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Dairy Herd Improvement Program

Dairy Herd Improvement Program

The Dairy Herd Improvement program is sometimes referred to as DHI, DHIA, or DHIR. This valuable tool helps evaluate the progress of your herd’s milk production. You can set goals for your herd so your breeding program has clear direction and a measure of your progress over time and earn permanent dairy stars (those little symbols you often see after the names of registered dairy goats) for all the hard work you’re already doing. DHI is also fairly inexpensive, useful, and exciting!


By testing your goats’ milk at regular intervals, you have a means to track their production using three or four key components: milk weight (in pounds), butterfat (in pounds and percentage), protein (in pounds and percentage), and somatic cell count (SCC). Generally, the better the goat’s genetics, condition, and management, the more the goat will produce. Genetics and diet also play a role in how much butterfat and protein the milk will contain, along with the natural lactation curve (how long since the doe last freshened). As one indicator of the health of the doe’s udder, the SCC may clue you in to early changes so you have an opportunity to catch an infection before it gets out of control.


Going on DHI doesn’t require radical changes for most people. You can even dam-raise kids while you participate in DHI. If you don’t normally bottle-raise your kids, you will have to pull the kids 12 hours prior to the first test and keep them away from mom until you’re done testing (about 24 hours). This is done so that one can gain an accurate measure of what the doe is producing in a typical day, which can’t be done if all the milk goes directly to the kids’ tummies before being weighed and sampled! Of course, depending on the age of the kids at the time of the test, separating kids from mom may require some interim bottle or dish feeding for that day, similar to the demands of exhibiting in a show.


There are a number of programs from which to choose and now with the improvement of the “Owner Sampler” program, there is something for everyone. There are several, very specific rules for DHI that may direct your selection. If you’re not yet ready for the commitment of a full 305-day lactation (about 10 months) or if you don’t wish to test all your qualifying does, try a one day test and just test a few. Last year, with sponsorship from Fair Skies, the Alaska Mini Goat Cache put on an ADGA-sanctioned One-Day Group Milk Test at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer and we’re hoping to do it again this year. It’s an easy, fast, and fun way to earn a dairy star for your goat without a huge commitment or even a lot of advance planning.


No matter what program you choose, it’s best to contact your chosen registry’s DHI committee to get started. From there, you pick a lab anywhere in the US and contact them for a list of certified/licensed testers in your area. Although the sign-up process can seem rather daunting at first, it’s generally just a matter of listing all your does’ information on a spreadsheet and submitting this to your lab and registry of choice (you can elect to report to more than one registry).


The costs to test vary by registry and lab, but usually they run less than $5 per goat per monthly test over a standard lactation, including the sign-up, testing, and even sample shipping fees! Of course this depends on the size of your herd and the more does you test, the less you will be required to pay per goat. Note that some labs require monthly fees regardless of the number of samples you send (even if you send in none!). Be sure to ask about the options they offer and ask for help in selecting the most manageable avenue for your herd.


Among all these advantages of participating in DHI, perhaps the most wonderful is that it provides a means to network and socialize with other like-minded goat enthusiasts. Even if you’re new to goats, consider becoming a tester! It’s usually free and requires only a simple open-book test annually. Once you have your certification, you can test for others. It’s a great way to meet other goat enthusiasts and learn how others manage their herds. Whether you decide to test for others or have your own herd tested, you’ll get to meet up with a friend and talk goats about once a month.



Hoegger Farmyard Contributor

Heather Fair, Fair Skies Dairy Goats at ‘sNo Rest


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  1. by DonnaJoanBatten
    Comment made on: April 3 2012

    Both Juliet and Baby are certified dairy goats. Juliet is a gallon a day milker!

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