Blood, Milk, and Wine, Oh My!- A Team of Many Labs

Being a company focused on providing data and information, it shouldn’t be surprising that we have a number of laboratories here at Dairy One. That’s not to say that it doesn’t create some occasional confusion. There’s the Dairy One Milk Laboratory and the Agro-One Agronomy Laboratory. Then we have the Dairy One Forage Laboratory and the Equi-Analytical and Zooquarious Laboratories. Tucked into the center of the building are three of Dairy One’s Analytical Labs, being run by one team of people: Animal Health Diagnostics Laboratory, Check Mark Laboratory, and Finger Lakes Wine Laboratory.

Animal Health Diagnostics Laboratory

The Animal Health Diagnostics (AHD) Laboratory handles milk and blood pregnancy samples as well as Johne’s analysis. Milk pregnancy samples often come in directly from the Dairy One Milk Lab as this analysis is very popular with many of Dairy One’s DHIA herds. The same sample of milk collected on test day by the DHIA technician is sent to the AHD Lab after it has undergone component testing in the Milk Lab. This analysis tests for protein that is only present in the milk when an animal is pregnant. Milk pregnancy samples are also received directly from farms that are not currently on test with DHIA or that may want to have pregnancy testing done in between DHIA test days. Milk pregnancies are one of the higher volume samples the lab receives, and something they pride themselves on being very efficient at completing. On the wall in the lab is a list of all the records the lab holds for sample analysis. August 2015 holds the highest number of milk pregnancy tests done in a month, and the record high for a day is 834 milk pregnancy tests! For an eight-hour work day, that’s almost 105 samples an hour!

The Johne’s milk test is another test that can be done on a DHIA sample, or can be sent in as an individual sample. This is a test that identifies the presence of the anti-body associated with the Johne’s disease. Sheena was running a Johne’s test while I was in the lab and she commented that Johne’s samples come in very sporadically, as it seems most farms test their entire herds a handful of times throughout the year. “We hardly ever get a sample that is positive for the antibody,” Sheena explained. “You never want to see a positive sample pop up, because it’s obviously not good for the farm, but it does add a little excitement to a test that typically yields the same results.”

Check Mark Laboratory

Any sort of wet chemistry analysis that needs to be done on a dairy sample is covered under the Check Mark umbrella. The Check Mark Laboratory is essentially assuring the quality of dairy products. This can include products purchased by end users such as heavy cream, whey and yogurt, as well as other dairy products more commonly found on the farm such as reconstituted powders, milk replacement products, colostrum, and non-bovine milk. These products are analyzed with wet chemistry to determine components such as fat, protein, total solids, casein, and lactose. The Check Mark Lab manufactures hundreds of control samples for the Dairy One Milk Lab each week to ensure that the instruments stay accurate during testing, but the Check Mark Lab also services outside manufacturers.

Finger Lakes Wine Laboratory

Finger Lakes Wine Laboratory, also known as FLWL or “the wine lab”, is where samples are received from growers and wine makers. Grape juice samples, before and after fermentation, are sent in for analysis of components such as sugars, acids, and nitrogen, a critical nutrient for yeast growth and fermentation. In addition to grape juice samples, the wine lab also receives soil, water, and plant tissue samples which are analyzed in our Agro-One Soils Laboratory down the hall. Developed in 2008, Finger Lakes Wine Lab continues to grow and become a valued tool for growers and wine-makers in the Finger Lakes and beyond.

From left to right: Michelle, Ben, Sheena, Nathan. Not pictured: Tracy

The only thing more diverse than the samples this team works with is the team itself.  Lab Manager Michelle Sadler holds a degree in Food Science from Cornell with a specialization in Enology (that would be the study of wines, how appropriate!). Sheena’s background is in animal science and livestock reproduction, another perfect fit for the lab. It would only be fitting to have a biology and chemistry expert on the team as well, positions that are filled by Ben and Nathan respectively. Tracy rounds out the experience of this group with a history in ice cream production as well as his 15 years with Dairy One, one of which was spent working in the bacteria lab.

When I traditionally think of laboratories, I envision a cold, bright room filled with silent, white coated scientists hunched over Erlenmeyer flasks filled with smoking potions. While there are white coats and Erlenmeyer flasks (I was disappointed to find no smoking potions) in this lab, it is a warm bright space filled with laughter, passion, and teamwork. There is a lot of equipment that I am not qualified to use or pretend to fully understand, but the people utilizing it are more than happy to tell me what it does and show me how it works.  The diverse education, talent, and interests of this group, along with the array of their analytical capabilities, make them an invaluable piece of our business.