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Easter Laboratory Service FAQ
   
 

1. Questions on using the web site.  

 1a. Why can't I access my lab results or place standards orders?

 
 1b. How often are lab results updated on the page?  
 1c. When I click the button to view lab results, nothing happens?  
 1d. Can I view the orders I've placed online?  
   
2. Questions on milk sampling  

 2a. I’d like to have some milk testing done.  How do I get my sample to ELS?

 
 2b. What is the proper way to take a milk sample and why is it so important?  
 2c. How can I be sure my sample isn’t contaminated by my vial?  
   
3. Questions on milk quality and disease  
 3a. I want to lower my somatic cell count.  What choices do I have other than culling the cows with high counts?  
 3b. What can I do to ensure I don’t bring mastitis into my herd when I purchase new cows?  
 3c. What tests can ELS perform to help me learn how individual cows are performing?  
 3d. Why do my butterfat tests sometimes differ when both tests were taken on the same day?  
   
4. Questions on water testing  
 4a. I’d like to have my well tested.  Does ELS test water?  
   
1. Questions on using the web site
 1a. Why can't I access my lab results or place standards orders?

Access to either the lab results or standards ordering section are restricted. To access either of these sections, you must first submit an access request form. Once submitted, please allow 1-2 business days for an ELS customer service representative to review your request and grant you access. Once granted, you will receive an email informing you that you can now access your lab results and/or order standards.

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 1b. How often are lab results updated on the page?
New lab results will be posted every business day. To ensure accurate reporting, we review all lab results to verify accuracy before posting on the web site.

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 1c. When I click the button to view lab results, nothing happens?
When you click the button to view your lab results or save them as a CSV file, the information is pull up in a new window. This allow you to simply close the window when finished and pull up more results if needed. This can cause some problems with pop-up blocking software. If you have a pop-up blocker installed on your machine, disable it and try pulling up your results again.

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 1d. Can I view the orders I've placed online?
At this time, we are not saving orders placed on our web server. When you place an order, the information is sent to our ELS office and is processed offline. Your billing and shipping information is also stored offline. If you have questions regarding your order, are seeking confirmation, or have other questions regarding your order, please contact us and we will do our best to assist you.

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2. Questions on milk sampling
 2a. I’d like to have some milk testing done.  How do I get my sample to ELS?

The easiest way to get your sample to ELS is to have you milk truck driver deliver the sample to your dairy plant, where it can be picked up by and ELS sample driver.  Contact ELS at 877-357-5227 to find out when the driver will be at your plant.  If possible, contact ELS in advance and request a “special sample request form” which should accompany the sample in an ELS “special sample” bag.  Both of these items can be sent to you from ELS.  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 pick-up schedule allows.  In these cases, call ELS to arrange for testing and get overnight shipping instruction.  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 Rd. Suite 500, Medina, OH  44256.

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 2b. What is the proper way to take a milk sample and why is it so important?

Because you make important management decision based on your milk test results, 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). This means if you do not fore-strip 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 that 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. Also, 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. If you have questions or need a demonstration of these procedures, contact a member of the Eastern Lab Services staff.

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 2c. 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. The question arises, “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 that 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.

ELS tests each lot of sample vials that we receive as part of our ongoing quality control process. In addition, the Market Administrator tests each vial lot for leakage. With the constant control checks and monitoring in place, we are confident in the quality of the vials that we use. This means that you, too, can be confident that your bacteria results are not elevated because of a contaminated sample vial.

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3. Questions on milk quality and disease
 3a. 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 Eastern Lab Services for analysis.  Be sure to use proper techniques when taking these samples, as the results will be useless if they are not followed. A member of the ELS staff will be happy to review those proper sampling techniques with you. You can also see the information on Proper Sampling Technique in the FAQ section.

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.  This could be for several reasons.  Sometimes the bacteria that cause 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 to treat the cow.  He or she can also give you treatment options.

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 also have suggestions on good management practices that may help prevent future infections.

You can also click here for more information on interpreting your Bulk Tank Culture results.

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 3b. What can I do to ensure I don’t bring mastitis into my herd when I purchase new cows?

You wouldn’t invest in a house or a car without inspecting your purchase ahead of time. Consider similar precautions when you invest in additional cows. Culturing cows before making them part of your herd can prevent the spread of mastitis from new animals to your healthy herd.

Ideally, you could make your purchase contingent on the results of culture tests from ELS.

If you are unable to culture the cows before bringing them to your farm, isolate the cows from the rest of your herd and milk them last until you get your culture results back. Then, you can integrate the healthy cows into your milking string with confidence and treat or cull the remaining cows.

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 3c. What tests can ELS perform to help me learn how individual cows are performing?

ELS has the capability to test individual cows for components, somatic cell count (OSCC) and culture information, which are basic tests.

Another test available to ELS customers is the Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN) test. The results from the MUN analysis will help you in determining how well your cows metabolize the protein that’s available in the feed. A cow can efficiently utilize only so much protein. Feeding too much protein wastes money while feeding too little reduces the milk volume.

Click here for more information on MUN testing.

Contact ELS to arrange for testing of individual cows. For a quote on the tests ELS can run for you, contact ELS at 877-357-5227.

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 3d. 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 that 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 40 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 will 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 is widely used by the dairy industry. It 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.

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4. Questions on water testing
 4a. I’d like to have my well tested.  Does ELS test water?

ELS offers a full compliment of water tests. 

The health of your water well is important. When bacteria like coliforms or E.coli take up residence in a water supply, they can have a serious impact on your operation.

Several signals point to problems with a well. “There are physical symptoms of contaminated water, such as a change in taste, odor or clarity,” says John Rhoads, Manager of Eastern Lab Services. “In addition, depending on the type of contamination, you could become ill.” For dairy farmers, the water used to clean the milking and storage equipment could be a potential source of raw milk bacteria.

What makes well water suddenly become unusable? “There are any number of contamination causes,” says John. “You may have a crack in the well housing. There could be leaking underground tanks near the well, farm runoff, chemical spills or misapplication of chemicals nearby. Do not overlook the possibility of an overloaded septic system, either.”

The ELS water testing department will test your water and let you know the cause of problems. When you call ELS to request a water sample vial, you will also get instructions on how to properly collect your water sample.

ELS suggests a prescription to make your water supply safe again. “For controlling bacterial contamination, our first recommendation is usually to chlorinate the water supply,” says John. “Quarterly testing of water for bacteria also helps keep bacteria in check.”

Regulatory agencies suggest that as a standard precaution in maintaining bacteriologically safe water, private water supplies should be checked quarterly for the presence of total coliforms and E.coli.

There may be other serious contaminates of rural water supplies. The top three are lead, nitrates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Lead may be responsible for serious health issues. Lead pipes and solder, found mainly in older homes, are usually the source of the pollutant.

High concentrations of nitrates are common in agricultural areas and can be dangerous to infants and young children.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are man-made liquid chemicals. Because VOCs are used so often, they appear in drinking water supplies, mainly due to spills. Some common VOCs include gasoline, oil and dry cleaning fluids.
 The ELS water testing department can help you maintain a healthy water supply. Periodic analysis will establish a baseline to watch for natural or man-made environmental causes. “If you ever suspect someone else’s actions may have contaminated your well, it will be important to have a baseline to prove it.  Without that baseline, a well owner may be unable to receive reimbursement for the cost of restoring a safe water supply,” says John.

If you suspect any problems with your water supply, please call ELS at 877-357-5227 for assistance.

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