At Home Lab for Milk & Colostrum?

Last month we talked about how essential it is to calf success to have clean colostrum! In this post we are going to show you how to set up your very own lab at home so you can make sure your counts are staying low and your calves are getting the highest quality colostrum possible.

Setting up an at home lab can be a great way to easily and quickly spot check both your cleaning and sanitation protocols, and keep track of your pasteurizer or other additives, like DK-ll, for effectiveness in your colostrum program.

Bacteria in milk can lead to many issues. If you use waste milk, and it’s not pasteurized, it can be the host for transferable diseases, like salmonella, mycoplasma, and many others. Bacteria that can quickly set your calves back, causing scours and secondary diseases down the road.

If you are feeding milk replacer and it is going through any kind of hose or pump, it can be difficult to get deep into the hose with an ATP meter swab, and it also won’t give you specific SPC or E. Coli counts for your equipment either, making it difficult to see where you sit in terms of how clean your milk and feeding system are!

After switching milk replacer companies a few years ago, we lost access to free milk testing through the company. We would send in samples periodically, but we didn’t know what was going on from one sample to the next (we really only sent samples in when we were having problems).

We wanted a quick and easy way to DIY our milk samples, and also save money on shipping and testing costs.

So we started to explore the option of an in house lab to check plate counts.

That sounds expensive and challenging, right?

I thought so too. I did some work in college with plating and microbiology, but I didn’t know if I had the skills to set something up like this at home.

Like usual, I started by doing some research on the things I would need. As it turns out, there isn’t much information out there about plating milk and colostrum samples for calves!

My first resource was Minnesota’s Easy Culture Guide. I quickly found out this wouldn’t be enough specific information for what I was trying to do, but I bought the recommended items and tried it out.

After following their guide, and doing my own research, and trial and error, I decided it would just be better if I made a guide for calf raisers specifically, not just cow people!

Here is a list of all the things I used to do colostrum and milk testing at home!

Tools and Equipment for at Home Milk and Colostrum Plating



E. Coli


10mL Pipette 

1 mL Sterile Serological Pipettes

Collection Jars

Optional – Backlight to easily read plates


E. Coli Plate Tutorial 

SPC Plate Tutorial

General Plating Information

After buying a cheaper incubator, and having access to a more expensive one, I learned I much prefer the cheaper one! I have the Amazon link in the link above!

Secondly, it turns out an agar petri dish and swabs are not the best way to go about doing this type of plating. After some trial and error, I found that I much preferred to use the 3M plates instead. You can find them here!

E. Coli Plates

SPC Plates

The next issue I had was finding the right dilution to use for both SPC plates and E. Coli plates, because your E. Coli should be significantly lower than your SPC, which means the dilution will be different. Trial and error is the best way to find what will work for your samples, because each farm will differ!

Lastly, I started off with counting the plates with good overhead lighting, but after a few plates you get a little dizzy! I found out that a very helpful tool is a tracking light board! It’s not essential but it will make your life easier.

If you are looking to set up your lab and are looking for some additional help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Also, we will be doing a series on TikTok on how to do you own plate counts, follow us @avagroupinc_smartcalf!

Next, we will be talking about areas of improvement if you are struggling to get your plate counts down!

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