have to choose a lab. Links to ADGA and AGS rules are in the article above. ADGA has a list of labs in the US. Not all of them are good about working with owner-sampler testing or goats, so don’t assume that you will be using the closest lab to you. I live in Illinois, and I’ve used Langston in OK and Dairy One in NY. Both are excellent at working with goat owners.

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  4. Can I do testing milking once a day? Twice a day just isn’t an option for me.

    Thank you for posting! I’m in my 8th year with my herd and am finally able to get serious about milking. I’m looking forward to making cheese and learning to skim and pasteurize milk for my immunosuppressed husband.

    Reply
    • You can, but it is still 24 hours of milk. So, instead of milking every 12 hours after the milk-out at 8 p.m. the night before — milk test at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for example — you would only milk 24 hours after the milk-out. So if the milk-out was at 8 p.m., the milk test would be 8 p.m. the next night, so you would have the 24 hour weight. Keep in mind that your goats will produce less than if they were being milked twice a day, so it is putting your does at a disadvantage. We would do this towards the end of the 305 day period sometimes, which is when it makes less of a difference than early in the lactation in terms of pounds of milk produced.

      Hope this makes sense! If it’s not clear, I’m happy to give it another shot.

      Reply
    • Deborah used Dairy One in New York. They work great with small farm goat owners. I used Langston many, many years ago. They specialize in goats only.

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