by Steve Wagner
Angela Scaramuzzino is a microbiology technician who works at the Lancaster Dairy Herd Improvement Association (LDHIA) in Manheim, PA. Angela busily seems to be everywhere in the DHIA building at the same time. “I test milk making sure that it is safe to drink,” she says, which almost makes it sound easy. “My primary job is milk pregnancy tests that we run every day but I also work in the micro-lab and culture lab.” She graduated from Delaware Valley College with a degree in livestock science and management, “which is large animal science. I focused a lot on large animal reproduction which I really enjoy. In the lab, we get a variety of herds, large and small, to family cows to pets. There’s nothing I don’t see that comes through here.” Holsteins probably dominate in Pennsylvania, but Scaramuzzino also assays crossbreds, Jerseys, Swiss, etc.
“The evolution of the milk pregnancy came from questions that were frequently asked by producers over the past 18 years,” says LDHIA’s Executive Director Jere High. “‘Well, you’ve got my milk samples. Can you tell me what kind of mastitis that she has? Can you tell me if she’s pregnant?’ Those are the two dominant topics we’ve been asked by farmers. Several companies over the years would introduce something and say they are ‘working on getting it done in milk.’ That’s all we would hear year after year. IDEXX Laboratories, though, was getting ready to release Elisa Milk Pregnancy test last summer into early fall. They saw an opportunity to do something that our members have been asking for. The reliability of the test was established and we soon began testing. I’m not saying it isn’t controversial, depending upon how the vets perceive it as competition. We’re not trying to cut out the veterinarians because they still are needed on the farm. . . What we really want the guys to do is to cut down on the number of cows that are dried off open and to help find open cows more quickly.”
Is milk pregnancy testing catching on? “It’s growing,” High says. “Right now we’re averaging about 150 samples a day.” He is referring to his customer base in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont. “It is primarily a northeast thing but it’s going across the country. There are probably 10 or 11 labs now that are starting to offer this test within the past six months, after we got it started here in January.” The innovative process has been around since autumn of 2012. LDHIA began offering the test in mid-January of this year. High notes that LDHIA, “has been averaging 2600 to 2700 samples per month for the past four or five months, and for the past two months has been knocking on the door of 3,000. August was a little over that.” But the truly awesome aspect, according to High, is “the fact that we have 11,000-12,000 samples a day flowing through here for DHI testing. Those samples are all candidates for this milk pregnancy test, and for other testing with the milk. Here is where we can say ‘here is a cow that you thought was pregnant but is open’; or ‘you’re just doing the pregnancy check, have your vet look at your open cows because there could be something wrong with them health-wise.’”
Would High be so bold as to say that this is the wave of the future? “It is a tool for the future,” he says, “because it is not going to replace the veterinarian. It is not going to tell us if a cow is cystic. It is not going to tell us if there’s a CL (corpus luteum) right and left but it will be a tool to aid the vet and the farmer in detecting pregnancy. A vet still needs to be involved. It will change, and has changed, how vets and farmers look at this tool because it is something that helps them instantly. Where we’re finding that veterinarians are behind it is in regions that are much more rural than Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These are where you get into the north and northwest in Pennsylvania, or Vermont, areas where it’s more difficult for the vet to service a larger geographical area. Sometimes they can’t get to the farmer every month.”
LDHIA members are already privy to this service for the most part. Otherwise, word is getting out through events like Ag Progress Days, trade shows, and trying to talk to various publications. LDHIA field staff is also armed with supplies, and they stop in with non-members, too. “We’re actually starting to see customers using this, who are not our customers but are mailing them in,” High reports.
Any advantages would be for the LDHIA customer. All their milk samples are already going to LDHIA; they merely have to tell the technician “I want you to check these ten cows for milk pregnancy.” Putting it another way, the client goes right through the lab and continues on into the culture lab for the pregnancy test. “Another thing is,” High reminds us, “we’ve designed little boxes that customers can use during the month. These contain little test tubes, or vet vials, with a pre-paid label to send back to us.” So far, these test kits have been coming from Vermont, New York, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Ohio, but mainly from the northeast.
“The most interesting part of the process,” Scaramuzzino says, “is when farmers call up with questions; there’s always something new that I’m learning from them. Running the tests is pretty interesting but what it does for the farmers is probably the most interesting to me. People use these tests in a variety of ways.”
“What we’re doing is promoting a mid-to-late lactation pregnancy check. Let us help you find your open cows so you can get them pregnant,” High concluded.
by Steve Wagner