Milk Test Guide
Amy Parker's Guide To Milk Testing - You CAN Do It!
I am so excited that you are interested in getting your herd on milk test. I am going to start with the simple process of doing a milk test and then explain how everything is organized… that is part that most find confusing and overwhelming. I am going to describe the general process. It can sound very regimented… but there is a good deal of flexibility. If you are worried about how this will work with what you do with your goats, please ask. I can help you find a solution that will get you data without being too much of a burden. :-)
What is a milk test?
It is a protocol for measuring milk produced by your goat during a 24-hour period. It starts with Milk Out to ensure that the goat is “empty”. Most people milk their goats twice a day at approximately 12-hour intervals. So approximately 12 hours after Milk Out, you will milk your goat. At this second milking, the milk produced will be weighed. Pour the milk between two pails at least 3 times to ensure that the milk is properly mixed. Take a small sample of the milk and place in a vial. Approximately 12 hours later (and most importantly 24 hours after the Milk Out), you will milk your goat again. The milk will again be weighed, mixed, a small sample will be taken and added to the vial with the first sample. The milk weight data and the milk samples are then mailed to the lab where the milk is tested for fat, protein, and somatic cells.
Once the lab has this information, the data is sent to the data processing center where they enter the data for your herd. The data processing center then calculates how much milk your doe has produced since the last test and since her lactation began and projects out how much she will produce during a 305-day milk year. The results of your test are then mailed to you.
Milk tests are generally done once a month, but can be done as soon as every 15 days or as long as every 45 days.
Breeds- if you own more than one dairy breed, you can chose which breeds to have on test. But if you have a breed on test, ALL of the does of that breed that are in milk must be on test.
From a process stand point – milk test will add a little bit of time to your normal milk routine – weighing and sampling milk for each doe and filling out some paperwork to accompany the samples.
Equipment needed –
Milk pails (at least two)
Scale that measures weight to the 1/10 of a pound (not ounces)
Ladle -- 1 oz (like the kind used for salad dressing at a buffet table)
Vials (which are provided to you by the lab that will do the butter fat and protein analysis)
Data forms (which are provided to you by your data center)
Dairy Herd Improvement is organized by regional associations (DHIA), test centers (the places where the milk samples are sent and analyzed), and data centers (the place that gets the data from the test center, puts it into a database and manages the data and the evaluations of the animals being tested).
To have your herd participate in Dairy Herd Improvement you need to choose an association, choose a lab, and choose a data center.
1. Your first step -- choose your Association/Lab and Data Record Center. They will help inform you which labs and data centers they work with. Most people choose a DHIA that is closest to them so mailing is faster and cheaper.
Here is a link to certified Associations/Labs:
Here is a link to the certified Data Record Processing Centers:
DHIA West has several local associations that run the milk labs:
Fresno DHIA (this is the one that I signed up with)
Central Counties DHIA
Kings County DHIA
Southern Counties DHIA
(I no longer use Fresno (their turn around time is 3+weeks!) I now use Central Counties (their turnaround time was 3 hours!!! yes, I got notice my box was delivered at 10:08 am... I had an email with my results by 1:30 pm, same day!)
DHIA West has agreements with the following record centers:
DHI-Provo (this is the one that I signed up with) *DHI-Provo has changed their name to Amelicor
Texas DHIA (Langston)
If you are confused or uncertain which to choose -- just ask and we can help you figure out which will work for you.
Once you are signed up, the DHIA will provide you with a herd code (you need this code for the registry paperwork).
2. You will need to decide what kind of test program you want. Because this was originally set up for large cow dairies, some of the test options just don’t make sense for someone owning fewer than 100 goats. I am only going to describe the options most often used by breeders who do not have commercial dairy operations.
a. Standard Test – you “hire” a person to come and do the testing (paperwork, samples, weighing) for you. Standard test requires the tester to be present for 2 milkings – you do the milk out on your own and the tester is present for the two milkings where weights and samples are taken. The tester must be certified (I will describe that later) and must not have any financial interest in your herd (so your spouse of children cannot be your testers, but a neighbor could – they do not need to know anything about goats… they just need to learn the rules and procedures and follow them).
b. Group Test – 3 or more herds test the other herds in their group. Each herd owner becomes a certified tester, and then each month they rotate which tester goes to which other herd in their group. Under group test, the tester must be present for the 2 milkings where weights and samples are taken.
c. AM-PM Alternating – you hire a person to assist you with the testing. You as the owner do the milk out on your own and weight/record the milk for the second milking. The tester comes for the 3rd milking and weighs the milk and takes a sample. The sampling test alternates between a morning test for one month and the evening test for the next month (as there is data saying that goats produce different amounts of butter fat and protein when you compare morning and evening milkings). You must have one test that is a verification test .
d. Owner- Sampler – you become a certified tester. One test day, you do all of the steps and record all of the data. You must have one test that is a verification test – where another certified tester comes and manages the test. The results of this test are then compared to your other tests to make sure that you are not fabricating data for your goats.
3. If you chose Standard Test – you do not need to be a certified tester, because everything is handled by your tester. For all the other options – you need become a certified tester. When you sign up with your DHIA, they will tell you how to become a certified tester – most have an on-line test option, but there are also in person classes.
4. Once you are signed up with a DHIA, you can then sign up with TMGR to participate in the Milk Test Production Award program. There are a couple of forms to fill out and some fees to pay ($5 for your herd plus $2 for each doe). Pretty simple.
When To Do Your First Test—
Anywhere between 7 days after kidding and before day 90, you have your first test. You don’t want to do a test earlier than 7 days post-kidding, because colostrum production can affect test results. If your first test is more than 90 days after kidding, you can still get data about milk production, but it will be “unofficial” and will not count towards milk production awards.
How Often Do You Test—
In general, the recommendation is about every 30 days, or once a month. But there is flexibility in this… you can do a test as early as 15 day after the last test. If your tests are more than 45 days apart, the DHIA could ask for an explanation for why your tests are widely spaced. If your test is more than 90 days after the last test, your milk record becomes unofficial and will not be eligible for milk production awards. Because of other things in my schedule, I like doing milk test on the weekends. So, I tend to do test every 28 days (with the occasional stretch to 35 or 42 days), this allows me to keep my test day on the same day of the week.
How Many Tests Do You Have To Do—
The standard milk test year is 305 days long. The reason – to maximize the number of days the doe produces milk, to allow her 60 days of not milking before her next kid is due. There are people who continue to milk the do year-round without having the doe freshen each year (an extended lactation). For those does, their official record stops at day 305 – so when you compare does, there is a standardized comparison.
If you milk for a full 305 days, and you test about once a month – your standard test year will have 10 tests. But as described above, you can stretch the length between tests, so your herd could have fewer than 10 tests.
The real answer to how many test do you have to do – as many or as few as you want. If you just want to get some data on your does, you could do 3 or 4 tests and call it good. (If you are interested in just a one-day test or doing 3 one-day tests spaced throughout the lactation, these are options that I can help you understand). If you want your and your does effort to potentially lead to milk production awards, then you need to milk long enough to the doe to produce more milk than the minimum requirement posted in the TMGR Milk Test Instructions. Here is the table of minimum requirements
Age refers to the age (year.month) of the doe when she kidded. Minimum Requirements for Production Awards
Any doe that is 2.0 years or less have the same minimum requirement and any doe 5.0 years or older have the same minimum requirement. If your does was 2 years 3 months when she kidded, and she produces more than 1002 pounds of milk OR 45.1 pounds of butter fat, she will earn her AR*D.
Depending on your goal, once your doe has made either the minimum milk weight or the minimum pounds of butterfat, you can stop doing test, dry her up and have earned the production star. If your goal is to show the maximum amount your doe can produce in 305 days… then the number of tests will be more. Some of the data reporting centers extrapolate a week or two out from the test date. So, there are many horror stories of breeders getting a test report saying their doe met the minimum, they then immediately dried her, and when the breed receives the final doe sheet with the doe marked as dry, the amount produced is just below the minimum amounts… so my recommendation – if you are wanting to dry shortly after making the production award – go at least one more test.
You do not have to keep all does in milk for the same amount of time. But if a doe is in milk on test day, her milk should be weighed and sampled.
Here is how your first year on milk test could look:
2 months prior to kidding – sign up with DHIA, take the tester training/exam. Buy your scale and get it certified by your DHIA.
1 month prior to kidding – if you have not received a package of vials and blank paperwork – contact your lab and your data center.
Your first doe kids – yeah!
First milk test -- You do your first milk test with this one freshened doe 3 weeks after she kids.
Your second and third does kid over the next couple of weeks.
Second Milk Test – 4-5 weeks after your first one, making sure that you are more than 7 days after the last doe kidding. This milk test would have all 3 freshen does being tested.
You continue to add does to the test after they freshen (you might need to skip the first test if they kid too close to test date).
Verification Test – If you are on a test plan that needs a verification test, this is scheduled to be more than 60 days after kidding but before 150 days after kidding. Unless you have does kidding spread across more than 6 months, you should be able to have one verification test that covers all of your does.
Go Ahead - Just Get Started!
I hope this helps ... if you have questions -- just ask!
Here's to a successful and fun year of milk test!
* CDCB Breed Code for all Miniature Dairy Goats - "MN"
* CDCB ID Prefix for IDs assigned by The Miniature Goat Registry - "00030"