Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Herd Testing

Every cow shed I milk in is different. Everything from the general size, the cows, how it's set up in general, the rubberware and claw-bases, the pit depth and the people. Some farms have what you call, "'zig-zag' bum rails", where the cows can, I guess you could say, slot into position at the correct angle. Other sheds have straight rails, and in this case depending on the size of the cows, they don't always line up correctly and often too many will squeeze in - especially if the cows are small and you need to do a few double ups.

Most of the "milk parlours" I'm working in lately are either 30 to 40 aside herringbones, one is high-tech, where you simply press a button to turn everything on and it has those awesome automatic cup removers that I've previously mentioned before. These three common sheds for me have the most ideal pit depth for milking as they're big cows, except it's difficult for me to reach up and push the cows along.
However yesterday and this morning I had the pleasure of working on a farm where I just help out with herd testing, it's small, a 20 aside with little jerseys and the pit is excessively shallow. I'm between 5 foot 2 and 5 foot 3, and here, I can quite happily reach up and touch the cows backs to push them forward while trying to physically milk the girls requires a bit of effort! I find I need to somewhat crouch down, and later on my shoulders and neck hurt like heck. So I don't know how the main guy does it every day, he's well over 6 foot!

Anyway, I arrived a few minutes early so I took a couple of pictures. It was my first herd test of the season - fingers crossed this year not many people bother with them - they're quite a pain to put up with!! You get filthy because the cows get a little bit stressed, and hosing down too often is pointless as the cows then just add to the mess! You sorta walk out of there absolutely filthy...

Herd testing in this shed is quite higgelty piggelty, there are three of us in there, and as you can see it's quite small. Once the cups are on one side, there's only enough room for one person to walk past. You keep having to dodge each other, which can get quite tedious when there are so many people. But, it wasn't too bad.
They get in a herd test assistant, who changes all the samples and sets and removes all the gear before and after the test finished. She knows how to run everything, and this time we got to use the EZ-link system, where you simply put in each cow number through the row, and scan the barcode afterwards - rather than having to write numbers individually on the flasks.

Usually though, in a herd test it's quite straight forward. Once the cows are finished someone will remove the flasks and then others such as myself, swap the cups over to the opposite side. No worries at all. Although at this place, the guy does all the scanning and numbers, I walk along hanging up cups when they're finished, and then the assistant changes the flasks. Once I've hung up enough sets to keep her busy, I have to go back to the beginning and start cupping the other side. It's ridiculous trying to work around so many people in such a small area. Trying to keep moving to stop any cows from over milking, going back and forth to fix slipping cups. Back and forth, back and forth. And the disappointing thing is that my pedometer didn't register many steps - probably because I was only doing slight steps, that it didn't notice I was moving. Sad....

The interesting thing was that I didn't actually find getting up at 4:30 all that difficult. Funny how that works, when it's the first morning starting at an earlier time my body clock is pretty on to it. I wake up every few hours, check the time and when 4:29am comes along I'm wide awake, watching the time click over...

Finally, here's a little something for Xj and Andrew - isn't this great?! Credit to NZ Farming on Facebook :P


  1. Okay, question from silly little me... What are you testing the herd for? I have herd of herd testing once or twice, but never actually heard what... :P
    So how much easier would it be in a whatsit, rotary? What's the non-herringbone variety?
    Also, I kinda cracked up at the "small, a 20 aside." When my Mum was your age, she used to work in a decent sized (not massive) shed of 12... Times have changed!!! :P

    Those pedometers are annoying. Take lamb feeding for me, I take over 1000 steps in that, from 3.5 hours feeding per day. And I'm lucky to get just 100 registered... (I know it's 1000 because I counted. Feeding lambs gets a bit repetitive after awhile... :P)

    I like the horse. Where's that one posted from? Also, Xj might be able to tell better, but is that just a single rope for reins, or where are they? I just can't see them anywhere. Unless its just the lighting. Anyway, not important. I just find it interesting to see who uses loop reins and who uses to single whatsits... I'm useless at naming tack... :P

    1. Hi Silly Little You! ;P
      Ooh, super excited, I was hoping I'd need to explain it a bit better! lol, pathetic, right? I've been helping out with herd testing since I was a little kid, and not many people have seemed too interested to ask why it is done.
      Ok, back to the question.....Herd testing, is basically, just testing the milk. The samples are all sent to the LIC or Ambreed lab and they do lots of testing and send us the info... it's basically just this big recording session taken over two milkings - typically you'd get slightly different samples across the am and pm milkings.
      We basically find out: how many litres the cows is giving. The protein and fat percentages - aka, the milk solids, the important bit. And the Somatic Cell Count - the white blood cells in the milk.

      Most people do it 4 times a year, it's good to keep track of how your individual cows are doing, and when it comes to culling or drying cows off and can be pretty essential. The SCC testing is the best part about it, it's easy to figure out who has non-clinical mastitis and who is likely to be spreading it if you've got an issue - so from there if you're drying off near the end of the year, you can decide what penicillin to give individual cows. Semi-clinical cows would need a stronger dosage to prevent her getting dry mastitis. And then a lot of cows can be spreading bugs, but don't show any signs of it themselves...

      There are still 12 asides around, I've milked in a few, they're pretty cute to be quite honest!! Did she see any "walk-throughs" active?
      Umm, easier, well yes and no. They all have their own pros and cons. We always found the rotary needed more people. Two people for milking constantly, one to write the numbers and change flasks, one to help with swapping the flasks, and one to continuously put them into the correct places in the trays. It worked, but it was busy. At least in herringbones you can just leave the cows to milk, then get back to them...rotaries are constantly moving...

      So yeah, long explanation sorry.. Got a little too excited there... hehe

      NZ farming on Facebook, - not sure where in the country though. I wondered that too, I thought it seemed like some form of basic halter/bridal cross thing, and then maybe an extra lead rope that they carry around? The bridal itself seems odd to me, but I'm used to seeing the English and Cob bridals from my horse days...

    2. Hehe, yeah, well, ya don't ask, ya don't know... Sounds like if you've been doing it since you were a kid, you're probably the expert on it... :P

      Sounds like a pretty tedious exercise, actually. But definitely necessary. Just glad we don't do that with our cows. TB every three years, and PT every year, that's good enough for me!!! :P
      And can you believe this, but I've never heard of Ambreed before. LIC, definitely a thousand times over, but never Ambreed... :P
      So if a farmer decided to just not herd test, would he get away with it, and would it be in any way beneficial? ie, no hassles 4 times a year, and then just not worry about it all? Or is it just essential that he knows that?
      Like, from my perspective, we blood test our rams every year for whatnot, but some don't, and just spread diseases throughout the mob, once a sheep shows signs, cull it, sort of thing...
      And one other question (I'm going to have more question-lenght than your explanation soon! :P), does anyone there use Dry Cow Therapy? Or is it a choice of penicillin or the meatworks?
      Walk-throughs, what's that? Like, cows go in the back and out the front? That's all that she ever milked in...
      Sorry, SLM syndrome again... :P

      The problem I didn't think looked overly strange from front on, just the red kinda stands out a bit and sticks out further than normal, but I wasn't sure if it was some kind of bulky leather or something...

    3. It can be tedious, the cows don't particularly like it, and usually it can be a stressful exercise - especially if you muddle up a cow number and have a few double ups...Oh yeah, then you have to add in all the PT - two time a year for some farmers, TB testing, every 2 to 3 years. Lepto boosters, and then all the other somewhat necessary but not everyone does it - BVD testing and boosters, salmonella, rotavirus etc etc etc. It can be pretty hectic when most of that is done during milking.

      Ambreed, it's not that uncommon anymore, similar to LIC but gosh don't try and transfer cows from one to the other, they don't like each other and they're both very different systems. Like, LIC can talk about breeding worth and production worth in your records for individual animals. But then Ambreed is completely different, BW and PW means absolutely nothing to them. And then for sheep there's SIL isn't there?

      Oh yeah, a lot of people don't herd test, it's not cheap. 4 times a year is common, extremists can do it once a month (stuff that!). Others might do one just on SCC testing when they've got issues towards the end of the year, it's a little cheaper.
      But yeah, it's no biggie to not do it, you just don't get that information and sometimes you can make bad judgements on some cows. But I guess, it's not all foolproof. Like PT, we've culled many a cow that could've actually been pregnant, and carried over "empties" who were actually in calf too. While some are "in calf" but actually aren't. But it is pretty typical to do it, it's the minority who do it differently.

      The great thing is, with LIC anyway, the records keep piling up and piling up. So, we could log onto Minda - the computer program, chuck in a random number and you can get every last piece of info on her, ever since she was first herd tested. So it's good to see how she's improving over the years, or you can look back and see if she's a problem mastitis cow over the years too, especially if you keep the treatment records which is now compulsory. And also! you can then track her daughters and see if some hereditary issue was getting passed along, which is good. :)

      Yep, sorry, Dry cow therapy is what I was meaning :) (We could make a dairy farmer out of you yet! ;P) So when you're coming up to drying off, your most recent herd test is what you can refer to, and you use a specific treatment depending on her SCC. A stronger and longer lasting treatment for those with a higher chance of mastitis, or if they've already got it. Really low SCC cows who have naturally dried themselves off often don't need any DCT at all. All I know is that there are 5 or more different choices, so you just use a couple different types for what you need. And if they're not in calf, with a high SCC, they get no treatment and are often culled. Easiest option...

      I'm going to be completely honest and say I've never seen a walk through in action! But yeah I think they just line up like a herringbone, and then a big gate directly in front of them opens. But I also think they don't have a pit, you just crouch down beside them and cup them on. Usually they're only tiny... lol SLM syndrome, careful that might be a new trend going! :D

      It seems a little odd huh? But did you see the lamb? Would you guys do that?

    4. Haha, sounds like fun... Makes me kinda grateful that the biggest thing we do is PT. I guess we do drench and copper cap them as well, and vaccinate, but it all just seems less tedious somehow. And that isn't 4 times a year!!! :P Hehe, had to look some of those things up too, never heard of them. Lepto and Salmonella, yup, TB, of course, but the others, never! :P

      Okay, I'll have to keep an eye out. I can honestly say I've only ever heard of LIC and SIL. I think SIL is actually related to LIC somehow, kinda like the sheep department and cattle department or something, but don't quote me on it...
      Different company data bases get frustrating. Take Fert companies as well, I've heard quite a few complaints from people changing between Ravensdown and Balance... You'd think they could just make some software, and then share it? Maybe that's too simple... :P

      Our latest house cow was only kept because she was dry, but just before going to the works the owner realised her udder was growing somewhat... :P Hehe, anyway. You ever looked at the PT screen? I can't exactly blame them for making mistakes, you know!!! :P

      Oh right. Grief, that's getting technical, tracing generations. In our herds, you'd never tell... :P We do have Endeavor for stuff similar to that, but more tracing stock movements, animal health treatments, that sort of thing. Oh, and now we've got NAIT to keep informed as well... -_-

      Right. Yeah, mastitis is something I'm not an expert on. If the beef cows get it, we'd never know, and in the hosue cows, we give them penicillin, and once we used DCT for one of our better cows. She managed to milk for 2 years straight, because her friend kept getting pregnant then aborting, so we could just never dry her off. Meanwhile her own calf jumped in with the bull, so we had her, her daughter, and her granddaughter all at the same time... :P

      Hehe, well, I can't exactly say I've ever seen one! I'll have to You Tube it... :P

      Yeah, it does seem odd... Lol, I saw the lamb alright. Ours get chucked in a hessian sack and tied to the horse, so no head sticking out. The lamb is too likely to get out otherwise... :P Also, we tie anything on our horses in front of the saddle, not behind. Means you can keep an eye on it, and keeps the weight closer to the centre of the horse. So yeah, we do carry lambs on horses, but not like that! :P

    5. lol, BVD and Rotavirus, just two new names that have come into play over the last 5-10 years, just another issue that cows can spread, and their calves could have -, you can vaccinate against it, but there's no real evidence around. Just another type of bug that causes scours in calves. There are so many possible causes, so you'd never know but vets love to think it's such and such, and make you buy this and that... -_- Sometimes yes, but often, no.
      The great thing with TB up here is it's almost eradicated, so we can get C10 and only have to redo it every few years!

      I wondered whether it was too, perhaps, I heard of it through my study, but maybe I should've googled it?? :P I know hey, silly really, but competition and all that...

      It's like, on tv when they've got a pregnant lady having a supposed scan, I still can't see anything. lol, just a big blur of black, white and blue for me - but they reckon something is there, so I believe them most of the time :D

      Minda is pretty much the "thing" with dairy and LIC, you can do everything on there, all the health records, mating records, their genetic info, absolutely everything, oh and NAIT as well. It's great, until you get an "error" that you can't fix...then you have to ring up and ask for them to fix issues at their end.

      She jumped in with the bull, it's like, when one jumps in and then jumps back out. Sounds about right...!

      Oh yeah, over the withers, that lamb in the picture looks rather comfy there - as if he does it all the time :)

    6. Okay, yup, never heard of them till you mentioned them aye. Are they Dairy-Only or something?
      Yeah, TB is the same round here, just every three years. Still far too often, considering that the bulls have to go in every year. Last year two opened a gate and got into the same pen, then smashed a hole out the side of the yards. Thankfully the vet decided we might get away with not testing those two... :P

      Vets are ridiculous with their ideas though. They'll charge you $200 just to look at, not even cure, a $50 dog...

      Haha, yeah. They're kinda funny like that, and yet the technicians do it so quick, like the sheep, into the crate, straight out, next one straight in... You can start to tell, after awhile, if there's an issue. He's got to separate twins, so if he can see two lambs, straight through, if he pauses, he's checking for extras. And I'm still sitting there, like, can't see any difference, no matter how hard I look. :P

      We have had our issues with Nait. Like when we sent come stock to the meat works, and the tag reader got out of sync by 1. So we got paid for someone else's Hereford, and someone after us got paid for one of our Angus'. Then also when they say they couldn't read the tag, so penalize us for it... -_-

      Haha, he does look happy aye. Some lambs are like that, just more agreeable to treatment like that, but others would be out in a flash... :P

    7. I don't believe they're just dairy, I'd say any calves could get them. But then handling of beef calves is different to dairy calves, so either it's not noticed much or just I dunno. They may be less susceptible being out and about in fresh paddocks, rather than being cooped up inside a shed where bugs thrive.

      lol, nice bulls, remind me not to go near any of your bulls...


      Oh yeah, they're good like that right. Or if your animal loses the tag whilst on the truck there, you'll still be penalised even though it's obvious that a tag has recently come out.... As I heard somebody mention recently, they should just microchip them, like you do with cats and dogs. It's not inhumane, it's probably a heck of a lot easier!

      All unique, definitely :P