Launch of a new research component on udder health and milk quality

Launch of a new research component on udder health and milk quality

By Hélène Poirier, agr., transfer manager, CBMMQRN

The awarding of $1.7 million from the Dairy Research Cluster 2 means new momentum for the activities of the Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network. Eleven new projects will start up in early 2014.  Nearly 30 researchers across Canada are involved. A number of these projects follow up on the promising work carried out by the Network, and this new funding will make it possible to go further and bring about even more concrete applications for dairy farmers. Problems with udder health and milk quality remain a major concern for the dairy industry.

A vote of confidence for the dairy industry

It is the Dairy Farmers of Canada that is managing the funding for the Dairy Research Cluster 2 program. “The research program submitted by our Canadian Network was accepted in its entirety and is extremely well supported by the dairy sector. It must be said that, since 2006, we have always been able to count on the involvement of a number of dairy farmers in the actual preparation of our scientific programming,” said Dr. Simon Dufour, Scientific Director of the Network. According to Dr. Mario Jacques, Administrative Director, “It is a great show of confidence in our organisation by DFC and evidence that, in the past, we have been able to generate convincing results.”

A strong network 

The Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network brings together nine universities and two federal research centres from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Researchers from a number of disciplines (e.g. veterinarians, microbiologists, biologists, agrologists, physiologists, sociologists) make up the large team of researchers who have been working closely since the Network was created. “The networking ability within our group is a dynamic force for advancing the research. We have managed to innovate through the joint action among researchers and institutions, and we are very proud of that. Our projects will be carried out by multi-disciplinary teams, which is a major asset in taking the research to another level. Also, the co-operation among institutions enables us to combine our efforts and our expertise to obtain research grants rather than compete with one another,” says Dr. Dufour and Dr. Jacques who, themselves, are researchers affiliated with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Université de Montréal and who provide leadership for the Network in partnership with their colleagues in the eastern and western parts of the country.

Dreaming the impossible dream…?

Mastitis will never be completely defeated given the multitude of pathogens involved and the various transmission routes. However, we can dream about better control over mastitis. Udder health is a timely and promising research topic. The Network is very much aiming for a better understanding of the action mechanisms of the bacteria at issue and to fine-tune cost-effective diagnosis methods.  Researchers are also setting their sights on preventive measures in order to develop vaccines and assess the risk factors associated with repeat cases of mastitis on the farm, a highly frustrating aspect of this health problem. In addition, our research team is also staying focussed on the development of new treatments or on the development of strategies for more judicious use of antibiotics.

The CBMMQRN’s new research programme still addressing the problem from many perspectives

And what if, after confirming how time in a lying position and in a standing position affected udder health, one of the behaviour specialists from the University of Guelph, Trevor DeVries, was to then identify what environment provides an the best ratio, between these positions that fosters the health of the mammary gland? Such findings would promote animal health and welfare and would address a growing concern among producers and consumers. As a bonus, it would prevent mastitis-related issues such as milk withdrawals, the risk of antibiotic residues, higher SCC counts and the associated loss of milk …

And what if, after confirming the ability of staphylococci to produce a biofilm (a protective layer around the bacteria) and demonstrating that certain disinfectants can counteract them, the research were to continue to then identify beneficial anti-biofilm substances produced by certain bacteria? And what if we manage to validate the effectiveness of the anti-biofilms either alone or in combination with anti-bacterials? The work of Mario Jacques’s team could lead to an entirely new method for controlling intra-mammary staphylococcus infections!

And what if, after discovering a molecule considered to be a new class of antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus, François Malouin’s group from the Université de Sherbrooke with the co-operation of Pierre Lacasse, a researcher at AAFC’s DSRDC1, were then to develop stable and improved compounds able to undergo potential clinical trials on herds? This work would constitute one of the final steps before marketing this new treatment not resulting in antibiotic resistance. Imagine the huge step that would be taken for reigning in one of the most devastating bacteria for udder health …

And what if, after validating a tool for quick bacteria identification on the farm,  Jean-Philippe Roy’s team from the Université de Montréal were to then develop a protocol that can be used by producers for selective treatment (during the dry period) targeting only infected quarters? The use of antibiotics could be further reduced and thereby curb the onset of antibiotic resistance and significantly reduce costs at the farm.

And what if a team from the University of Prince Edward Island, headed by Greg Keefe, were to manage to refine reliable laboratory methods for a fraction of the cost of current technologies? What if it were possible to routinely introduce them to perform an accurate diagnosis of the CNS species, the most widely spread group of pathogens in our herds? By no longer having to consider them as a single large group of bacteria, veterinarians would be better able to support producers with more adequate control methods.

And what if the research were to get even closer to dairy farmers’ day-to-day reality?

What if David Kelton’s team from the University of Guelph managed to fully understand the impediments that adversely affect the implementation of practices for managing udder health that have already been proven?

What if Simon Dufour’s group from the Université de Montréal were to measure the true economic impacts of mastitis and management practices that themselves have been recently validated? And what if they were able to identify the causes of re-occurrence of clinical mastitis?

What if Herman Barkema’s team from the University of Calgary were to carry out work for assessing the impact of on-farm management practices on the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

Admit it…there is a lot to dream about when reigning in mastitis…

No escapes … just possible solutions!

Dreaming…we’re not really dreaming at all, since many advances have been made by the CBMMQRN already. “Our research hypotheses are firmly based on the reality of dairy farming. They were developed and validated by both scientific experts and those in the field, i.e. dairy farmers themselves. They are present at virtually all stages, from preparation of our research to its practical application in the field. They guide our choices and also confirm for us what direction to take. This is what keeps the Network and our projects on track through every stage of the research process!” concluded the two Network directors.

1 Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada located in Sherbrooke

2 Coagulase-negative staphylococci

The projects mentioned in this article are among the CBMMQRN’s projects that will be funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (Dairy Farmers of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Dairy Network and the Canadian Dairy Commission)

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