In the coming months, we will be featuring one of the 15 new Cluster 3 research projects in each blog, providing our followers the opportunity to learn more about the research underway, how it’s associated to dairy farmers’ research priorities, why it’s important for dairy innovation and provide more information about the scientists involved in the projects.
We hope you enjoy the read!
New research started in 2018 under the Dairy Research Cluster 3 is investigating ways to maximize the efficiency of robotic milking systems and optimize cow health within those systems. The project, led by Dr. Trevor DeVries of the University of Guelph, is very timely – about 11% of farms enrolled in a milk recording program in Canada use robots and the adoption of this technology continues to increase.
The scope of the new research is impressive. This is the first study of its kind to investigate robotic milking technologies on farms across all provinces, using data collected in collaboration with Lactanet. The research team includes top Canadian experts in the fields of dairy cattle health, farm management and nutrition, spanning across Canada: Drs. Greg Penner and Tim Mutsvangwa (University of Saskatchewan), Drs. Karin Orsel and Ed Pajor (University of Calgary), Dr. Todd Duffield (University of Guelph) and Richard Cantin, Débora Santschi and René Lacroix (Lactanet).
The research team will be identifying cow and herd-level factors that influence milk production, cow health and the efficiency of robot use in a large-scale sample of dairy farms. The information will be used to identify best management practices to help farmers using robotic systems produce milk more efficiently and maintain excellent dairy cow health, with a specific focus on health in early lactation and feeding practices in robotic barns, based on barn design and layout, for all stages of lactation.
“Considering the number of farms using robotic technology and the potential for growth, there are still gaps in our knowledge on the best strategies farmers can use to address some of the challenges we identified in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 research. This new research will build on those results,” said Dr. DeVries.
In the Dairy Research Cluster 2 project on automated milking systems, the researchers demonstrated that lower milk production and issues with cow health, especially in early lactation, impacted the profitability of adopting robotic systems. Lameness, for example, was one of the primary factors identified with an overall negative impact on milk yield per cow and per robot. Clinically lame cows (gait score of 3 out of 5 or greater) were 2 times more likely to be fetched and produced 1.6 kg of milk less per day than healthy cows and milked 0.3 fewer times per day. Severely lame cows (gait score of 4 out of 5 or greater) were most likely to turn into chronic fetch cows.
Over a 12-month period, this group of researchers will be collecting data on housing, feeding and management by farm and by robotic system, and extract milk recording data for each herd. The data will be analyzed to assess cow and herd level impacts on milk production, health and robot use.
“The extent of the dataset collected by farm and by region will allow us to assess robotic system performance. We will then be able to make some associations or differentiations and develop benchmarks dairy farmers can use if they are already milking with robots or are thinking about installing the technology on their farm. We look forward to developing some very practical independent information for Canadian dairy farmers that is science-based and supports their application of the technology in the most efficient way,” concluded DeVries.
Quick project facts
- Project timeline: 2018-2022
- Budget: $300,000
- Funding partners: AAFC, DFC, with an in-kind contribution from Lactanet
- Number of farms involved: 200+
- Number of students to be trained: 8+
The research team
Dr. Trevor DeVries (Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behaviour and Welfare) is the Principal Investigator, project coordinator, and the primary advisor for the Ph.D. student and undergraduate summer research assistants at the University of Guelph. Dr. DeVries will coordinate all the data collection, particularly the data collected in Ontario and Quebec.
Dr. Todd Duffield (Professor, Ontario Veterinary College) is a Collaborator and an advisory committee member to the Ph.D. student at the University of Guelph, and is assisting in project design, analysis, and interpretation.
Dr. Gregory Penner (Associate Professor in Nutritional Physiology) and Dr. Timothy Mutsvangwa (Professor of Ruminant Nutrition and Metabolism), University of Saskatchewan, are providing expertise in dairy cattle nutritional physiology. As Co-Investigator, Dr. Penner is responsible for advising the undergraduate summer research assistants who will collect data on farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Both researchers will contribute to data interpretation and manuscript writing.
Dr. Karin Orsel (Associate Professor Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Calgary) as Co-Investigator, is responsible for advising the undergraduate summer research assistants who will collect data on farms in Alberta. Drs. Orsel and Dr. Pajor (Collaborator) will contribute to data interpretation and manuscript writing.
The project involves key collaborations from Lactanet: Richard Cantin, Débora Santschi and René Lacroix. They will provide assistance in the identification and recruitment of herds, expertise in data management, as well as provide access to their milk recording data (subject to producer agreement and consent to participate in the study).