Dairyfarmsplus.ca instructional webinar online: A How-To on using the tool to improve dairy farm sustainability

An instructional webinar is now available on the Dairy Research Cluster You Tube channel at: https://youtu.be/Nbd1hTGFEPk. Access the recorded webinar at any time for information on how to use the DairyFarmsPlus.ca dairy farm sustainability tool to meet your sustainability goals. Recall that the online tool provides an opportunity to:

  1. Learn and Assess your farm’s sustainability with a self-assessment questionnaire and access to more than 110 best management practices in the BMP library;
  2. Measure and Benchmark your environmental footprint and compare it to the provincial and national averages. By estimating your dairy farm’s environmental footprint, you can establish a baseline for monitoring and assessing your sustainability performance from year to year; and,
  3. Take Action – a section to customize your action plan and prioritize your actions based on the tool’s recommendations and your own preferences or expected benefits.

Many dairy producers have already participated in the webinars organized by AGECO, which takes only about 30-40 minutes of your time. Access the tool at www.dairyfarmsplus.ca and review the instruction manual when you need it to make full use of your time online.

When you’re done, provide your suggestions and feedback to improve the tool by filling in the satisfaction survey online at: http://sgiz.mobi/s3/AGECO-DFPLUS.

For information or questions, please contact:

Edouard Clément, AGECO at edouard.clement@groupeageco.ca or Shelley Crabtree at shelley.crabtree@dairyresearch.ca (Dairy Research Cluster).

 

 

 

 

 

A First Step to Improved Hoof Health: Digital Dermatitis

Canada will have its first genetic and genomic evaluations for Digital Dermatitis (DD) in December 2017, which is the first step towards the direct genetic improvement of hoof health in Canadian Holsteins. This success story has resulted from various research initiatives since 2009, culminating to a national project funded under the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (led by University of Guelph) and then the development of genomic evaluations for Digital Dermatitis in Holsteins.

Collection of Data from Canadian Farms

b23Lameness is a top animal health and welfare issue for Canadian dairy producers with an important economic impact on farms. One of the objectives of recent research was to provide producers with better management information, including genetic evaluations. Researchers identified and selected the Hoof Supervisor SystemTM for use by hoof trimmers across Canada to collect detailed data related to 19 hoof lesions found in 12 regions on each of the four hoofs. This data collection system includes a flow of data from each hoof trimmer to the national database at CanWest DHI and then to Canadian Dairy Network (CDN).

One of the most important hoof lesions recorded is digital dermatitis, which has an incidence rate of 18% among cows presented to the hoof trimmers and a heritability of 8%. CDN therefore developed a genetic and genomic evaluation system specifically aimed at improving resistance to digital dermatitis in Holsteins. The first evaluation from Digital Dermatitis (DD) was officially published in December 2017 based on 300,000 records collected on 125,000 cows in 1,200 herds by 70 hoof trimmers.

Producers interested in this new trait for herd management and genetic improvement should encourage their hoof trimmer to contribute data to the national data collection system and work with their representative from CanWest DHI or Valacta to have their herd data flow through to CDN.

Genetic Evaluations

CDN introduced a new state-of-the-art methodology to calculate the genetic evaluation for each animal, which is automatically a genomic evaluation for genotyped animals. For sires to receive an official progeny proof for Digital Dermatitis, they must have hoof trimmer data reported for daughters in at least five different herds and a minimum Reliability of 70% after including any genomic information available. Given the volume of data currently available, over 2,500 Holstein sires surpass these requirements.  This means that roughly two-thirds of the Top LPI proven sires will initially have an official progeny proof for Digital Dermatitis. On the other hand, every genotyped sire, both progeny proven or not, will receive a genomic evaluation for this trait and the Reliability for most genomic young bulls in A.I. will exceed 60%. Average Reliability values are higher for progeny proven sires, surpassing 80% for those with an official LPI in Canada and averaging 67% for those with a MACE LPI in Canada. All females will also receive an evaluation for Digital Dermatitis and Reliability levels will generally surpass 60% for genotyped heifers and cows.

As for all functional traits, the average DD proof for sires is set to 100. Sires with a higher Relative Breeding Value (RBV) are expected to have a higher proportion of healthy daughters. On average, sires with a rating of 100 are expected to have 82% of their daughters without any case of digital dermatitis and this percentage increases by 1% for every one point increase in RBV for Digital Dermatitis. With a heritability of 8%, these evaluations provide an opportunity for sire selection to reduce the incidence of digital dermatitis in your herd in conjunction with good herd management practices associated with improved hoof health.

For more information visit the Canadian Dairy Network’s website at: www.cdn.ca.

 

Dairy Research Symposium 2018 – Transferring Results for Action

Join us on Friday, February 9, 2018 at the Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm for the Dairy Research Cluster 2 wrap up conference. New research results will be presented on topics like: Genetics and Genomics: Tools for Dairy Business Improvement, Dairy Products: The Total Package and New Science for Dairy Sustainability.

symposium_recher_017_eng

Top experts in their fields will present three interactive workshops:

  1. Factors affecting health, productivity and welfare in AMS
  2. Animal care benchmarking and new practices for dairy calf care
  3. The cost of mastitis and emerging strategies for prevention

 

Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Authors: Dr. Ronaldo Cerri (University of British Columbia) and Meagan King, (Postdoc, University of Guelph)

Why are automated activity monitors (AAM) becoming more popular on Canadian dairy farms? DFC-funded research has shown that AAM can work just as well as synchronization programs while also predicting which cows will have better fertility.

Neck collars or leg pedometers are currently used on 10% of Canadian dairy farms as their main strategy for reproductive management (>50% of inseminations). Visual heat detection and timed AI are still used more than AAM, but this may change as hormone use is further scrutinized.

Two large field trials in Ontario and BC (funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2, supervised by Dr. Ronaldo Cerri at the University of British Columbia and students Tracy Burnett, Augusto Madureira, and Liam Polsky) found that reproduction programs using AAM for heat detection are equally efficient as those relying heavily on synchronization protocols.

Breeding cows based on AAM data had similar pregnancy per AI and days open compared with a strict timed AI program (Presynch-Ovsynch). With goals to improve heat detection accuracy and the use of AAM data to make farm-level management decisions, Dr. Cerri’s research group studies how estrus events and intensity are related to ovulation, ovarian/uterine function, fertility, and performance in dairy reproduction programs.

The researchers also found that cows with high intensity heats and large changes in activity (during spontaneous and induced estrus) had greater pregnancy per AI and better fertility, compared to cows with low intensity heats who had more ovulation failure. Moreover, the top 25% highest-producing cows had heats with the lowest intensity and shortest duration. Older cows, those with low body condition, and those experiencing high temperature-humidity indices (above 65) showed less estrus behaviour as well.

In the BC field trial, each individual farm was a big source of variation in the performance of programs based on heat detection, likely because AAM are more prone to individual farm variations compared with established timed AI protocols. This means that the best reproductive program for each farm may differ based on their specific strengths, particularly whether they can better use AAM or injection-schedules properly and consistently. Anovular cows and those with poor leg health can also impair the performance of AAM reproductive programs.

Ultimately, differences in attitudes and preferences among Canadian dairy producers (highlighted in a nationwide survey by José Denis-Robichaud) should be considered when choosing the optimal reproduction management tools. For example, producers have differing views about reproduction hormones in terms of profitability and long-term effects on fertility. However, for farms already reaching 30 to 35% conception rates from breeding at estrus, doing that will still be more profitable than completing full synchronization protocols.

 

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Authors: Dr. Karin Orsel, Emily Morabito (MSc.) and Caroline Corbett, (Ph.D), University of Calgary

Cow comfort and animal welfare are of great importance to the dairy industry. The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle contains recommended practices and requirements for Canadian dairy producers regarding welfare; however, it is unknown whether changes are actually made on farms, and what effects these changes have on cow comfort.

A research project led by MSc. student Emily Morabito and supervised by Dr. Karin Orsel at the University of Calgary investigated whether changes were made to the freestalls on farms that had previously participated in a cow comfort risk assessment, and then reassessed animal measures of cow comfort described on the Canadian Dairy Research portal. The team found that farms that made changes to the freestall area following the first assessment had a lower percentage of lame cows, and cows had increased average daily lying time compared to the farms that did not make changes, or farms that had never been assessed. Additionally, farmers that had made changes to the freestalls scored certain risk factors for lameness as more important when compared to the group that made no changes.

In the first part of the study, 60 cows were selected on each farm and assessed for lameness, leg injuries and lying time over four days. The 1st group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier and had since made changes to the freestall area; the 2nd group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier, but did not make changes. The 3rd group (14 farms) had never been evaluated previously. Based on the responses from the 1st group, the most frequent changes to the freestall area were increased bedding quantity, changing the stall base to geomatresses, and grooving crossover alleys; however, the specific changes and their effect on cow comfort could not be directly assessed due to the variability in the types of changes, or combination of changes that were made. The changes made are in line with current research, especially those indicating that deep bedded straw or sand, decreases leg injuries that may occur.

Secondly, a questionnaire was conducted on-farm with the producers that was similar to the one they had completed 5 years earlier, and their answers were compared to those that had been provided at the previous assessment. Farmers in the 1st group tended to score risk factors for lameness as more important than those in the 2nd group; however, these producers started with a higher measurement of lameness in the earlier assessment, which may have contributed to their decision to make changes. All farmers scored risk factors as more important during the most recent questionnaire, indicating the previous assessment may have had an impact on producer perceptions of lameness. Additionally, other resources of information resulting from increased industry awareness may have led to all farmers being more knowledgeable regarding lameness and risk factors as time progresses.

This study indicates that those who make changes had improved animal-based measures of cow comfort, and being exposed to cow comfort assessment impacts the perceived importance of risk factors associated with lameness.

Risk Factors for Lameness

  • Cow comfort

  • Facility design

  • Management/Environmental factors

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

The Dairy Research Cluster is pleased to present the 2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action next February 9th at the Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario.

Who should attend?

Canadian dairy farmers, dairy stakeholders and professionals working in the dairy farm sector that want to receive new and emerging knowledge on production and human nutrition and health research and tools have been developed drawing from these projects in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018).

Registration details and a preliminary agenda will be available later in the month of November.

We hope you can join us on February 9th!

Scientific advances in organic dairy farming: Switchgrass as a promising sustainable alternative bedding for cows

A research project financed in part by Dairy Farmers of Canada and its partners under the Organic Science Cluster investigated sustainable alternative sources of bedding for dairy cows. The research team led by Dr. Renée Bergeron (University of Guelph), and collaborators the University of Guelph (Dr. Trevor De Vries), Université Laval (Dr. Doris Pellerin, Dr. Anne Vanasse, Anick Raby) and McGill University (Dr. Elsa Vasseur, Dr. Philippe Séguin, Tania Wolfe) found that switchgrass is a promising alternative to wheat straw as bedding material for dairy cows. They discovered that cows preferred switchgrass over the straw and there were no negative effects on cow comfort, cleanliness and teat end contamination. Switchgrass may also be a more economically advantageous choice for some dairy farmers.

In their study, they assessed cow preference, lying behavior, stall and cow cleanliness and potential bacterial contamination of teat ends. They also analyzed the economic impact of the use of Switchgrass and the best harvesting practices for performance and quality as a bedding.

 UnknownSwitchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a high-yielding, long-term perennial grass grown on marginal land (Sanderson et al., 2006). It is well adapted for growth under temperate climate, is disease and pest resistant, requires low fertilizer applications and is relatively inexpensive to grow and harvest (Frigon et al. 2012).

In a first experiment, nine cows were housed individually in pens with three stalls with different lying surfaces. They were submitted to a preference test for three types of bedding: deep-bedded chopped switchgrass (SG), “switchgrass-lime” mattress (mixture of chopped switchgrass, water and carbonic magnesium lime – farms using organic bedding commonly add lime to reduce bacterial growth), and wheat straw on a rubber mat (control). The cows had been previously exposed to stalls with sawdust covered mattresses. Lying times were recorded and the cows filmed.

pastedImageIn a second experiment, 24 cows in a free-stall housing were offered the same three bedding treatments. Researchers tested the effects of the three types of bedding on lying behavior, cow cleanliness and teat end bacterial contamination. Stall usage was recorded and samples were taken of teat ends and tested for bacteria (coliforms, Klebsiella spp., and Streptococcus spp.).

The researchers found that the cows preferred the switchgrass bedding compared to the other two bedding types when given equal access and choice. The results also showed that the switchgrass and switchgrass-lime deep bedded options were equivalent in terms of lying behavior and cow cleanliness, but the higher moisture content and teat end coliform counts on the switchgrass-lime surface make it a less favorable option. A longer term study would be required to confirm the latter finding.

When wheat-straw and switchgrass were compared for lying time, cleanliness, injury, SCC and teat end bacteria, they were equivalent in terms of comfort and cleanliness.

Harvest and use of switchgrass

The research team also investigated the economic impact of using switchgrass as an alternative bedding and identified harvesting practices to optimize its performance and conservation.

Switchgrass was grown, harvested and dried on two sites in Quebec – at Université Laval and McGill University. The field experiments showed that yields are much higher when switchgrass is harvested in the fall compared to the spring. However, the spring harvest resulted in lower moisture content. Harvesting before or after the first frost in the fall does not seem to affect winter survival or regrowth in the spring and drying efficiency is higher when switchgrass is harvested before frost, compared to after the fall frost. However, the final moisture content of switchgrass remains higher before frost than after frost.

To assess the economic impact of using switchgrass as bedding, ten Quebec dairy farms in five regions of the province were surveyed. For most, it was an economically advantageous choice. Farmers reported that yields and persistence are advantages and other benefits cited included smaller storage space required.

Take away messages:

  • Switchgrass is a promising alternative to wheat straw as bedding material for dairy cows, both as a deep-litter option or used on top of a mattress or mat.

  • There were no negative effects on cow comfort, cow cleanliness or teat end contamination, and switchgrass had better absorbency than straw.

  • Switchgrass may be an economically advantageous choice for bedding on dairy farms.

    For a summary of the dairy-related organic science cluster projects, visit DairyResearch.ca.