Update on the Industrial Research Chair in the Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle

Improving the comfort and longevity of dairy cows can improve dairy farm sustainability and profitability. This is the premise of the Industrial Research Chair in the Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle, launched in 2016 and led by Dr. Elsa Vasseur of McGill University. Preliminary results of multiple studies presented in May 2019 by the scientist and her team show promise for new and innovative approaches to cow comfort and longevity.

Preliminary results to date:

  • Existing tie-stalls at the Macdonald Campus barn were adjusted to deepen bedding using a bedding guard, increase the volume of straw used in bedding to 3’’ and increase the stall length, which resulted in increased lying times, less hock injuries, thus improving overall cow comfort. The study team cautions, however, that individual barn conditions like ventilation and humidity must be considered and management adjusted for a successful deep-bedded stall system.
  • Increasing the tie-stall tie length from 1 metre to 1.4 metres allowed for more opportunity for cow movement within a stall. The study team noted that the change in tie length should be done gradually by choosing which cows benefit most from it and assess how the animal gets used to the change in tie length.
  • Cows are using a variety of resting postures in wider stalls resulting in better cow rest, confirming that current recommendations for stall width must be met at a minimum.
  • Housing dairy cows in loose pens during the eight-week dry period was beneficial for rest and locomotor recovery. These benefits can be attributed to a combination of factors: fewer obstacles in the environment (by eliminating the stall itself), a larger rest area, and a more comfortable lying area. This study established references to broaden the implementation of dry-off pens.
  • Measuring the impact of early cases of mastitis and lameness on the productive life of a cow show that a healthy beginning ensures a higher profit lactation. Identifying at risk stages of production and at-risk cows enables farmers to select the best candidates for a next lactation.
  • Key data is being collected on cost/profit variables farmers can use in their decision-making to develop an interactive herd management tool that will help improve the profitability and longevity of the herd.

Watch the video testimonial from the Roy family of Coaticook, Quebec, as they explain how they used some of the research recommendations to make changes on their farm to improve their cows’ comfort.

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elsa_vasseur_109Dr. Elsa Vasseur obtained her Ph.D. in Animal Science from Université Laval in 2009, looking at on-farm assessment tools for the welfare of young dairy animals. Following an NSERC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship where she worked with some of Canada’s leading researchers in dairy cattle welfare at the University of British Columbia and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, she took up a research position at the University of Guelph’s Organic Dairy Research Centre on the Alfred Campus, before joining McGill University in January 2016.

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