Milk Test Reports: What We Learn About our Goats

Episode 131
For the Love of Goats

Milk Test Reports featured image

If you ever wondered about the benefits of milk testing, today’s episode contains an abundance of valuable information. Today we are talking to Jeremy Leather, a field technician at Dairy One, a milk testing lab in New York State. While Dairy One offers multiple services, including forage and soil testing, we are focusing on their excellent milk testing services and how milk testing can have a major positive impact on the health of your herd. 

Jeremy discusses the basics of milk testing and the most common things goat owners test for and why. He also explains the usefulness of the data that comes from each test and how testing could even help your veterinarian provide more effective treatment to a goat suffering from mastitis. Speaking of data, one benefit of milk testing is that you will always have access to it. No more losing binders containing years of collected data on your herd. Replacement data is always available online. 

Finally, Jeremy touches on the added perk of testing for pregnancy through milk testing and the many reasons you should begin milk testing in your herd right away. 

Listen right here…

or on your favorite platform:

apple podcast player  | For the Love of Goats | Milk Test Results
spotify podcast player | For the Love of Goats | Milk Test Results
Listen Notes Podcast player | For the Love of Goats Milk Test Results

Transcript – Milk Test Reports

Introduction 0:02
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here’s Deborah Niemann.

Deborah 0:17
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode! I know this is going to be really interesting to many of you, because I still get a lot of questions about milk testing. Last December, we did an episode with Lisa Shepherd from the American Dairy Goat Association, who talked about official milk testing with ADGA. And, although that did answer questions for a lot of you, there’s still others who had questions, and some of you even may not have goats registered with ADGA. You may have different breeds, or they may just be unregistered, and you wanted to know more about milk testing. And then it occurred to me that we still had a lot of ground to cover. So, I contacted Dairy One in New York State, which is the lab that I used for the eight years that we did milk testing with our goats, and I’m really excited today to be joined by Jeremy Leather, who is a DHI field technician at Dairy One which provides a lot of services in addition to milk testing. They do forage testing, pregnancy testing, and all kinds of stuff. So welcome to the show today, Jeremy.

Jeremy 01:15
Thank you, Deborah. Thank you for having me.

Deborah 01:17
So the first thing that I wanted to talk about is just, like, really the basics. So we talked about, like, when Lisa was here, we talked about how you milk the goat, and you send the milk into the lab, and then once it gets to the lab, can you tell us a little bit about what happens?

Jeremy 01:33
Okay, so once the sample leaves the–the farm and gets to the lab. All the samples have preservative in every bottle, so they’re–they’re basically shelf stable for at least a week, if not longer, but they go directly into a cooler at the lab. And then once they go through the lab, they can be tested for what the farm asks for. Most farms usually ask for fat, protein, and somatic cell. And depending on some others, some will also ask for MUNs which is milk urea nitrogen. And then after the samples go through the lab, the farm will receive an email back, usually within probably two to three days, on average, by the time the samples leave the farm till the actual results are back to the farm, sometimes sooner, depends on your location. And you’ll have a email that will show your levels of fat, protein, and somatic cell on an individual goat basis. And depends on how our reports are set up–some will graph and we can sort and do individual reports. And every herd varies and depends on how you’d like it set up.

Deborah 02:32
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about the things that you said people can test for. First of all, let’s just start with the protein. And why do we test for protein?

Jeremy 02:41
Sure! We test for protein for several reasons. A lot of times we’re tracking different things. Sometimes we’re tracking, you know, diets, how they respond to what our forages are feeding since we have so much variation in our different areas of what we have available to feed our goats. But we’re also looking at protein for health reasons–ummm–and we’re also looking at the inversion between fat and protein well, most times, to tell the overall health of the actual herd and individual goat. Other sources, sometimes we look into protein on a individual basis, just to see and track trends of animals. Because a lot of our buyers that sometimes–if you are selling goat’s milk out will, usually, require a higher level of protein for cheesemakers, and that’s always a thing that helps our herds become more profitable is when we can track these goats and basically isolate certain families with higher levels of protein.

Deborah 03:35
Okay, and then the next thing is butterfat. I know, as a cheesemaker, we always love to see really high butterfats, because that meant more cheese yield. So what are other reasons people are looking at butterfat numbers?

Jeremy 03:47
Sure. Several reasons I would say in there. Also, I think a lot of stuff goes back to what we have available to feed our goats, and then how they respond to it will also show, you know, on a different levels of what we have available into them. And a lot of times we look at butterfat also to compare to protein, just to track health trends of our overall individual goats and our overall herd.

Deborah 04:12
And then the third thing that you mentioned that is in the milk test report is the somatic cell count, which I know is really super important. Just most goat owners, what they would know is that–that when that gets too high, you are concerned that a goat has subclinical mastitis.

Jeremy 04:28
Absolutely, sure. So somatic cell is a very important thing that we’re looking at the white blood cells in the milk, and that is a way that we measure them, by the milliliter. And the nice part about testing is that we can track individual goats, and we can track the whole herd on somatic cell, and we can also look back over time when a herd has been on test to look at things such as somatic cell, because, yes, for subclinical mastitis. It’s also a great indicator of the overall health of a goat, too.

Deborah 4:59
And what exactly is somatic cell count mean?

Jeremy 05:03
Somatic cell count, basically, it is the white blood cell that the goat is shedding, and we’re reading it by the milliliter, is what it actually is. Um, in your reports, how it’s broken down, would give you a Linear Score. Some people could read it by that, and then some people might, if you would add three zeros behind that, would be your actual somatic cell count. And that it can vary from breed to breed and from different herds depending on the goat.

Deborah 05:28
And then the last thing you mentioned about testing was the milk urea nitrogen, which is not something that we ever tested for. What is that and why would herds want to test for that?

Jeremy 05:38
Sure. Milk urea nitrogen, it’s a way to measure the amount of protein that is fed to the goat and how she processes it, and when it leaves the body. So, we’re basically looking at it’s a great indicator to tell: is the goat consuming too much protein in her diet and how she’s handling it. It’ll give us a range, which I do believe in goats is, for healthy goat is between 20 and 25 when we get our reports back, and it, really, it’s a great way, and it’s a great tool to use for feeding our goats, to keep them happy, keep them healthy, and to make sure that we’re not overfeeding protein, not just as an expense, but looking at the overall health of the animal. And it’s a great way to measure that goat’s actually consuming and how she’s handling it to make sure that we’re doing the right by the goat.

Deborah 06:24
Okay. Now, one of the things that some people have asked us since we did our episode with Lisa Shepard from ADGA is that they would like to be able to do milk testing, even though, you know, they’re not a member of ADGA, or their goats aren’t registered, or something like that. And really, the only thing that ADGA is doing is they are keeping track of what comes from the lab, so that they can give goats milk stars and keep track of those records. But anybody can do milk testing. In fact I did, several years ago, the Livestock Conservancy hired me to help them find out what the butterfat and protein was for one of their heritage breeds of cattle that did not have that data widely available. And so I know that I just contacted you guys, because I knew you already, and said, “Hey, we want to test these cows.” And you, the lab, sent all of the farms the coolers with the little tubes that have the preservative in them, and, and it was really very much the same as what I did with, you know, when I was enrolled with ADGA doing the official DHI testing. Is there anything else, like, if somebody so, if somebody wants to get their goat’s milk tested, is there any, you know, what would you tell them to do?

Jeremy 07:38
Absolutely, that’s a great way, and we have a lot of people doing that. The nice part is, as soon as a herd starts on tests, that instant you start building a database. And it’s amazing how quickly, over time, that database grows. And as that grows, I have all this information right at our fingertips that we can make decisions with management decisions, we can help as a herd grows to keep them happy, keep them healthy, and other things that we’re looking for and to meet our actual goals. The other thing is, too, with testing, that I am a very big fan of, is we never know when disasters can strike. And it’s very easy if we just have paper records in a three ring binder laying around flood or fire, etc, or they just get lost. By being on test, our record support system is only a phone call away, and that day, we could actually have our records right back to you if they ever became lost somewhere in the system. And it’s very easy to have paper records, such as that, years and years of records, if you weren’t on tests, lost and then that data. How would you ever get a hold of it? That is what I enjoy about testing–matter of seconds, you could have all your information right back to you through an email, and it’s the whole life history of your herd right there.

Deborah 08:49
Yeah, I admit I never thought about continuing to do any kind of testing once we quit doing the DHI testing, officially, with ADGA. And the funny thing is, like we weren’t doing it, you know, for recognition. Really, we are, you know, we are cheese makers, and we love having that data on our goats, knowing, like, what the butterfat is and stuff. Because, you know, sometimes, like, one of the things we learned was higher is not always better, you know, like using that super high milk that we get in the fall from our Nigerian Dwarfs, which our reports always said the butterfat was 9.9% because you didn’t have an extra column there to, if it was over 9.9, so we’re like, okay, it’s somewhere over 10. But we learned that, like, that kind of butterat is not good for making aged cheeses, that you really want to use the lower butterfat milk, which for a Nigerian, is going to be like six and a half percent, but that’s better for making cheddar, you know. So that information was really good for us, but the reason I didn’t like it was because once my kids left home and we had to do it for 24 hours, and we dam raise, so it meant 24 hours of fighting with these dam-raised baby goats, trying to get them to take a bottle. And so, like, our whole day was consumed by trying to do mom’s job for her. And it just really got to be too much. But I missed all of the data. And one of the things, you know, people always think, Oh, well, if my goat has mastitis, her udder is going to be hot and hard. And we have talked on here about the fact that sometimes cold and floppy is, like, the worst kind of mastitis. But also your goat may have no symptoms whatsoever. And that happened to us with a goat one time. And I, just, this is one of those things that I just kicked myself for for the longest time, because her somatic cell counts were at the top end of, like, they were sky high, and I completely ignored them, because she had no symptoms, you know. And somehow she survived. The next time she freshened, she died two days after freshening, and we did a, had a necropsy done, and it was mastitis. She had mastitis. So, you know, being able to see inside the udder is such a cool thing. And so if somebody is doing it, not officially, like we could send, we could send milk samples to you guys now. You know, we could separate our goats, you know, from the kids for 12 hours and send you a sample, and then let them be with the kids for 12 hours and then do it again 12 hours later. So basically separate the kids overnight twice and get two samples to send you so that we could keep an eye on those things. It’s crazy. It did not occur to me until just now as we were chatting.

Jeremy 11:41
Yes, that’s a good point. There’s a lot of times where that animal will look absolutely fine, but that is a great indicator right there is to watch that somatic cell, and when you get that report, is that goat on the list, and is she the highest one on the list time and time again, which usually will show us a trend. The other thing that we offer also is we can culture sample, too. You could send in a–take a sample, freeze it, and send it to the lab, and we can actually tell which type of mastitis it is. So you could reach to your local veterinarian and see what the correct treatment method would be to get this goat back on track. A lot of these, you know, but that’s the hard part with subclinical, you–she looks fine, she acts fine, and then one day she isn’t fine. But the trend is easy to see when it’s right in front of you on paper.

Deborah 12:27
So can you go into a little bit more detail on that? So like, with that goat, like when I got her thing back and her SCC was almost off the chart, like it was way at the top end of the–of the scale. What would have been, like, a good next step? Because you mentioned freezing a milk sample and sending it in?

Jeremy 12:43
Sure. Sure. We can send culture bottles, or you could probably get them right from your local veterinarian, but I do believe the lab could send them right to you direct, is you take it, and you would clean it thoroughly with alcohol, the teat, and to get it really clean, take a sample and then freeze it. And once it’s good and frozen, send it into the lab, and then we can check to see what species of mastitis is in there. And then you could reach out to your local veterinarian to see the correct method of treatment, what to use.

Deborah 13:12
Okay, great, so we would have to get a different test tube from you than the ones that are used for the regular milk test?

Jeremy 13:19
Yes, yes. I believe–I would have to double check to see what the lab is sending out. Sometimes they can be used, as long as they–the key thing, as long as they don’t have any preservative into them. You have to have–preservative would throw it off, that way it wouldn’t allow what’s in there to grow, which we need.

Deborah 13:37
Oh, perfect. Yeah, that totally makes sense. Okay, so that’s why they can’t just look at it and go, Oh, well, this goat has a million SCC, so we are going to retest it to find out what it is. Because that preservative that is in there has already stopped the growth of that bacteria.

Jeremy 13:56
And then the nice part with being on a regular test is after that goat is treated, we could see how she responds to that, you know, the next test, does she show a little bit lower? And does she show a little bit lower? Or maybe we have a goat that has, is a chronic shedder, you know, maybe this goat might have to eventually leave the herd, and is sooner better than later. That’s maybe another decision we have to make, but we would have at least the data in front of us to make, help us make this decision.

Deborah 14:24
Yeah, and I know another one of the things that I really loved about being on milk test with you guys was that, in the fall, after we bred our goats, we could add a note to our milk test when we sent the milk in: Could you please test, you know, goats number 2, 4, 6 for pregnancy? And you could get that back to us. And I believe it was like the goat had to be at least 30 days pregnant for it to show up?

Jeremy 14:52
Yes, yes. We can actually go down to 28 days post breeding, but 30 would be ideal. And it’s a wonderful way to check for pregnancies. You already have the animal right there. You have the milk sample right there. There’s nothing extra to do. It’s great in the exact same sample. That is the nice part about it. And we have a 90–97-98, I’ll say–right in there, um, success rate with them, samples. And it is a great way to do it, especially in the fall time. There’s no extra handling in the animals, and that is the key behind it. And you have your information right back with your somatic cell. It will show if she’s pregnant or if she’s not.

Deborah 15:30
Yeah exactly. That, that was the thing I loved about it, that you would get that answer. There was no guessing. And also, I mean, it’s as good as the blood test. And you don’t have to be able to draw blood from the goat.

Jeremy 15:44
That is the great part about it. You have it all. It’s an all-in-one package, is what I love about it. And it’s no, it’s no extra stress on the goat. That’s what I love.

Deborah 15:53
Yeah, exactly. So this is not going to test–because people have also asked sometimes–like, does this tell me if the milk is safe to drink? So, which it does not. And, like you said, you’re already, you’ve got a preservative in there that wouldn’t allow any bacteria to grow.

Jeremy 16:09
Correct. This is basically–we’re just basically looking for fat, protein, somatic cell, milk urea nitrogen, or possibly pregnancy in this. Nothing as far as actual public health we can do there.

Deborah 16:21
Right, they would have to send it to a completely different lab for that.

Jeremy 16:25
Yes, we could probably–yes, through our lab, we could, but it would be a whole separate process. We could do it, but it would be a whole, it’s a completely different division than the DHI division.

Deborah 16:36
Exactly. Yeah, thanks for clarifying that. All right, is there anything else that people need to know about milk testing?

Jeremy 16:44
I would probably have to say, is sooner, the better. As soon as they can get started, the better, because it’s after your first test, and it’s, it is always fun, it’s always exciting to see a herd that hasn’t tested before. You see this herd come on. And then after your first test, bang, you got data right then and there. And then the next test, you might have some kids born since then, or somebody’s left the herd, or maybe you got another animal in and then that data grows. And then the next test, you have more and more and more data. And the nice part with testing is, if you purchase an animal through another herd that’s on test, it’s easy to grab that file from that animal and that history, and we can transfer it right into yours, or vice versa. Maybe there’s an animal that’s leaving your herd. You’re selling breeding stock, show stock, etc, and that file can go to the next and then so on and so forth. That is the nice part about testing. And as soon as we get all that information, and then over time that information builds, and it’s that many more tools that we have available right at our fingertips, that we can do different things with–whether we’re tracking the health, we want to track reproduction of the herd. You know, our own goals for the herd. We have all of that, but it all starts with the first test.

Deborah 17:52
Yeah, that’s a really cool thing. And I know we definitely made decisions on breeding and selling, and things like that, based on our milk test results. And it wasn’t always like, Oh, I’m gonna sell this goat because of what her milk test says. Sometimes, like one time I remember there was this goat that I really wanted to sell because she didn’t produce a lot of milk, but her butterfat was so high, she actually produced as many pounds of butterfat as goats who are producing a lot more milk. So in terms of our cheese making, she was putting out just as much as what the higher producing animals were doing.

Jeremy 18:32
Absolutely, absolutely. And it, it is key, and it’s, it’s great having that actual word of proof right there, and it actually shows.

Deborah 18:42
Yeah, exactly, because it would have been sad to sell this goat with this really awesome butterfat, you know, not knowing that she was really giving us just as much for our cheese as the other goats.

Jeremy 18:54
Exactly, good point.

Deborah 18:56
So, thank you so much for joining us today. I know people are going to find this really helpful, especially people who may not hear about milk stars, they may not have their goats registered. And I know, in fact, my husband and I are going to be having a conversation after this. So the lab might, might be getting a call for me about getting us set up again, because I know he’s the engineer, everybody. If you listen to me for very long, you know he loves data, and he really missed that. But we just hated having to separate those kids for 24 hours straight, which is what you have to do on DHI. You have to have 24 hours of samples. But if you’re doing it for yourself, and you don’t really care about the production numbers, what you really just you want is the lab report, this is a super great way to be able to just do it directly with the lab and not worry about the ADGA part and the milk star part and everything. So thank you again for joining us.

Jeremy 19:53
Thank you, Deborah.

Deborah 19:54
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit and you can follow us on Facebook at See you again next time. Bye for now!

Leave a Comment

Join me online