Dairy Farm Gadgets and Goals

It’s still snowy and cold here so I won’t even attempt to talk about spring planting or field work. Let’s just say it’s going to be a few weeks…

The other morning even Boo, who normally wants to go out first thing about 5 am, looked back at me mournful of the snow.

Instead, I thought I would take the time to blog about a new gadget I’ve been using at the farm.


Spiffy, right?

I like bright, and I was even surprised by the bright colors it came in. 🙂

It’s a digital refractometer, and for my purposes it measures the amount of solids in fluid milk.

We’d been wanting something accurate to do this for awhile, and our dairy supply store recently starting carrying this easy-to-use model (that you don’t need a PhD to decipher).

Perhaps I should back up for a second and explain why we need this.

We pasteurize some of the milk from our cows to feed to the baby calves.

Our pasteurizer looks like so:


There is a little pump on the bottom right that pumps the milk through that clear hose (also on the right) and out through a nozzle. We use this to fill all the bottles and then bring the bottles out to the calves.

Back to the refractometer.

We want to measure the solids in the milk — made up of fat, protein, and other solids — so we can make sure the calves are getting consistent milk.

You see, cows have natural variation in their milk. Some have more fat and protein while others have less. For example, a low cow may only have 3.1% fat and 2.7% protein while another cow has 3.8% fat and
3.2% protein.

Certain breeds of cow, like Jersey, have richer milk and may give up to 5% fat and 4% protein.

These may seem like small differences, but too much fluctuation can upset a calf’s delicate stomach.

Because the milk our calves get is always a mixture of several cow’s milk the solids should stay pretty even. “Should” is the key word, so we wanted to start monitoring it.

Mainly we want consistency, and I’ve been creating a chart of solids % from my readings twice daily which has been in a good range from about 12-13%.

If we find the milk too thin we would look into purchasing a powdered supplement to add, and if it was way too rich we could add a bit of water.

So far so good. Just a few drops of milk and a few seconds is all it takes.


We can also measure our colostrum, which is the extra rich milk a cow gives right after she has a calf. We want the colostrum to be 20% solids or higher for the new baby, and if it’s much less than that we may need to supplement it with powdered colostrum replacer or colostrum from another cow.

Sorry if I got too technical here — I even feel a bit of information overload!

Running Tales

In my title I also mentioned something about goals, and I do want to touch base on my goals for Saturday’s half marathon.

Normally I’ve got several tiers of time goals, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a specific time in mind.

But I have something else at the forefront of my brain. I keep thinking about the Boston Marathon, and I know I will continue to think about it during the miles of my race.

What I want most on Saturday is to take nothing for granted. I’m so grateful I’ve got a healthy body that can run, and I’m glad we live in a free country where I can choose to train and race without restriction.

On Saturday I want to run the best race I’m capable of in whatever conditions the day brings.

Running is physical, but running is even more about the heart. Many people put their heart into running the Boston Marathon, and many more put their hearts into helping those in need this past Monday. I want to honor that heart and that spirit.

As I’ve said before, I’d love a PR and need to hit 1:54 to achieve that. But I now realize it’s just as important that I reach out to those around me, cheer on fellow runners, and say thanks to those who make the race possible.

In all areas of life (not just running) it’s important to take time to smile, say thank you, laugh, and celebrate the people and milestones that matter.

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
This entry was posted in Baby Calf Care, Running and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dairy Farm Gadgets and Goals

  1. Terzah says:

    That was very interesting about the milk–it makes sense that different cows give different consistencies of milk, but I hadn’t thought of it!

    Good luck in your half. I’m feeling that way about my marathon in a week and a half. Yes, I still have my goal, but I also want to enjoy the experience no matter what.

  2. Heidi Nicole says:

    That is really cool about the milk – I think it will be interesting to see the long term variations, say over the seasons.

    Good luck with your race, soak it all up and just be there…oh, and work hard for that PR or how ever close you can get to it!

    • Lisa says:

      I should add that our bulk tank milk (that gets sold and picked up by the milk truck everyday) is also tested daily for fat and protein at the lab. We get paid based on these components, so it’s already something we monitor. This small-scale version is new & cool though. 🙂

  3. Good luck this weekend!

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