I’ve been raising dairy goats for the production of raw milk for myself and family at Northern Dawn Nigerians, since 2009. Growing up as a kid we always had milk cows for family use. Over the years we have evolved from more primitive milking techniques and milking outside, to milking in a milk barn. Always sanitation has been an important part of the procedure, as much sanitation as possible under our circumstances.
The last few years I’ve been searching for a way to test my milk, so that I would have a good way to know the quality of my milk. Also part of my reasoning for wanting to test my milk on a regular basis, is so that I can see where my program weak points are and what I can improve. This is the year when I will implement the changes to my dairy program.
Since about 2010 we have done monthly milk testing on our does in milk through the Dairy Herd Improvement program. In this program, our milk is tested for butterfat, protein and somatic cell count. All these are very valuable. Butterfat and protein have a lot to do with the taste and usability of the milk. Somatic Cell Count is white blood cell count. A high SCC can mean the presence of infection or mastitis, or it might not. But its a good place to start looking for problems if it is high test after test. It can also be simply that the doe is in heat. LOL
My mind is a scientific one, where I ask the whys, whats, wheres, hows, how come? I want to know, and not to just blindly assume all is ok. All too often I hear, “Oh, raw milk is safe. People know how to produce it safely.” Do we? Some of us do and some of us don’t. I’m working on a program to efficiently and cost effectively test my milk on a regular basis.
Finding a Series Article that May Well Be the Answers I have Saught
A friend of mine who owns a licensed cheese dairy in Oregon has and continues to write articles that are both stimulating and packed with knowledge. Here are a few of her articles that I just found:
Testing Basic Quality of Milk
There are two tests that Gianaclis and the California Herd Share Association suggest as tests for the quality of our milk. They are basic tests. One can get the tests done at a lab which tests, or do it at your home. I am planning on setting up a mini lab at my little diary to test, and then also use a certified lab or professional microbologist at time to further test. The two basic tests that Gianalis and the California Herd Share Association list are:
- Standard Plate Count (SPC or APC). So what is that, exactly? What is it going to show me? That was my first question. SPC is a count of all gram-positive colony forming bacteria. It shows the number of bacteria that grow in the presence of oxygen (aerobically) and at medium range (mesophilic) tempertaures. So who cares? It can pinpoint that there is maybe a sanitation problem and where the problem exist. It could suggest that specific bacteria tests should be done. Note the tests that Gianaclis did on several dairies, who used different procedures to handle their milk.
- Coliform. A test for coliform suggests the number of Coliform present in the milk. One of the family of coliform is e-coli.
- I would suggest that another good test is Somatic Cell Count. One can get your milk tested for this through labs, Dairy Herd Improvement Milk testing labs currently seem to be charging $1.15 per sample. In the article What is Somatic Cell Count, it talks about reasons for high somatic cell count that could be: ”
Age – Older cows tend to have more cells present in their milk, while younger have less
Stage of lactation – Cows producing less milk and are later in their lactation have less cells present
Stress – A cow that is more stressed will show higher SCC
Season – SCC levels usually are lowest in a clean, dry, comfortable environment. Wet or humid weather will elevate cell counts. Generally SCC is higher in the winter
Udder injury – an injury, cut, etc. would temporarily elevate the number of cells until the cow heals.
Indirect causes – poor milking procedures, or poor udder hygiene are examples of indirect factors that can contribute to higher SCC”
I’ve found higher somatic cell count to also be present when a doe is in heat or also if on Once a Day Milking (OAD).
So how can we test for these things?
- certified labs
- Home lab tests like the ones that Gianaclis mentions for SPC, Coliform, e-coli, etc
- Somatic Cell Count can also be tested at Dairy Herd Improvement labs
Gianaclis lists the company she uses for obtaining the the easy to use test plates and incubator. Some of the products she lists in her above articles are:
One could also use some of the other tests like e-coli and listeria, as well.
Lactic Acid Producing Bacteria in Raw Milk
Raw milk has lactic acid producing bacteria which fight against the ‘bad bugs’ or bad bacteria. However, if the proper sanitization and fast cooling of fluid milk for good taste and to keep the bad bugs out, this can be a problem. Proper handling of milk produces a wonderful ‘real whole food’ for our bodies that does amazingly good things for our bodies.