Get Social. Get with the Herd. And Let’s Talk Dairy Research Shop!

Get Social. Get with the Herd.  And Let’s Talk Dairy Research Shop!

images (1)

By David Wiens,
DFC Board Member of the Cluster Research Committees

Welcome to our Dairy Research Blog. We’re pleased to offer this new blog to have a conversation with our dairy community (our herd!) on the research we finance in production, genetics and genomics, and human nutrition and health. It’s our place to talk Dairy Research Shop!


Unknown-1.jpegHere we’ll talk about the progress made from 23 new research activities launched on January 1st 2014. Most of the projects end in December 2017 and they’re all financed under this second Dairy Research Cluster funding partnership. (see the article entitle Driving Innovation in Dairy for more information). We’ll also post recent articles and extension information published thanks to the great work done by our science community in the first Cluster (48 projects completed from 2010-2013!). Our infographic on the situation of Canadian milk’s footprint is a great example.

We’ll feature some guest bloggers too so you can meet the scientists doing the research and the many students that support them. We’ll post pictures and videos of research results and extension articles we publish in your favourite magazines. Or, point out new posts made in our Dairy Research Portal website. It has a fresh new look that will give us more research information to chew on. While you’re connecting with us on our Blog, don’t forget to sign up and join the other members of our herd on Twitter and Facebook. Here too we’ll be talking Dairy Research Shop and sharing information that can help you on your farm.

Take a look around the site. Sign up to receive regular updates and join us, get social and get with the online herd!

card1 (1).jpg

Driving Innovation in Dairy

Driving Innovation in Dairy

Driving Innovation in Dairy:  Industry and Government Reinvest in Canadian Dairy Research

Canadian dairy farmers will keep driving innovation in dairy with new investments of $18.8 million in a second Dairy Research Cluster program now in place for the next five years. On September 16, 2013 the Government of Canada announced that it would invest $12 million in the Dairy Research Cluster, partnering with Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Dairy Network and the Canadian Dairy Commission to fund new dairy research projects under the government’s AgriInnovation program.

Dairy Farmers of Canada will lead this second Dairy Research Cluster and invest $5.3 million in addition to the $12 million by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Canadian Dairy Network will invest $669,000 and the Canadian Dairy Commission $750,000, bringing the total to $18.8 million in funding to address the industry’s research priorities from 2013-2018.



There are a total of 23 research projects involving more than 100 scientists, from 15 institutions and 8 government research centres across the country. Some of the nations best dairy scientists  will train more than 65 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows over the next 5 years. The overall objective of the program is to promote the efficiency and sustainability of Canadian dairy farms, grow markets and supply high quality, safe and nutritious dairy products to Canadians.

The first Dairy Research Cluster program (2010-2013) led by Dairy Farmers of Canada and was launched in 2010. This second cluster builds on research priorities and projects carried over in part from the first Cluster.

What follows is a general overview of the research activities under each theme. The projects are slated to begin on January 1, 2014.

THEME 1:  Sustainable Milk Production

GOAL: To improve the competitiveness of the dairy sector and consumers’ perceptions of Canadian dairy products through the adoption of innovative practices and new knowledge that contribute to the economic sustainability of the sector and the strengthening of markets for dairy products.

RESEARCH PRIORITIES: Twelve projects will address the safety of milk as a sustainable source of nutrients through improved animal health and welfare; environmental and socio-economic sustainability of dairy farming; improved milk composition and nutrition using genomics.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES: Research activities under this theme aim to develop new management practices and strategies to improve the use nitrogen through more efficient production of protein by dairy cows; better use nitrogen from manure to fertilize crops; develop improved feeding practices to reduce GHG emissions from enteric fermentation; conserve water and find ways for its more efficient use; and create a self-assessment tool to help farmers manage GHG emissions from different farm practices.

Animal health and welfare will be addressed through a number of projects aimed to minimize the effects of mastitis and improve milk quality and safety; extend the longevity of dairy cattle by developing better strategies for lactation persistency, reproduction and dairy cattle and calf welfare practices; and create a database to collect dairy cattle health information to keep track of the effectiveness of dairy cattle health initiatives.

cluster-chart1_eng2.pngTHEME 2:  Human Nutrition and Health

GOALS: To better understand the link between dairy foods, nutrition, health and wellness in order to improve the health of Canadians and reduce health care costs; to contribute to the economic development of the dairy sector through increased consumption and the commercialization of new products and technologies.

RESEARCH PRIORITIES: Seven projects will include activities that focus on cardiovascular health, metabolic health such as type 2 diabetes, healthy weight and body composition including bone health and optimal nutrition and function.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES: Emerging scientific evidence shows a beneficial role for milk products in reducing the risk of conditions like obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis (all health burdens that add substantial costs to our health care system). More research will be done to better understand the role of milk products in these conditions including the role of regular fat milk products such as cheese, which is an important milk product in the diet of Canadians.

Health Canada is in the process of finalizing a Guidance Document on Health Claims related to food and satiety. The role of milk products on satiety and food intake is an emerging area of research and the role of food on satiety is a current topic of interest for the food industry in relation to health claims. Therefore, research in this area will help to provide the scientific substantiation in accordance with these guidelines.

The results of a recently commissioned systematic review by Dairy Farmers of Canada have identified important research gaps with respect to the role of milk and milk products on bone health. More specifically, there is a need for well-designed studies such as randomized controlled trials. These studies are important for advancing our understanding and in providing the scientific substantiation needed for health claims related to milk and milk products and bone health.

Furthermore, data from some of the research activities will be useful in the formulation of novel and functional foods and provide data within the Canadian context, which is particularly important for developing new health claims in Canada.

THEME 3: Dairy Genetics and Genomics

GOALS: Research activities in this area will help advance and establish national genetic evaluation systems for traits of importance affecting dairy cattle productivity, profitability and competitiveness.

RESEARCH PRIORITIES: Four projects will concentrate on genetics and genomics research that leads (a) genetic improvement for dairy cattle productivity and profitability with emphasis on health and mobility; (b) genetic improvement of milk properties affecting human health; (c) the effect of genetic improvement on GHG emissions; and (d) the development and application of genetic, genomic and epigenomic methods to achieve those objectives.

OUTCOMES: Canadian dairy cattle genetics is widely recognized globally for the outstanding balance of high production combined with the functional conformation required to sustain such productivity over multiple lactations.  These characteristics aim to maximize the possible revenue achievable from a dairy cow over her lifetime. The profitability of a dairy cow and a dairy herd is a function of both revenue and expenses so the activities of this research effort focus on reducing the costs of production, which therefore enhances the durability of the Canadian dairy cow and its competitiveness nationally and internationally.

Projects aim to capitalize on the opportunities and possibilities for higher genetic selection accuracies achievable through genomic evaluation models and the associated genetic selection strategies.

Canadian Dairy Research Portal

New project summaries are posted online at the Canadian Dairy Research Portal Canadian dairy producers and industry can access dairy research information and subscribe to our newsletter Dairy Research Update to keep informed of progress and developments.

What is the Impact of Removing Chocolate Milk from Schools?

What is the Impact of Removing Chocolate Milk from Schools?

Increasing childhood obesity rates have made food intake at school a focal point for policy makers, school administrators, parents, and the media. Flavoured milks are being limited or even eliminated from some schools in Canada and the U.S. … with unintended consequences that could critically hinder optimal nutrient intakes.

Obtenez l’opinion d’une experte de l’Université de la Saskatchewan



Cow Comfort on Dairy Farms

Cow Comfort on Dairy Farms

A team of Canadian researchers and their students visited 240 farms in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta between January 2010 and August 2012. They evaluated the comfort of cows in tie-stall farms, free-stall farms and farms with robotic milking.

Dr. Anne-Marie de Passillé of the University of British Columbia and research collaborators at the University of Calgary, Université Laval, University of Guelph and Valacta developed a tool to evaluate cow comfort by measuring factors on the animals like lameness, body condition score and injury, housing and other facilities as well as herd management. At the end of each visit, a report on the farm’s strengths and weaknesses in light of the requirements and recommendations from the CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE CARE AND HANDLING OF DAIRY CATTLE – 2009 was presented to the dairy producer and discussed to cover any areas that may require improvement.

The team’s results showed that dairy producers are doing well for some measurements and need to improve others. A large number of the requirements and recommendations from the Code of Practice are applied on the farm. However, some dairy farms are showing problems with lameness and with hock, knee and neck injuries. These problems can be reduced through low-cost, easy-to-implement solutions. The results also suggest that, like productivity and reproduction, the variables associated with welfare (mainly lameness and injuries) are related to the longevity of tie-stall cows, estimated by the percentage of cows in their third lactation or more. Their analysis also showed that the factors associated with longevity vary greatly between Quebec and Ontario.

Dairy producers that were part of the study appreciated the On-farm Cow Comfort Evaluation Tool. A follow-up study by the team revealed that over 70% of the producers visited in Quebec and Ontario made changes on the farm further to the discussion of their report of their farm’s results.

Dr. de Passillé recently presented these results to farmers in Quebec and a copy of her presentation and the measurement tools used are available in the Producer Resources section of in both languages. In a follow up study starting in January 2014 under the second Dairy Research Cluster, researchers will measure the economic and productivity advantages of following the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle and develop a simplified advisory tool that dairy farmers can use to improve cow longevity.

Current Perspective on Crampiness in Holsteins

Current Perspective on Crampiness in Holsteins

Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) provides genetic evaluations for a multitude of traits that contribute to dairy farm profitability. In addition to the well-known production, type and functional traits, the type classification system also records a series of defective characteristics at the time each animal is appraised by a Holstein Canada classifier. One of these characteristics, namely “Crampy” within the Feet & Legs section, has received increased interest amongst breeders in recent years so it’s a great time to
report on the ongoing research in this area.

Defective Characteristics

The current type classification system in Canada provides classifiers the opportunity to record the occurrence of any one of 29 defective characteristics, which adjusts the animal’s classification scores accordingly. Ten of these defectives are associated with
the Mammary System while there are seven for each of Feet & Legs and Dairy Strength plus five more in the Rump section of the classification scorecard. When an animal is appraised, the classifier may “tick” the animal as displaying the defective characteristic at two degrees of severity: minor or major.

As CDN processes the classification data to estimate genetic evaluations for Conformation and the other 28 published traits, it also analyzes the data associated with each of the defective characteristics, including “Crampy”. On a sire by sire basis, the frequency of each defective is calculated based on their classified daughters. Ratings are assigned for each bull, which can been accessed on the CDN web site by clicking on the Type Evaluation Details page linked to the sire’s Genetic Evaluation Summary. Bulls with a significant frequency of a given defective characteristic, such as “Crampy”, among their classified daughters are identified with an asterisk (*) next to their negative (i.e.: undesirable) numerical rating.

Genetic Nature of Crampiness

A scientific analysis of defective characteristics reported by researchers at the University of Guelph in 2000 demonstrated a reasonable degree of genetic inheritance for some of the recorded defectives, which included “Crampy”. More recently, CDN conducted a pedigree analysis of progeny proven Holstein sires that had a higher than normal frequency of “Crampy” in their classified daughters. Table 1 lists the group of sires that have at least ten proven sons in Canada of which at least 30% of those sons have a negative rating for “Crampy” and 10% or more have a rating that is -2 or lower. Of the ten sires listed, some demonstrated the crampiness syndrome themselves and some had a higher than average frequency of “Crampy” noted in their classified daughters, but these observations are not true for all of them. Some sires in Table 1 could have a higher proportion of their proven sons rated poorly for “Crampy” depending on the maternal side of their sons’ pedigrees. While it is not clear cut that these sires all transmit the genes associated with crampiness, Table 1 provides strong evidence that there is a genetic component underlying this disease in dairy cattle.


Frequency of Crampiness

Figure 1 shows the frequency that “Crampy” was ticked during classifications carried out over the past twenty years. From 1994 to 2004, roughly 0.2% of classified Holsteins were found to be crampy and this incidence has slowly increased to approximately half of one percent (i.e.: 1 in 200) in 2013. While this increase is not cause for alarm, it has created more interest in “Crampiness”, also known as Spastic Syndrome, among breeders and research scientists. While there seems to be a general perception that a
single elite sire, namely Braedale Goldwyn, has been the underlying source of this trend, the fact remains that less than 1 percent of all his classified daughters have been identified as “Crampy”. There have been other bulls in the breed with incidence rates that approached 10% although most were ultimately not returned to active A.I. status as a proven sire.


In 2011, the DairyGen Council of CDN provided funding on behalf of industry partner organizations to a team of researchers at the universities of Guelph and Ottawa to conduct a 3-year project focusing on the Spastic Syndrome in dairy cattle. The main objectives of the project are to better understand the mode of genetic inheritance of this disease, which is normally considered neuromuscular in nature, and ideally to identify the associated genes. A key benefit to this research is the existing genotypes at CDN for thousands of progeny proven sires and cows, some with crampiness and others without any signs even beyond 8 or 10 years of age. Contrary to initial thoughts, this disease in dairy cattle is complex with possibly a variety of forms of expression and multiple controlling genes. The current project is scheduled to continue through 2014.


The type classification service provided by Holstein Canada for all dairy cattle breeds includes the recording of 29 defective characteristics, one of which is “Crampy”. Previous research and a recent analysis at CDN provide strong evidence of genetic inheritance associated with this neurological disease, which is often referred to as Spastic Syndrome among veterinarians. In association with each genetic evaluation release, CDN also calculates, and displays on its web site, individual bull ratings to reflect the observed incidence of each defective characteristic among their classified daughters. Negative ratings are associated with a higher than average frequency and an asterisk (*) is displayed for ratings that are significant within the breed. On behalf of
all industry partners, the DairyGen Council of CDN funded a 3-year research project to be completed by the end of 2014 that aims to clarify the mode of inheritance of crampiness in dairy cattle and possibly identify any causal genes.

Author: Brian Van Doormaal
Date: November 2013