1. How do DFA producers view lab results?
    Every sample that is available to ELS and meets acceptance criteria is tested for components and quality. DFA members have several options to receive lab results:

    • Click here to view lab results.
    • Call the voice response unit at 1-877-DFA-LAB1 to hear lab results.
    • Visit the myDFA web page at my.dfamilk.com to see lab results.

    In addition to seeing test results, DFA members can set up alerts to send an email or text message when a sample tests outside the parameters you set. This way, you can be alerted right away if a sample reflects a change in your milk quality. For information on setting up alerts or logging on to the myDFA web page, contact DFA Tech Support at 1-844-834-1512.

    ELS customers, including non DFA-member farms, can obtain test results by:

    • Calling the voice response unit at 1-800-485-8067.
    • Visiting www.labresults.net to view results (please contact ELS for the initial set up of your user name and password to utilize this service).
  2. Do I need a specific container for my water test sample? How old can the sample be?
    ELS offers a comprehensive range of tests to confirm the quality and safety of water sources including drinking water, waste water and environmental water samples. Water samples need to be delivered to ELS in special containers. There is no charge for the containers, which may be obtained from the lab. You have 30 hours from the time you take the sample to drop it off at ELS to be tested for bacteria tests. ELS offers chemicals, metals, inorganics and additional analytical testing. Contact the lab for more information. For a list of water tests ELS performs, click here.
  3. I need to get some testing done. How do I get my sample to ELS?
    The easiest way to get your sample to ELS is to have your milk truck driver deliver the sample to your dairy plant, where it can be picked up by an ELS sample driver. Contact ELS at 1-877-357-5227 to find out when the driver will be at your plant. If possible, contact ELS in advance and request a quality analysis request form, which should accompany the sample in an ELS special-sample bag. Both items can be sent to you from ELS or you can click here for the online form. You can even request extras to have on hand for urgent testing needs. Occasionally, you may need to get a milk sample to the lab more quickly than the regular plant pick up schedule allows, especially if you are submitting samples for quality tests (PI, plate loop, antibiotics, LPC). In these cases, call ELS to arrange for testing and get overnight shipping instructions as samples for these tests need to arrive at ELS within 48 hours of sampling. You can send your samples directly to ELS by Fed Ex or UPS in an iced Styrofoam cooler or chest. The shipping address is ELS, 1035 Medina Road, Suite 500, Medina, OH 44256.
  4. What routine tests does ELS perform on my milk sample?
    ELS offers a comprehensive range of tests to help dairy producers manage their herds through component testing. Dairy producers can manage quality through standard plate count (SPC), preliminary incubation (PI), laboratory pasteurization count (LPC), coliform counts and freeze point testing. Click here for an explanation of the routine tests ELS offers.
  5. I’ve got my results back. What do they mean?
    • Pregnancy: The result of a pregnancy test is either pregnant or open (not pregnant). If you receive a pregnancy recheck result, that means the cow could be pregnant, but a recheck sample must be done to confirm.
    • Water: Water tests are designed to detect and monitor the presence or absence of contamination by total coliform and E. coli bacteria. Presence/absence results will be positive or negative for coliform and E. coli. Anything positive is above Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety limits. The most probable number (MPN) on those results will provide you with the number of colony forming units (CFUs) of coliform/E. Coli bacteria in the sample.          
    • Bulk tank analysis: What do the different types of bacteria in your bulk tank mean to your operation? Click here to find out about the different types of bacteria, the sources, means of infection, control methods and the result levels.
    • Milk urea nitrogen (MUN): The average of individual cows or bulk tank should be between 10 and 16 mg/dl. (mg/dl. equals one thousand of a gram in one-tenth of a liter of milk). Average bulk tank MUN will be higher for a herd with a higher rolling herd average (RHA). Samples taken just before feeding will naturally result in lower values.
  6. Why do my butterfat tests sometimes differ when both tests were taken on the same day?
    Seeing different test results for samples taken from the same tank on the same day can be puzzling. Two samples with the same date usually mean the hauler picked up milk twice in one day. When the hauler comes back to the farm to pick up milk later the same day, if additional milk has been added to the tank, the test results for the two samples would be different. Agitation is one of the most common reasons for variation in test results. Insufficient agitation time is the leading contributing factor in butterfat test variance. Depending on the size and type of the bulk tank, proper agitation can take from five to forty minutes (follow the manufacturer’s recommendations).If the bulk tank milk is well agitated at both pickups the same day, and no milk had been added to the tank, the results between the two samples should be relatively close. Over-agitation can also result in test variances. Visible fat globules sticking to the side of the bulk tank or floating in the milk are due to excessive agitation and will result in test results that are not representative of the milk produced. Excessive foaming, because the agitator is running too fast or air is leaking into the system, may cause inaccurate test results as well. Foam may contain more fat, bacteria and somatic cells than the milk underneath the foam layer. Freezing of the milk will also cause test variations. Freezing damages the milk fat molecules and they cannot be recovered by thawing. This almost always results in lower-than-normal test results. You want to be certain that you monitor the temperature in your bulk tank.The industry-accepted fat test variation between samples on different days is .40 percent, such as the difference between a 3.60 percent and a 4.00 percent in samples. Accepted differences in the duplicate samples taken the same day, same time is .04 percent, such as 3.60 percent to 3.64 percent. ELS analyzes the milk fat content using state-of-the-art FTIR technology, a process that uses infrared light to measure the component contents of the milk sample. This technology, which is widely used within the dairy industry, is very accurate with standard deviations typically at .02 or less.If you believe that your test results are varying too much, please contact ELS at 877-357-5227. Our ELS staff will be happy to assist you in any way possible.
  7. I want to lower my somatic cell count. What choices do I have other than culling the cows with high counts?
    Producers are constantly striving to lower somatic cell counts to improve herd health and earn quality premiums. Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as just looking at the numbers. There are many factors to consider before sending a cow to the sale barn. Producers should always culture high somatic cell count cows. There are many different types of mastitis-causing bacteria that invade the cow’s udder. Some are contagious, and some are environmental. Some respond to treatment and some do not. Culturing will give you an idea whether it is worth the effort to treat her or if keeping her around increases the risk of spreading the infection to other cows. The first step is to use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) on the cow to determine which quarter or quarters are infected. Then the culture samples from the infected quarters should be sent to ELS for analysis. Be sure to use proper techniques when taking these samples, as the results will be useless if they are not followed (see question 8 for proper techniques). You may want to have the samples checked for Mycoplasma, which is a very contagious bacteria for which there is no cure. You will have to specifically request a Mycoplasma test, as regular culturing does not screen for this bug. It is usually recommended to culture a cow at least twice. Sometimes you will get “no growth” in a sample. Sometimes the bacteria that caused the mastitis has left the cow’s system, leaving only the infection behind. Other types of mastitis “wall off” inside the udder and may not be in the milk the day you take the sample. After you have identified the type of mastitis you are dealing with, you will be able to decide how to proceed. As a rule of thumb, cows with high cell counts and found to be infected with contagious mastitis-causing bugs like Mycoplasma or Staphylococcus aureus are good candidates to cull. Cows with environmental mastitis or Streptococcus agalactiae are not candidates for culling based on cell count alone. Culling should be based on somatic cell count, infection type and general health of the cow. A good dairy veterinarian can help you make the decision either to cull or will provide options for treating the cow. As with most things, it is more effective to prevent mastitis than to treat it once it appears. ELS offers a monthly bulk tank analysis to monitor which organisms are present in your herd. Once you have this information, you can culture individual cows. Your veterinarian may have suggestions on good management practices that may help prevent future infections.
  8. What is the proper way to take a milk sample and why is it so important?
    You make important management decisions based on your milk test results, therefore, it is critical to use proper sampling techniques to ensure accurate results. A contaminated sample causes waste and lost time, not only for the lab, but also for you. By the time the sample has been cultured and the lab determines the sample has been contaminated, several days have passed since the sample was drawn. Now, a new sample will have to be pulled at the farm, transported to the lab and cultured, which further delays getting those critical results back to the farm. If you have a problem you need to correct, your treatment will be postponed. Follow these guidelines to ensure you are taking a proper representative milk culture sample:

    • Prep the udder as you would for milking, by brushing off any loose bedding material around the teats.
    • Strip a few streams of milk from each quarter before applying your pre-dip. The first milk stripped from the quarter will have a higher somatic cell count (SCC). If you do not forestrip the quarters, the sample could have a higher SCC that is not representative of the rest of the milk in the quarter.
    • With your thumb, rub the teat dip around on the teat end. Always wear gloves when sampling for culture. The cracks and crevices you see on your hands harbor bacteria. Gloves are not only easier to keep clean, but also protect your hands from the water and the elements.
    • With a clean, dry, single-service towel or cloth, dry the teat, making sure the teat end is clean.
    • Scrub the teat ends with alcohol. Although alcohol prep pads can be used, cotton balls are better. Scrub the teat end until no dirt appears on the swab. Prep the teats furthest away from you first, to avoid the risk of contaminating the sample by dragging your sleeve across already-prepped teats.
    • Carefully open the vial without touching the lip of the vial. Do not fold the lid back; keep it at a 90-degree angle to the opening and hold the sample vial at an angle when taking the sample. Both of these steps reduce the chance of foreign material falling into the sample. Do not allow the vial to come in contact with the teat end.
    • Begin sampling the teats that are closest to you and then move to those on the far side of the udder, so you do not contaminate an untested teat. If the cow is uncooperative, prep and sample one teat at a time.
    • Fill the vial to the ridged line on the outside. If you are sending in one sample which includes milk from all four quarters, make sure to milk a representative amount from each quarter.
    • When you are finished taking the sample, close the vial and cool it immediately. The best way to cool the sample is in ice water because it cools faster than ice alone. Culture samples may also be frozen and stored.

    The most accurate somatic cell count results come from samples that are collected from the entire milking through a meter or from a weigh jar or pail. If this is not easily accomplished, satisfactory results can be obtained through hand sampling. The best way to ensure accurate results is to follow these proper sampling procedures.

  9. How can I be sure my sample isn’t contaminated by my vial?
    As bacteria counts receive even greater attention in quality milk production, all possible avenues for bacteria to enter the milk stream are scrutinized, starting with the cows and ending at the plant. So, what about the sterility of the sample vials used to collect the milk for the tests? After all, if the vial that holds your milk sample isn’t sterile to begin with, how can you, ELS or the processing plant trust the integrity of the bacteria tests from that sample? ELS, and almost all handlers nationwide, uses sample vials from Capital Vial. This Alabama company is ISO certified, which means their practices for manufacturing sterile vials meet the specifications set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The sterile vials are also FDA-approved. These hinged, flip-top vials are manufactured in a “clean room” environment using an injection mold machine that closes the lid while the plastic is still hot, forming a sterile cavity inside the vial. The vial is then ejected from the mold into a plastic bag that is closed and boxed for shipment to the haulers or plants. Capital Vial tests each lot for sterility.