When thinking about dairy technology, the first thoughts that come to mind are robots; total mixed ration and feed testing; pedometers that monitor cow's activities and report it on a computer as a heat-detection method; automated calf feeders; and more.
One of the most taken-for-granted technologies that has been around the area since 1941 is milk testing. Since farmers began testing milk back in the 1940s, the laboratory has been able to provide more and more information about the milk and the cows that produce it.
Dairy testing is done through a cooperative with a board of directors that oversees the work done at the laboratory in Juneau. Dairy producers from Dodge County test milk with this laboratory, as well as farmers from several other counties, including Jefferson.
In the beginning, testing was done to look at how much butter fat was in each cow's milk and the amount of milk a cow was producing each day. Since farmers were paid by quantity of milk and were given a bonus for milk with more than 3.5 percent butter fat or often saw a deduction for milk with less than that, the information was very important.
With that information, farmers could decide if a cow was "earning her keep." The slogan of the DHIA, in fact, was "Milk the best – cull the rest."
As time went, more information was gathered through these milk samples. When milk components became more important because dairies were able to generate additional profit streams by separating components and marketing them for health foods, ingredients and more, reports on the components of milk became important.
Since the majority of the milk produced in Wisconsin goes into cheese, protein became an especially important component, and farms are often paid a bonus for higher protein content in milk. In fact, DHIA reports now indicate the cheese-yield value of each cow's production.
Since Wisconsin has a reputation for producing quality milk, and processors generally pay premiums for higher quality milk, testing milk for somatic cell counts has become important to farmers. It helps them identify cows that might have udder problems and contributes to their culling decisions.
But the technology just continues.
In 2009, the Dodge County laboratory updated its equipment to speed the testing process and return results faster to the farmers. The laboratory is now able to process 43,087 samples a month on average, and currently the lab is running nearly 52,000 samples a month.
During this last year, the Dodge County Dairy Testing Association began testing for Johnes disease.
"The biggest change by far has been the addition of our diagnostic testing facility, with Johnes ELISA being our first assay," said Holly Smith, in-house manager for the Dodge County DHIA. "This has added value to DHI tests.
"Monthly averages have been around 700 samples, with our highest month at 1,515 samples. The ELISA based testing platform allows us to use the same technology while testing for various other diagnostics such as pregnancy testing."
Brenda Conley, a Neosho dairy producer and president of the county DHIA, added, "We have offered this service for a long time, but now we are able to process this test in-house. We had an overwhelmingly positive response to this new test, so much that our income from this test was 225 percent above what we expected."
Conley said she believes this is an indication of the way farmers are looking at Johne's in their herds and that they are looking for ways to help get rid of this costly disease.
The board is constantly looking at new technology, she said, and at what other information can be extracted from a DHI milk sample. Currently, there are milk tests that determine whether a cow is pregnant. If producers request it, the board may consider bringing that test in-house as well.
"As the dairy industry changes, we recognize that we also need to change and keep up with the newest technology," Conley said.
Dodge County DHIA is a part of AGSource, and that organization has a new reporting system that allows producers to get reports via the Internet. MyAgSource includes numerous reports including a report card that compares one month to the next, udder health, genetics, review of individual cows and more.
Any of the herd management team can access it. Consultants can work with it. Farmers can access it with their smartphone, computer, tablet or any other tool used to gather information.
Dodge County's enrollment in DHIA continues to grow as farmers recognize the benefits of knowing more about what each cow is doing. Since the organization began, herd averages are consistently higher for those farms whose cows are tested. Knowing which cows produce more and what the components and somatic cell counts are for the milk from each cow helps with not only culling decisions but also with diagnosing problems and making breeding decisions.
During their recent annual meeting, Dodge County Dairy Testing Association Cooperative honored top producers and quality producers.
Taking top honors for quality milk, according to the average linear score and somatic cell count, was Brian Frank of Iron Ridge who milks 83 cows averaging 68,000 SCC and a linear score of 1.6. Among the herds on unofficial test, K & S Farms of Iron Ridge had a somatic cell count of 78,000 and a linear score of 1.6 for their 82 cows.
Linear score is a method of measuring the amount of lost milk production when somatic cell counts are higher in a herd. The higher the linear score, the greater the milk yield loss. When farms concentrate on lowering their herd average linear score, udder health in the herd will improve, and there will be increased production and higher milk quality.
Tony Senn and family of Swiss Miss Farm, Fox Lake, earned the award for the greatest cheese yield equivalent. The family has two separate herds, one Brown Swiss and the other Holstein. It was the Holstein herd, consisting of 25 cows, that earned the award with an annual average per cow of 29,784 pounds of milk, 4 percent butter fat, 3.15 percent protein and a cheese yield of 3,162 pounds of cheese. The Senns milk twice a day.
In the three-times-a-day milking category, Crave Brothers of Waterloo earned top honors for annual cheese yield average per cow. Their 1,484 cows average 30,388 pounds of milk with 3.8 percent butterfat and 3.03 percent protein and a cheese yield of 3,102 pounds.
The colored breed cheese yield award went to Gurn-Z-Meadow farm, Columbus, with 40 cows producing an average of 23,300 pounds of milk, 4.7 percent butterfat, 3.38 percent protein and 2,689 pounds of cheese.
The organization also honored Dennis O'Connor of Waupun who has served as the cooperative's accountant for more than 20 years. He prepares the financials for the annual meeting each year and helps the general managers with bookwork.