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It’s been a while since I graduated from the Animal Science program at the University of Guelph. I miss my time there for many reasons, but I definitely don’t miss writing exams! You would think that I would have escaped the stress and preparation of testing when I finished University and became a full-time dairy farmer.  On the contrary, the cows and I have a test about 10 times a year!

Almost monthly, a milk tester from CanWestDHI (Dairy Herd Improvement) comes to my farm and tests us. She tests my ability to manage my cows and she tests the quality and quantity of my cow’s milk.    We attach a special graduated cylinder to our milking machines.  As the cow is

The flask being filled with milk

milked,  a measured amount of milk drips into the flask to determine how much the cow produced . This number is recorded in a laptop computer. The milk tester then takes a sample of milk from the flask and puts it in a small plastic container for further analysis.

Milk sample containers and laptop

At the lab, the milk can be measured for a number of things such as its protein, fat and lactose content. It is also tested for its white blood cell count. A high white blood cell count (Somatic Cell Count- SCC) may indicate a possible infection in the cow’s udder. The lab can also analyse what kind of bacteria caused the infection and then our veterinary can make suggestions on how to treat the potential problem. We can also confirm the pregnancies of our cows by testing their milk. The pregnancy test checks for levels of glycoproteins that are produced during pregnancy. There are also a variety of cattle diseases that milk tests can check for. If you want further information, you can check out the CanWest website.


Shortly after the milk test we receive a very long and detailed report. These

A small sample of the report

*A small sample of the report

reports are invaluable to a dairy farmer. They give you individual cow production information and trends. They help you set goals to improve your operation and they help keep your cattle healthy through better management.  For example, if the milk test indicates that my cows are not producing as much fat in their milk as I would like to see, I could make changes to the herd’s feed ration, or breed low producing individuals to bulls that will hopefully improve production. A bonus to milk testing is that we can have an official production record on each cow.

It may be a chore to prepare for routine milk tests, but it is one of the most important management tools that a dairy farmer has. The best part for me is that the cows usually pass their test with top marks and they didn’t even have to study!  The girls are thankful that it’s not a psycowlogy, or a cowculus test and they don’t need to use cowculators. Now wouldn’t we all want to write a test where the only prep work was eating as much as you can!

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