Getting Started with 305 Day Milk Testing (DHIR) with your Herd
I made this as a beginner's guide to get started with 305 day milk testing (or DHIR) for your dairy goats. My hope is that it might help things feel a little less overwhelming like it was for me when I got started. I totally understand this feeling of overwhelm when there seems like miles and miles of rules to follow and so many layers of organizations you feel like you have to satisfy. Rules do change though, so if something I am telling you doesn't make sense with what you are seeing on the websites and processes it probably isn't you. If you run up against a wall just drop me a note and I will do my best to point you in the right direction:)
Milk testing is about improving the breed. It costs almost the same to feed a poor milker as it does a good milker which is why it is important to track it over a 305 day (10 month) lactation so that you can decide which goats are benefiting your herds economy and which ones are maybe not as much. If you are milking for your own home or maybe planning to sell milk in the future then it can teach you about how to plan your breedings to keep a steady and consistent supply of milk on hand. You see, some does are good about milking fairly constant daily numbers for the whole lactation, others might milk 6lb (3/4 gallon) per day the first 2 months but then drop down to less then 2 pounds per day by the 4th month. Knowing this can help you plan breeding and kidding times accordingly for a consistent milk supply.
Milk testing also adds value to your goats, especially as you keep building your herd and reputation. It also helps to open the doors to buy better goats from good breeders. Breeders want customers that continue proving their lines and will try to place their better goats in a herd that they know is actively pursuing similar goals.
I've created this "roadmap to milk testing" to try and make this performance program as accessible and easy as possible. Just a reminder that rules, processes, and forms all change from time time, so if you feel like you are getting lost; don't hesitate to call for help and I will do my best to get you back on the road and rolling again.
When I started I had LOTS of questions; which isn't surprising to anyone that knows me! :) I sometimes wonder if I drive people nuts. I will do my best to answer those questions for you here.
I recommend starting all this at least 2-3 months before you plan on doing your first test.
Step 1) Choosing a DHI Coordinator...
First you need to get in touch with your DHI coordinator/lab. This is who you are going to work with one on one the most, so it is important to find someone that you feel is going to be helpful when you have questions or problems. Usually the lab and coordinator are under the same name, but sometimes the coordinators hire the lab work out to someone else. Either way, you only need to talk to the coordinator, so if ADGA tells you to find something out from your DHI lab they actually mean the coordinator. I recommend picking 3 different ones off the list I link to below and sending them in email to get a feel for how willing they seem to answer your questions and help you get started. Just say something like: "Hey! I am thinking about getting started with milk testing for my dairy goats. Could you tell me more about the process and whatever else I should know about testing through your service? I live in ________(tell them your city and state).
Looking forward to hearing from you! _________(your name)"
Then just wait and see who is the most responsive and willing to go into detail. If they seem short or irritated by your question then just thank them and move on. Over the years I have worked with 3 of the coordinators on that list and and talked with at least 8 of them. I currently use Indiana State Dairy Association. Elizabeth Straw has been great to work with and is very quick about getting on problems or letting me know if I made a mistake that will cause problems further down the line. I am hearing a lot of good things about Langston as well from two of my goat friends that work with them now, so if you are in the central or southern US then that might be a good one to reach out to as well.
Once you pick a coordinator you like they should send you an information email with everything you need to do with them to get started. If they are close to you then they might even have someone that can be your supervisor so that you don't have to find a friend willing to do it for you. They should also tell you what supplies you need to have on hand for test day.
From now on, if you have any questions that relate to your test day procedure, your supervisor, your paper work (except for the paperwork specific to ADGA or AGS like the application forms), any problems in your records or the CDCB database then you coordinator is who you will ask.
Now you need to decide on what test plan you want to use. This is totally up to you and your personal preference. I use The Standard DHIR 20 plan as ADGA calls it or Standard code 20 with AGS, which is what I think most breeders use if they have a friend that can be their supervisor. If your DHI coordinator (which we talked about above) is not close enough that they have someone that can supervise for you and you don't have a friend you feel comfortable asking to take the test (it isn't a hard test, your coordinator can tell you more) and supervise for you then you will have to select the OS/40 plan which is for owner sampler. This means that you have no-one supervising during milking. The draw back is that you still have to find someone to do a VT (verification test, I'll cover this in a minute) for your goats to qualify for milk stars. For the Standard 20 plan like I use then I only need a VT if I want my goats to qualify for top 10 awards, but you have to have some REALLY good goats to make top 10, so I usually just wait and see if any of my milkers are milking the kind of numbers I know they will need to potentially qualify. If they are then I will do a VT but otherwise I don't have to mess with it. With this plan they will still get stars, and qualify for SG or Elite awards without a VT.
Like I said, this part is totally up to you and I recommend not stressing over which plan to choose a whole lot the first year. You can always change it the next season to a different plan once you have a better grasp on your goals and what you are doing.
You can read about each of the record plans that ADGA and AGS accept here. It will also tell you what each plan entails for rules. Remember, just pick what you feel will be the easiest for you that first year. You can always change it the next season.
If you opt for the standard 20 plan like I use or if you choose to do the owner sampler and want to have a VT then you are going to need a supervisor. Usually this is a friend who is willing to take the test and come out to your farm for two consecutive milkings (an AM and PM milking). I am fortunate to have a good friend just a few miles down the road that is happy to do it for me. They don't have to know anything about goats or milking, and the test they have to take is usually pretty simple.
If you need to get someone certified as a tester then let your coordinator know and they will send you everything you need and answer all your questions.
Step 4) Sending Your 305 Day DHIR Applications to ADGA and/or AGS...
This is mostly self explanatory. When you come to the ADGA form they will ask for your DRPC (dairy record processing center). You will have to ask your coordinator about which one there lab uses (there is 4 different DRPCs at the time of this writing).
On the AGS form they will ask for the name and address of your processing center but in this case it is your coordinator (which we talked about above). For me I use Indian State Dairy Assoc. from the list of coordinators I gave you in step 1, so In my case I will use that address.
Once you send your applications in you are almost ready to start testing! You don't need to hear anything back from ADGA or AGS before you start testing for a 305 day lactation. That is only for 1 day tests that you need confirmation and approval.
Step 5) Milk Testing Supplies...
I will assume you already have a milking stand, but if not you can find some great DIY plans on the internet.
You will need your milk pail and any other normal milking supplies you use, a digital scale that measure in tenths of a pound, a bucket to weigh the milk in (a half gallon bucket works well for this), and a 1oz dipper to collect the milk sample with from your bucket, pen, permanent marker, and a clipboard is also helpful. You will also need your sample vials, which the coordinator/lab will send you when you sign up. This is the scale that I use: https://awscales.com/h-110-digital-multifunction-hanging-scale-110lbs-x-0-05-lb/ Once you find your scale you will need to send it to your coordinator to be calibrated before your first test, and annually after that.
Dam Raising or Bottle Feeding?
Here is what test day looks like for me. Bare in mind that this is for the Standard 20 record plan, so if you are using one of the other record plans then it may look a bit different depending on if and at what milkings your supervisor is required to attend.
You need to milk your does out and separate the kids twelve hours before the first milking. For me this is usually 7:30 and I do it in the evening. Before I go to bed I make sure I have everything ready for in the morning; e.g., a table to work off of, all my testing supplies I mentioned above, jars with lids to put the milk in after weighing and sampling, any of your normal milking supplies, a chair for my supervisor.
12 hours after my first milk out my supervisor arrives and it is time to start milking and recording. Milk your does just like you normally would and afterwards weight the milk in your digital scale. ALWAYS remember to zero out your scale with your weighing bucket before pouring the milk in it to get your milk weight. Record the weight on your barn sheet you got from your coordinator. Be sure to also record the sample number in the sample # column and to write that sample # on your vial. Don't forget to use your dipper to draw a sample from your pail of milk and fill your vial half full, being sure to give the milk a good stir before taking the sample. Once all your does are milked you can take your milk inside and get it strained and in the fridge, and do a little cleanup to your milking sampling station as it has usually gotten a little messy by now. You can take your sample inside and leave them in fridge until the next milking too.
The 3rd and last milking is basically the same as the 2nd milking except that you don't have to record sample #'s, but you do need to make sure you milk in the same order as your previous milking. Record the milk weights like last time and finish filling your sample vials from each doe. Once the milking is done make sure that your supervisor doesn't forget to sign off on you barn sheet! After you're done milking each doe she can go back with her kids.
Following your Test Day
After test day make sure to get your samples in the mail as soon as possible and your barn sheet emailed to your coordinator (unless your coordinator wants the barn sheet mailed with the samples; some do, so check on that with them). That is pretty much it for your monthly testing. Your lab or coordinator will mail the butterfat, protein, and somatic cell count results to you along with the bill for each test. I store all these in a file for my own records.
I usually do each followup test 30-40 days after the previous one.
VT or no VT?
VT stands for verification test and depending on your record plan you might need to have one done. In my case I use the Standard 20 record plan so I don't need a VT to get milk stars or SG/Elite awards, but I couldn't qualify for top 10 awards without a VT. Like I mentioned a moment ago it takes an EXCEPTIONAL animal to qualify for top 10 awards, so I normally wait and see how my does are doing after 2-3 tests and decide if I want to have a VT done or not.
If you are on owner sampler then you do need a VT to even qualify for milk stars.
As mentioned I only will do a VT if I have a goat that I feel is good enough to potentially qualify for top 10...thus far, I have not had such an animal that I feel was going to come close, so I have never had a VT. That being said, I am not well versed in the procedure so I will leave that to you to research if you decide to go that route. I will mention though that if you have an animal you want to be able to qualify then you will need to have a VT done on that animal between
End of the Test Year
At the end of your 10 months of testing (unless you decide to end before then) you can dry your does off to get them ready for the up and coming new test year. Make sure to email your dry off dates for each doe to your coordinator. Once they receive your dry off dates they will send you your doe pages with all the lactation data for each individual doe in your herd.
With ADGA you don't have to do anything special, they receive everything digitally from the CDCB data base. You just have to renew your DHI membership with them each year and everything else is handled for you.
With AGS however, you MUST remember to send them a copy of your doe sheets for your lactation records to go into their records and for your animals to get their milk stars or qualify for top 10 awards.