Historic information about milk recording

The first historic information about milk recording date back to France, where the first full-scale trials were carried out between 1900 and 1910, and the first Milk Recording Syndicat, came into operation in the Seine Maritime Department in 1907.

Between 1910 and 1925 Milk Recording spread to many countries; C. Porcher, senior lecturer at Lyon Veterinary School, has drawn up a list of these countries in the chronological order in which they adopted the method, drawing his information from the reports of the International Institute of Agriculture in Rome.

Milk recorded cows in Europe in 1935
Figure 1. Milk recorded cows in Europe in 1935
(1 point=2500 cows recorded)

The methodology was not yet firmly fixed, however, and there was much controversy over errors due to use of periodic testing as compared to daily tests. Wildly fantastic figures were quoted, with allegations of a 1596 margin of error from monthly testing.

Reliable experiments gave the following results, reported in the following table:

Weekly tests Twice monthly tests 21-day tests Monthly tests
+ 1.049 + 1.48% + 2.089 + 2.68%

In fact the countries that had grasped the usefulness of Milk Recording chose intervals ranging from seven days to two months, depending on their aims and conditions. Recording at shorter intervals was generally carried out by the farmers themselves, while longer-interval recording was done, as a rule, by specialist Milk Recording technicians trained for the purpose. Many chose a combined system, with fairly frequent tests carried out by the farmer and less frequent control tests carried out by a professional.

The key factor at the time was milk fat content or, more precisely, butter fat, and there was competition among different methods of analysis – the Gerber, Hoyberg, Rosegottlieb, Babcock and Lindstrom methods, some simple but not very precise, others combining greater complexity with greater precision. Discussion was also beginning over measurement of milk dry extract and casein.

As early as 1923 the countries that had set up Milk Recording systems were already attempting to standardize test methods and the form in which results were expressed.

At the International Congress on Agriculture held in Paris in 1923, the following motion was passed:

“As regards Milk/Butter Recording of dairy cows, there is a case for standardizing recording procedures among the countries of Europe. In particular, it should be recommended that milk and butter records be expressed in the same form.”

Such eminent livestock experts as Dr. Hansen of Berlin, Axel Appel of Aarhus and J. Mesdag of Leenwarden also raised this issue at the Hague in 1923. However, each country continued to operate the method best suited to its own conditions and aims – variable intervals, 24 to 48 hour recording, 300, 305 or 330 day lactations, or even annual production, etc.

In his report to the International Congress on Animal Production in Liege in 1930, Dr. Jules Collaud of Frieburg, Switzerland, again mentioned the motion passed at the 1923 International Congress on Agriculture in Paris, showing that the situation had not changed.

But Milk Recording advanced, and a first assessment of the situation worldwide, published by the International Institute of Agriculture in 1924 under the title “Dairy Cow Recording in Different Countries”, listed twenty countries practicing Milk Recording, with a combined total of 1.8 million cows tested.

Eleven years later, in 1935, the same Institute of Agriculture issued an update assessment under the title “Dairy Cow Recording World Wide”. Milk Recording was now being practiced in thirty-four countries and involved 14,000 practicing professional testers, 285,000 farms and 4.5 million cows.

Similarly, in Holland the cow was considered dry and recording stopped once her milk output dropped to 2 kg per 24 hours, whereas other countries continued recording for longer.

Almost all countries were now also concerned with diet, and feed quantities were being recorded in terms of estimated feed value, using either the Oskar Kellner method or the Scandinavian Fodder Unit method developed chiefly by Nils Hanssen in Sweden.

But there was still debate over the test interval; numerous experiments were carried out without leading to any firm conclusions. Weekly tests were “satisfactory”, twice-monthly tests “still provide fairly reliable results in view of the purpose of Milk Recording”, three-weekly tests “are sufficient for practical purposes”, monthly tests “are still precise enough for practical monitoring of dairy cows”, while for two monthly tests “research so far is not adequate to provide a definitive judgement”. There was even controversy over calculation methods.

The idea of international standardization of Milk Recording was first aired long ago. As early as 1922, and again in 1925, the International Institute of Agriculture sent a questionnaire to all countries concerned, and the replies were unanimous in recognizing the need to standardize methods. But despite the efforts made in the Hague in 1923, in Paris in 1925 and in Liege in 1930, no concrete proposal for the creation of an international organization or system of regulations emerged until 1931, at the International Dairy Congress in Copenhagen. A few years later, at the Prague Congress, and again in Budapest, the issue was still under discussion but there was some conflict between “Milk Recording” and “Herd Books”, and standardization of Milk Recording methods remained on the drawing board.

A meeting of European livestock experts was finally called by the FAO on April 23-25th, 1947, in Rome, to study the results so far obtained by the “International Agreement for the Unification of Cattle Herd Book Methods” that had been signed (also in Rome) in 1936.

At the 1947 meeting the experts stated that the aims of the Agreement were of overriding importance for the countries of Europe, in view of their frequent exchanges of breeding animals. In particular, it was necessary to standardize “yield tests” and hence Butter and Milk Recording.

In the light of the experts’ conclusions, the FAO ran a survey on the methods employed in the different countries of Europe, and submitted the findings to a Commission set up to study standardization possibilities. The members of this panel of experts were: Dr. W. Engeler (Switzerland), Prof. A.M. Leroy (France) and Mr. T. C.J.M. Rijssenbek (Netherlands). Meeting in Rome on 16-18/12/1947, they worked out a proposal for standardizing recording methods, calculations and formulation of results. This proposal was sent to all FAO member countries for comments and suggestions; these were summarized and presented to a meeting of the European Committee on Agricultural Technology in Rome, on September 26th-30th, 1949.

On this basis, a new group of experts was nominated to draw up a definitive text for submission to the different countries’ Milk Recording organizations. The new group met in PARIS on October 31st to November 3rd, 1949. Group members were: T. Andersen (Denmark), S. Berge (Norway), W. Engeler (Switzerland), A.M. Leroy (France), F. Lievens (Belgium), B. Maymone (Italy), T.C.J.M. Rijssenbek (Netherlands), plus observers: H. Aersoe (Denmark), J. Mackintosh (England), J. Sentex (France) and S.R. Sijbrandij (Netherlands). Prof. A.M. Leroy was unanimously elected Chairman.

The group drew up a draft agreement, which was sent to all countries for approval. It also proposed the creation of a European Milk Recording Committee, to be made up of representatives of the organizations signing the agreement.

After a gestation period of nearly thirty years, an International Organization designed to harmonize Milk Recording methods, calculation procedures and formulation of results, finally saw the light of day on March 5th-9th, 1951, in Rome (original document in French available here).

A.M. Leroy was unanimously confirmed as Chairman of the group, which then spent five days drawing up the definitive agreement which, with very few alterations, is the one still in force today. The participants themselves signed the agreement once it had been completed, the organizations they represented thus becoming founder members of the new Committee, as listed below. The group then drew up a draft set of statutes.

The European Milk/Butter Recording Committee thus held its first meeting at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture in the Hague, on July 14th, 1951. The statutes were adopted after a few additions or amendments, and the executive officers elected, as follows:

Chairman: Prof. A.M. Leroy (France) (unanimous vote)
Vice-Chairman: J.A. Paterson (Scotland)
Treasurer: T.C.J.M. Rijssenbek (Netherlands).

The Committee’s headquarters and secretariat were installed in the offices of the European Association for Animal Production, Via Quintino Sella 54, Rome. Subscriptions were set at 500 Swiss Francs per member organization, with special terms for Austria (250 Swiss Francs) and Luxembourg (150 Swiss Francs). The Committee paid 3,500 Swiss Francs a year to the European Association for Animal Production as a contribution to the running costs of the secretariat. Lastly, the system for application of the special label was discussed and decided in detail.

The following session was set for March 10th, 1952, in Paris.

The report was signed by Chairman A.M. Leroy and Secretary General Dr. K. de Kallay, also Secretary General of the European Association for Animal Production, who until recently devoted much time and effort to Milk Recording.

At the second session financial aspects were discussed subscriptions were slow to come in. It was requested that the contribution to joint E.A.A.P.- Milk Recording secretarial costs be halved. New membership applications were then discussed.

  • The M.M.B. of England and Wales.
  • Mr. Dulic requested membership for the six Republics of Jugoslavia, with a reduced subscription owing to the drop in herd numbers due to the recent drought.
  • Mr. Mahony stressed that Ireland could not join because the definition of the lactation period was too loose.
  • Finland was invited to make a specific application.
  • Mr. Engeler announced that Switzerland would be joining in the near future.

Lastly, Ms Sentex (France) had been asked to report on the Milk Recording situation in the signatory countries. The figures supplied were not readily comparable, and a standard method for Milk Recording statistics was to be proposed for the following session, to be held, on Mr. Paterson’s invitation, at AYR in Scotland on June 30th, 1953.

At AYR, finance was again on the agenda; some members had still not paid their subscriptions. Tunisia joined the Committee. Finland and Ireland explained why they could not yet join. The results of a survey on the cost of Milk Recording in terms of kg of milk were announced:

Austria 70 kg France 75 kg Netherlands 60-70 kg
England and Germany 70-75 kg Scotland 25 kg Switzerland 75 kg
Wales 30 kg Ireland 27-28 kg  
Finland 50 k Luxembourg 70 kg  

The Rapporteur was asked to define the reasons for the marked differences between countries.

First milk recordings in the World

The following is the beginning of milk recording (approximate year of first milk recording) in selected countries.

USA; 1883
Denmark; 1895
Germany; 1897
Hungary; 1897
Finland; 1898
Norway; 1898
Sweden; 1898
The Netherlands; 1899
Austria; 1900
Iceland; 1903
Scotland; 1903
Latvia; 1904
Poland; 1904
France; 1905
Czech Republic; 1905
Australia; 1909
Estonia ; 1909
Ireland (Rep.); 1910
Argentina; 1911
Canada; 1911
England and Wales; 1914
South Africa; 1917
Belgium; 1919
Northern Ireland; 1921
Italy; 1922
Switzerland; 1922
Lithuania; 1923
Slovak Republic; 1925
Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia); 1929
Rumania; 1930
Luxembourg; 1933
Spain; 1933

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