Celebrating Dairy Research Excellence Before the Holidays!

Leading up to the holiday season, we wish to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions made by Canadian dairy scientists and their teams in 2019. Notably, some researchers working on projects funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada were awarded for their dairy research excellence for advancing scientific findings to improve productivity, sustainability, dairy cattle health and welfare as well as improve knowledge of the health benefits of milk and dairy products.

An article by Drs. Chaouki Benchaar, Édith Charbonneau and Doris Pellerin is selected as one of the Canadian Journal of Animal Science (CJAS) Editors’ Choice papers in 2019

The article “Development of an equation to estimate the enteric methane emissions from Holstein dairy cows in Canada” published in May 2019 by Chaouki Benchaar, Research Scientist, Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre, Édith Charbonneau, Professor, Université Laval, Doris Pellerin, Professor, Université Laval and their co-authors, was selected as one of the CJAS Editors’ Choice papers in December 2019. The Editors’ Choice designation highlights articles of particularly high calibre and topical importance.

The article contains the methods to develop and validate a more precise equation to predict enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle fed typical Canadian diets in Canadian conditions – an outcome from the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Mitigation of enteric methane production from dairy cows and impact on manure emissions: filling knowledge gaps. Their overall findings resulted in:

  • Improved accuracy of the calculation of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s national inventory of enteric methane emissions from Canadian dairy cattle;
  • Improved accuracy of the calculation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) inventory of enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle;
  • Science-based evidence that cows in Canada emit less methane than previously reported by national and international expert organizations measuring countries’ GHG emissions.

An article by Drs. Hassan Vatanparast and Susan Whiting is selected as one of the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism Journal (APNMJ) Editors’ Choice papers in 2019

The article “Type 2 diabetes prevalence among Canadian adults — dietary habits and sociodemographic risk factors” published in August 2019 by Hassan Vatanparast, Professor, and Susan Whiting, Professor Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan and their Ph.D. student Zeinab Hosseini was selected as one of the APNMJ Editors’ Choice papers. The article reports on the results of their study to determine the prevalence of Type 2 diagnosed diabetes, undetected (undiagnosed) Type 2 diabetes, and prediabetes of Canadian adults, and to evaluate whether individuals with diagnosed diabetes have different dietary intakes compared with the other groups, using data from Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycles 1 and 2. This paper is based on data from their Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Association Between Dietary Intakes and Cardiovascular Risk of Canadians using the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycles 1+2.  Their project provided new knowledge related to diet and important health conditions by producing Canadian data showing diets containing dairy products can reduce the risk of Metabolic Syndrome, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

Unknown-4Dr. Pierre Lacasse awarded the Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS) Fellowship

The CSAS award was provided to Pierre Lacasse, Research Scientist, Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre, for truly outstanding contributions in the field of animal agriculture. His work has led to the understanding of the biological processes controlling lactation and immune resistance, to the development of tools and methods to improve the health, well-being and longevity of dairy cows and the improvement of milk quality.

Pierre Lacasse has been a contributing scientist in the Mastitis Network for several years, including projects in the three Dairy Research Clusters (Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network;  The Mastitis Network: Continuing the advancement of milk quality in Canada).

He also led a project in the Dairy Research Cluster 2, Dairy Cow Management for the Next Generation, which resulted in:

  • Development of baseline information exploring the biology of lactation persistency;
  • Identification of biomarkers in 12 genes that were significantly associated with lactation persistency, providing information to allow for the selection of cows and bulls with higher lactation persistency; and,
  • Concluded that increasing milking frequency to 3 times a day after peak of lactation helps to maintain high levels of milk production that may enable profitable extended lactation.

T DeVries 2019Dr. Trevor DeVries received the Technical Innovation in Enhancing Production of Safe Affordable Food Award

This Canadian Animal Science Society award recognizes excellence in technical innovation and teaching with an emphasis in the fields of biotechnology, genetics, physiology and animal behaviour. Trevor DeVries is a Professor at the University of Guelph and has produced research findings that led to innovations and practical solutions for improving the nutritional management, housing, and well-being of calves, replacement heifers, and mature lactating dairy cattle. He is currently the principal investigator of the Dairy Research Cluster 3 (2018-2022) project, Optimizing health and production of cows milked in robotic systems and was a collaborating scientist in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Automatic Milking Systems (AMS): Factors Affecting Health, Productivity and Welfare. The researchers’ findings in Cluster 2 provided important, unbiased information to help identify cows at risk of, or experiencing, illness, lameness or poor adaptation to the AMS.

Unknown-5Dr. Stephen LeBlanc Awarded the Web of Science Group’s Highly Cited Researchers List for 2019

For the second year in a row, Stephen LeBlanc, Professor, University of Guelph, was part of the top one per cent of researchers with the most citations in their field. Stephen LeBlanc studies dairy cattle health and performance with a focus on reproductive and metabolic health. His research aims to improve livestock reproduction through disease prevention and treatment by developing reproductive management programs. He is currently collaborating in the Dairy Research Cluster 3 project, Accelerating genetic gain for novel traits in Canadian Holstein cows and was a collaborator in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 project, Sustainable Solutions to Improve Estrous Detection and Reproductive Efficiency in Dairy Cows. The Cluster 2 findings indicated that prioritizing detection of estrus in a reproductive program can be as effective as some current programs of timed artificial insemination programs.

Unknown-6Dr. Sylvie Turgeon Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Agrocampus Ouest, France

On December 16, 2019, Agrocampus Ouest (Institute for Life, Food and Horticultural Sciences and Landscaping, France) awarded an Honorary Doctorate to Dr Sylvie Turgeon, Professor, Université Laval. The title of Doctor honoris causa is the Institute’s highest distinction and honors foreign individuals who are recognized for their scientific contributions internationally and have developed strong ties with the Institute. Sylvie Turgeon collaborated in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 project, The Effect of Milk Products and Novel Milk Products on Satiety, Food Intake, and Metabolic Control (Glycemia) in Early and Late Adulthood, and is currently a collaborating researcher in the Dairy Research Cluster 3 projects, Understanding the contribution of milk composition and microflora during ripening of cheeses and the Role of dairy products on body weight and metabolic health in families.

These researchers will join others that were awarded in 2019, namely Drs. David Kelton and Todd Duffield (University of Guelph), and Herman Barkema and Karin Orsel (University of Calgary), for their achievements in dairy research excellence! Read the article on their achievements on the DairyResearchBlog.ca.

Sweeter alfalfa to improve milk production and dairy farm sustainability

The dairy cow, as a ruminant, has the unique ability to transform forages that can’t be digested by humans into a high-value nutritious food: milk. A multidisciplinary team of scientists across Canada are working on improving forages, especially alfalfa, to increase the efficiency of milk production and dairy farm sustainability.

“Our overall objective is to increase alfalfa’s nutritive value, yield, and persistence through crop breeding and management”, said Dr. Annie Claessens, a research scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – Quebec Research and Development Centre and the principal investigator of a new Dairy Research Cluster 3 project called, Increasing the production and utilization of alfalfa forages in Canada. “We are using genetics to identify and select traits in alfalfa populations for greater energy to protein ratios to develop a higher nutritive value in alfalfa-based forages fed to dairy cattle. We are also selecting for higher yield, persistence and disease resistance,” added Dr. Claessens.

Alfalfa plants at different stages of testing. Photo credit: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – Quebec Research and Development Centre.

Dr. Claessens, who is also co-owner of the Phylum dairy farm in Quebec, understands the importance of producing quality forage for dairy cows. Feed costs are one of the highest cost items on a dairy farm¹ and forage makes up about 50-60% of the ration fed to dairy cows. While the selection and breeding of forages take time – anywhere from 10 to 20 years to commercialize new cultivars – the return on investment can be considerable². An economic study from the University of Nevada³ on the use of a new alfalfa cultivar with a 5% yield increase was estimated to provide a 43% return on investment, showing the potential economic benefits of forage improvement on dairy farms.

Cows fed with forages with a higher sugar content use nitrogen more efficiently and have higher milk production. Previous research conducted by Dr. Claessens’ team as part of a project funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2 from 2013-2018 identified 26 genes related to sugar concentration in alfalfa, developed two alfalfa populations with greater sugar concentrations and associated different crop management practices favouring a higher energy to protein ratio.

The team is using the results from the Cluster 2 project to select plant material with superior sugar concentration to accelerate the development of cultivars with this trait and evaluating it under field conditions. The populations are planted on research sites across Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec) to subject them to different weather and soil conditions and then measure yield and persistency.

In the labs, the team of scientists analyze the nutritional value of the plants at different times of harvest, in variable conditions. “We will be testing the populations to identify the crop management practices that achieve an optimal balance between readily fermentable carbohydrates and non-degradable proteins, using different alfalfa-based mixtures of forage. We then examine the effects of the energy to protein ratio on in vitro microbial protein synthesis in the rumen,” said Dr. Gaëtan Tremblay, research scientist and team member at the Quebec Research and Development Centre.

Dairy farmers can expect that when the project is completed, the data and genetic material from alfalfa evaluation trials across Canada will be available to Canadian forage breeders to select experimental populations and potentially commercialize new and improved cultivars. Ultimately, the availability of new alfalfa cultivars will help increase the production of milk from forage and improve protein utilization, thus reducing reliance on concentrates and nitrogen discharges …  significant economic and environmental impacts!

A summary of Dr. Claessens’ new research project is online at dairyresearch.ca. Forage breeding and management for improved yield, resistance, conservation, quality and digestibility is a priority area of research and investment in Dairy Farmers of Canada’s National Dairy Research Strategy.

Quick project facts

  • Project timeline: 2018-2022
  • Budget: $1,124,970
  • Funding partners: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada
  • Number of students to be trained: 4 graduate students and ˃ 25 undergraduate students

The research team

RESEARCHERS ORGANIZATION ROLES
Principal Investigator (PI)
Annie Claessens AAFC – Quebec Responsible for forage breeding and genetics, coordination of activities among researchers and student training and supervision.
Co-investigators and collaborators
Bill Biligetu (Co-PI) University of Saskatchewan Forage breeding and genetics; student training and supervision.
Patrice Audy, Gilles Bélanger, Annick Bertrand, Julie Lajeunesse, Solen Rocher, Marie-Noëlle Thivierge, Gaëtan Tremblay AAFC – Quebec and Normandin Forage crop molecular genetics; assessment of the nutritive value of feedstuffs; crop physiology and agronomy; forage pathology, physiology and biochemistry; agro-ecosystem modelling and agroclimatology; site testing; student training and supervision.
Shabtai Bittman, Derek Hunt AAFC – Agassiz Nutrient management in farming systems; plant biology; site testing.
Surya Acharya AAFC – Lethbridge Forage breeding.
Édith Charbonneau, Caroline Halde Université Laval Dairy cow forage nutrition; agroecology; student training and supervision.
Ralph Martin University of Guelph Forage agronomy; site testing.
Kathleen Glover, Yousef Papadopoulos AAFC – Kentville Forage agronomy; forage breeding; site testing
Daniel Ouellet AAFC – Sherbrooke Nitrogen metabolism and nutrition of dairy cattle; student training and supervision.
Philippe Seguin McGill University Management, physiology and ecology of field crops; student training and supervision.
Vern Baron AAFC – Lacombe Forage and pasture agronomy and crop physiology.
Mike Schellenberg AAFC – Swift Current Range and forage plant ecology.
Charles Brummer University of California Forage breeding and genetics.
Josef Hakl Czech University Agronomy and forage nutritive value.
Huguette Martel Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec Forage crops and agro-environment.

¹https://www.milk.org/Corporate/pdf/Publications-ODFAPReport.pdf

²https://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/breeding-forage-varieties-13

³Kettle et al. Investing in new varieties of alfalfa: Does-it pay? Fact Sheet 99-31. University of Nevada

Scientists present new research at dairy symposium

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Dairy Farmers of Canada’s dairy research kiosk was at the Symposium sur les bovins laitiers in Drummondville, Quebec, on October 29, 2019 to provide information on the new Dairy Research Cluster 3 projects and distribute fact sheets on footbaths, water use and water quality. More than 500 dairy farmers and professionals took part in the one-day symposium.

Three scientists with research projects funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada under the Dairy Research Cluster and the Industrial Research Chair in Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle provided findings from their projects.

Unknown.jpegDr. Benoît Lamarche, researcher and lead of the clinical nutrition investigation unit, Université Laval, gave a talk on the impact of dairy products consumption on health, providing evidence that dairy products consumption does not pose a health problem and that some dairy products could have favourable effects on health (per se, by replacing other foods or by contributing to the intake of certain nutrients) and concluding that current recommendations on low-fat dairy products should be reconsidered. His presentation included research results from his project on dairy products consumption and cardiovascular health conducted under the Dairy Research Cluster 2.

Unknown-2Dr. Annie Claessens, a scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centre in Quebec, informed delegates on early findings from her project on increasing the production and use of alfalfa forages in Canada. The development of more nutritious and persistent alfalfa cultivars through genetic selection is a long and complex process, but the expected results are promising – increased production of milk from forages, better protein use, reduced reliance on concentrates and fewer nitrogen discharges – significantly positive economic and environmental impacts!

elsa_vasseur_109-1465408337-1575199832460.jpgDr. Elsa Vasseur, Chairholder of the Industrial Research Chair in Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle at McGill University, explained how farmers can make stall bases more comfortable. Using bedding keepers to maintain deeper bedding is a practical and feasible solution for tie-stall farms. Dr. Vasseur’s results show this practice increases cow comfort and rest time while protecting cows from bodily injury. She also reported on how the first case of mastitis or lameness in primiparous cows can affect their longevity and profitability.

 

New video available on bedding management to improve animal comfort

A new video produced by Novalait explains how dairy farmers at the Ferme René Dupuis Inc. in Quebec successfully applied research results to improve cow comfort on their farm. Adding a bedding keeper helps farmers maintain deeper bedding to reduce injuries and increase the comfort of their herd. Changes were made following science-based recommendations from the research carried out under the Industrial Research Chair in the Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle. The Chair is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Novalait, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Lactanet.

10 Years of Genomic Selection: What’s Next?

{The following is an extract from an extension article by Brian Van Doormaal, Chief Services Officer, Lactanet}

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It’s been 10 years since the introduction of genomic evaluations in August 2009 and the dairy sector has seen an unprecedented annual rate of increase in the average genetic merit of young bulls entering artificial insemination (A.I.) throughout North America, which now exceeds 120 Lifetime Profit Index (LPI) points and $200 Pro$ per year.  With such a continuous year over year boost in the genetic makeup of genomic young sires offered through A.I. companies, these bulls now represent two-thirds of the total semen market share in Canada.

Figure 1 shows the impact of genomics on the increased rate of genetic progress very clearly. The steady rate of annual gain before genomics, which was 46 LPI points and $79 Pro$ per year, suddenly switched after 2009.  During the past five years, the average rate of genetic gain has increased by 2.2-fold, reaching 102 LPI points and $180 Pro$ annually. The dashed lines since 2009 in Figure 1 reflect the expected genetic progress that would have been achieved for both LPI and Pro$ in Canadian Holsteins if genomics had not been introduced.

Figure 1: Rate of Genetic Progress Achieved in Canadian Holsteins With Genomics

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Genomics provides an unprecedented opportunity to realize selection objectives for lower heritability traits even if they have negative genetic correlations with traits of moderate or higher heritability. Figure 2 shows the impact that genomics has had on genetic progress for individual traits. The first key point to notice is that positive genetic gain is now being realized for all of the major production, conformation and functional traits in addition to Pro$, LPI and its three components. Before genomics, in addition to losing ground for Daughter Fertility, Persistency, Milking Temperament and the Health & Fertility component of LPI, very little genetic progress was being made for other traits including Fat and Protein Deviations, Milking Speed, Daughter Calving Ability and Metabolic Disease Resistance. For all of the other eleven traits in Figure 2, the average rate of genetic gain realized with genomics has increased two-fold.

Figure 2: Genetic Gain Achieved in Canadian Holstein During the Past 5 Years Compared to 5 Years Before the Introduction of Genomics

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What will the future of genomic selection look like?

We are at just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to genomic selection. Given the experience over the past ten years, we can expect to see the following over the next decade:

  • The introduction of a vast array of new traits of economic and social importance, most of which have not yet even been considered by dairy farmers;
  • Increased use of sexed semen, in-vitro fertilization and other advanced reproductive technologies, which also promote the increased use of beef semen to breed dairy cows;
  • Use of DNA genotypes for improved selection strategies balancing genetic gain with maintenance of genetic diversity, including the use of genome-based mating programs;
  • A significant restructuring and consolidation of the A.I. sector, leading to a handful of larger, multi-national breeding companies;
  • Significant value-added benefits from DNA genotyping including automated parentage discovery and recording as well as traceability of dairy animals and food products.