First National Dairy Study about to get underway

First National Dairy Study about to get underway

By: Dr. David Kelton, Professor, Population Medicine, University of Guelph

Starting in January, 2015, the first National Dairy Study will be conducted across Canada. This is a research initiative funded by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada the Canadian Dairy Network and the Canadian Dairy Commission through the Dairy Research Cluster 2 Program. The study is modeled after the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) studies that occur periodically in the United States. The goal is to gather health and management information from a random sample of dairy farms across the country in order to describe and benchmark the current state of the Canadian dairy industry. 

In the spring of 2014, various dairy stakeholders were recruited to prioritize the topics for the upcoming Canadian study through an on-line questionnaire. Response was overwhelming with over 1,000 respondents. Animal welfare was the number one management issue identified, while lameness was the number one health issue. Other management issues were: biosecurity, costs of disease, antibiotic use, food safety, reproductive and udder health. Top health issues included: calf diarrhea, respiratory disease, bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), enzootic bovine leukosis (EBL)/bovine leukemia virus (BLV), Johne’s disease, E. coli (food safety), and S. aureus mastitis. These issues have formed the framework for the upcoming study.

The study will be conducted in two phases. Phase I will get underway in early 2015, and will consist of a questionnaire administered either on-line or via telephone to a randomly selected number of producers. The selection process will ensure all provinces will be proportionally represented and will include farms that are and are not currently registered with a milk recording agency. This phase will help establish national benchmarks for production and dairy farm management. In the second phase of the study a subset of farms will be visited during the summer of 2015 by regional teams of university students who will collect biological samples from animals and data about specific management and disease issues.

The results from this collaborative, proactive initiative will benefit producers in many ways. Participation in the first phase will generate data that will allow them to compare their operation to local, regional, and national benchmarks. Participation in the farm visit will provide them with free test results for selected diseases of importance in Canada. In addition, the results will help guide future research and the development activities for agriculturally based companies, educators and researchers at universities. Lastly, it will help to reinforce the strong reputation for food safety and sustainability that the Canadian dairy industry has among consumers.

For a summary of the study, visit

Better Comfort, Better Farm Performance: Research leads to development of “How-to” for animal comfort improvement

Better Comfort, Better Farm Performance: Research leads to development of “How-to” for animal comfort improvement

By : Elsa Vasseur, University of Guelph (Alfred Campus),

Since 2010 I’ve been working with dairy scientists and students from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Universities of British Columbia, Calgary and Guelph (now my university base) and Université Laval, as well extension specialists from Valacta Inc., on a project to develop a tool to assess and improve the comfort of dairy animals in tie-stall and free-stall barns in Canada (Dairy Research Cluster (2010) It has been an amazing experience on many levels. In the end, we were able to design a tool that is easy to use and that can effectively help farmers make immediate changes to improve the well-being of their animals and ultimately their farm’s performance.

I designed the cow comfort tool as an ‘adult’ version of a tool previously designed in collaboration with my colleagues from Quebec in 2009 to assess rearing management of dairy calves. The calf tool has been a great success with very positive results.

Developing an assessment for cow comfort is a tedious process and our success in completing it was due to the extent of the strong collaboration between our team of researchers across Canada. And only possible with the valuable input and leadership we received from the industry – the end-user of this tool. We used the Dairy Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle as the reference to set up targets to achieve. The tool is designed to help producers assess how well they are meeting the Code of Practice and identify management and environmental modifications to potentially improve dairy cow comfort on their farms. The assessment tool is composed of several documents to allow a complete assessment of risk factors and outcome measures of cow comfort (including: questionnaires, in-barn checklist, detailed SOPs, scoring documents). A copy of the tool and its documents can be accessed on (

It is fantastic to receive positive feedback from the producers that were evaluated (and who did not always receive top scores!). Comments like ‘very useful’, ‘will help me to improve things on my farm’ were received. Furthermore, the uptake of the tool by Dairy Farmers of Canada to help develop the DFC-NFACC animal care assessment program, which is now part of the proAction Initiative: On-Farm Excellence, proves how timely we were to develop research material that could be directly used by the industry and benefit farmers across the country.

To view a copy of the scientific article:

Index Weights: What You See Is Not What You Get!

Did you know traits like milk yield, Conformation, Rump and Calving Ability aren’t included in the LPI? Do you feel these traits are important in your sire selection and herd improvement program and SHOULD be included in the LPI formula? Allow us to put your mind at ease – just because some traits aren’t included in an index like the LPI doesn’t mean you won’t make progress for them when selecting for LPI. How is this possible?

Correlations Explained

Examples of correlations can be found everywhere. When a correlation between two things is positive, then as one changes, the other will change in the same direction. In the examples from the auto industry below, as accidents increase, so does the cost of insurance. When a negative correlation exists between two things, then as one increases, the other decreases, as seen below with vehicle mileage and value. In cases when there is no clear relationship between two things, the correlation will be zero, or very close to it.



Genetic correlations tell us how much of the genetic influence on two traits is common to both. If the correlation is above zero, this suggests that the two traits are influenced by common genes. Genetic correlations are important because if two traits are genetically correlated, selection for one will cause genetic change for the other as well, and this change could be either desirable or undesirable.

Genetic Correlations and Why They Matter

Estimated genetic correlations among traits, based on official Canadian proofs for Holstein sires, can be seen in Table 1. In this table desirable correlations that are 10% or higher are identified in green while negative correlations below 10% are labeled in red. Basically, correlations that are within 10% from zero are considered not significant. When looking at the box including production traits, it is clear to see that yields are quite highly correlated, especially milk and protein yields, but milk yield is negatively correlated to its components.  The same can been seen in the quadrant showing the correlations among the five major type traits, which are all positive.  In cases such as these, genetic selection for any one of these traits will also result in a positive correlated response for the others as well.


When looking down the column and across the row for Daughter Fertility (DF), you will see that it is negatively correlated with the yields of milk, fat and protein as well as overall Conformation and Dairy Strength.  This antagonistic relationship between production yields and fertility is not new. Until fairly recently, dairy cattle breeding schemes in North America and worldwide focused primarily on selection for increased production yields. While great progress was made, an undesirable side effect was reduced fertility in our dairy populations. Not paying attention to the negative correlation between these two traits contributed to the reduced fertility.

Genetic evaluations for Daughter Fertility were first introduced in November 2004 and it became part of the LPI formula soon thereafter in February 2005.   As a result of selection decisions based on LPI during the past decade, the downward genetic trend for Daughter Fertility has been brought to a halt while still achieving positive gains for production traits.  An index like the LPI allows for simultaneous selection of important traits like production yields and Daughter Fertility such that, with appropriate weights placed on each trait, genetic progress can occur for both despite their negative genetic correlations.

Weights on Traits or Response to Selection?

The LPI is an index made up of weighted traits, with weights adding up to 100. The traits included in the current Holstein LPI formula, and the relative weight on each, are shown in the top portion of Figure 2. The bottom portion presents the response for each trait that is expected based on selection for LPI. The weights placed on the various traits included in the LPI formula don’t translate directly into selection response. The reason, again, is because of correlations among traits. Even though traits like milk yield, Conformation, Rump and Calving Ability are not in the LPI formula, selection for LPI will result in progress for them.


Our industry spends a great deal of time focusing on which traits get included in the LPI, as well as the relative weights placed on those traits. Clearly, this has led to confusion about breed goals and where we can expect to make progress. Over the upcoming months, discussions about updating the LPI formula as well as consideration of a new profit index will continue. Going forward, extension efforts will focus on the response expected for each trait resulting from selection for an index. After all, index traits and weights look nice on paper, but the response is what will lead to true progress in your herd.

Lynsay Beavers, Industry Liaison Coordinator, CDN
Brian Van Doormaal, General Manager, CDN

October 2014

“Today’s choices for tomorrow’s challenges” The 38th Edition of the Dairy Cattle Symposium keeps delivering new knowledge to farmers

“Today’s choices for tomorrow’s challenges” The 38th Edition of the Dairy Cattle Symposium keeps delivering new knowledge to farmers

For a third year, the Dairy Research Cluster will be a proud participant and sponsor of the Dairy Cattle Symposium in Quebec (Symposium sur les bovins laitiers) on November 5th in Saint-Hyacinthe. The Cluster is sponsoring the poster session scheduled for noon and 4 pm, which will feature seven research posters, including an overview of two projects funded by partners in the Dairy Cluster (hoof health and animal comfort) and Dairy Farmers of Canada funded research under the NSERC Industrial Research Chair on Milk Components (

Quebec’s Dairy Cattle Symposium typically attracts more than 700 dairy producers and industry representatives from across the province and many others connect online through webinar access.  For almost 40 years, the Symposium has provided an opportunity for researchers from Quebec and across Canada to transfer their findings to farmers and provide insights on developments and new practices for a range of critical on-farm issues.

Dr. Réjean Bouchard, Assistant Director of Dairy Production at Dairy Farmers of Canada and Manager of the Dairy Research Cluster was a member of the original group that created the Symposium in 1976 under the Conseil des productions animales du Québec (CPAQ) (today it is the Centre de référence en agriculture et agroalimentaire du Québec (CRAAQ)). He presided over the birth of the Symposium in 1976 and remained its president until 1979. “There was a wealth of dairy research knowledge in the province and we wanted to ensure that this new knowledge was getting into the dairy farmers’ hands in an effective way. We believed that the Symposium would be an ideal platform to bring researchers and farmers together to discuss farm issues, research questions and solutions,” said Dr. Bouchard.

This year’s lineup promises to deliver yet again another exciting program for farmers. Presentations will be made on farm transfers, responsible antibiotic use, efficient use of protein in feed, the latest on forage research, an introduction to epigenetics, the importance of developing a 5-year business plan, dairy cattle longevity and cow comfort. For a copy of the program, visit:

“After 38 years, the Symposium is still very well attended by farmers. I think we can say that the objectives we set out to achieve when we created the event are still being met!” concluded Dr. Bouchard.

Visit our Dairy Research Cluster sponsored poster session at noon and 4 pm on November 5th and see for yourself how scientists are innovating in dairy!

For live Tweeted updates at the Symposium, follow us @DairyResearch.


Poster Session

(Posters in French only on location)


Hoof Health:  A step in the right direction!

Presenter: André Desrochers
Authors: F. Miglior, F. Schenkel, D. Kelton, D. Weary, D. Lefebvre

Setting the bar high for more comfortable stalls

Presenter: Véronique Bouffard
Auhors: V. Bouffard, A.M. de Passillé, J. Rushen, E. Vasseur, C. Nash, D.B. Haley and D. Pellerin

Dietary differences in cations-anions and the bufferfat content of milk

Presenter: Liliana Fadul-Pacheco
Authors: L. Fadul-Pacheco, D. Pellerin, P.Y. Chouinard and É. Charbonneau

The effect of the use of extracted linseed in rations of Quebec dairy farms

Presenter: Amélie Beauregard
Authors: A. Beauregard, M.P. Dallaire, Y. Chouinard

Modulating the fat content of milk by changing the fatty acid pofile of the ration

Presenter: Hanen Mannai
Authors: H. Mannai, P.Y. Chouinard, L. Fadul-Pacheco, D. Pellerin and É. Charbonneau

Impact of postpartum endometritis on subsequent reproduction in dairy cows

Presenter: J.D. Robichaud
Authors: J.D. Robichaud and J. Dubuc

Distribution of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis in the environment of dairy herds in Quebec

Authors: J.C. Arango, G. Côté, J. Paré, O. Labrecque, J.P. Roy, S. Buczinski, E. Doré, J.H. Fairbrother, N. Bissonnette, V. Wellemans, G. Fecteau