COVID-19: DFC announces research-related visits on commercial dairy farms may resume if Guidelines respected

DFC informed scientists that research-related visits on commercial farms can resume if the researchers and their teams respect the Guidelines for Conducting On-farm Research Activities and receive full authorization by the commercial farm involved in the project. It is also a requirement that researchers must request and have approval from the farm owners to access the property, and must schedule any visits. The farm’s biosecurity measures must be respected at all times.

The organization has asked that researchers consider postponing on-farm research activities that require more than one person or interaction with farm owners/workers whenever possible until provincial Public Health Authorities relax physical distancing recommendations.

Also, before research activities resume on farms, scientists must refer and adhere to the recommendations/guidelines of their local Public Health Authorities and their research institutions, regarding self-isolating and physical distancing.

There should be NO interprovincial travel where self-isolation is required.

DFC thanks all researchers and farmers involved in research projects for their support and cooperation in respecting the guidelines for the protection and safety of all.

New Research: Water use management and the water footprint in current and future climates

shutterstock_271766828New research supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) under the Dairy Research Cluster 3 is identifying and testing methods to manage water use more efficiently on dairy farms, including drinking water used by dairy cattle. The five-year project led Drs. Andrew VanderZaag (AAFC) and Robert Gordon (University of Windsor) and a team of collaborators from across Canada called “Reducing the water footprint of milk production in current and future climates” has three major objectives:

  • Characterize in-barn water use and identify best management practices to reduce water use and increase efficiency;
  • Assess heat stress in dairy cows and evaluate abatement options in current and future climates; and,
  • Evaluate practical treatment methods for managing silage effluent.

The project builds on the results from a large water use and conservation project completed under the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) that measured the water footprint of milk production and identified ways for reducing it. The researchers are taking measurements of water use (in-barn and wastewater) and heat stress indicators on farms in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Dairy barns are being fitted with flow meters and the data collected will be compiled to develop region-specific water use benchmarks. They will incorporate the data into models to evaluate the effectiveness of different management practices to improve water use efficiency by region while factoring in energy use and the costs of different environmental best practices.

Minimizing heat stress to dairy cows is one of the biggest opportunities identified by the researchers to manage water use more efficiently on dairy farms and lower the water footprint. When cows experience heat stress, their feed intake drops, their water intake increases, and milk yield is decreased. These factors contribute to a higher water footprint value, in addition to negatively impact reproduction and cow health, leading to a loss of revenues for farmers.

The frequency and extent of heat stress episodes in Canada are expected to increase with climate change. To address this challenge on farms, the researchers are examining heat stress indicators like the Temperature Humidity Index (THI is a number that shows the combined effect of air temperature and humidity) in different barn types, designs and ventilation systems on test sites across the country. They will be evaluating different strategies to reduce the impact on the animals and water use.

Another important component of this research includes measuring and capturing dairy farm run-off containing a high pollutant load that can be harmful to the environment. The researchers are investigating low-cost treatment systems to collect the nutrient-rich runoff and will be testing new technologies to capture important nutrients like phosphorous from the wastewater.

The results from this national research will help provide science-based evidence to develop best management practices for climate change adaptation, lower the water footprint and improve environmental farm performance.

Quick Project Facts

Research team:

Principal Investigators:  Andrew VanderZaag (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) – Ottawa) and Robert Gordon (University of Windsor)

Co-Investigators: Roland Kroebel (AAFC-Lethbridge), Merrin Macrae (University of Waterloo), Édith Charbonneau (Université Laval), Terra Jamieson (AAFC-Halifax), Ward Smith, Budong Qian (AAFC-Ottawa)

Collaborators: Tom Wright (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), Sean McGinn, Tim McAllister (AAFC-Lethbridge), Keith Reid (AAFC-Guelph), Ray Desjardins (AAFC-Ottawa), Tim Nelson (Livestock Research Innovation Corporation), John McCabe (Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture)

Total budget: $706,438

Funding partners: Cash contributions provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Eight Canadian dairy farms are targeted for participation in this research project.

Resources on best practices to reduce water consumption on your dairy farm:

DFC Water Quality and Conservation Fact sheets


Videos on water use best practices – Dairy Research Cluster Channel on YouTube

Research summaries and links:

Reducing the water footprint of milk production in current and future climates, Dairy Research Cluster 3 (2018-2022)

Water footprint assessment and optimization for Canadian dairy farms, Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018)

Water Use and Conservation on a Free-Stall Dairy Farm, Dairy Research and Extension Consortium of Alberta, Alberta Milk


DFC Nutrition Resource:  Fact sheet on Milk Products and Bone Health

Dairynew-resource-bone-health-resource-for-health-professionals Farmers of Canada’s Dietitians developed a resource with key evidence-based research results on calcium and bone health. Bringing together recent scientific data, the fact sheet includes a reference tool on recommendations and bioavailability of calcium that health professionals can use to advise their clients in their practices. A copy of the fact sheet is available for download at

Annual Pro$ Update

A prominent change with the April 2020 official genetic evaluation release is the annual update of the Pro$ formula. Following the revision of Pro$ in 2019, the first since its introduction in 2015, it was decided to implement annual updates to the Pro$ formula incorporating the latest economic values every year in April, coinciding with the genetic base update. An annual update to Pro$ allows the index to remain up-to-date and relevant to the latest milk prices and production costs. The most apparent outcome of the Pro$ changes this year is the increase in the range of Pro$ values, notably a large increase in the Pro$ evaluations for the top bulls and females. This is an expected result given the changes that have been observed in the economics of dairy production used in the Pro$ formulation.

Changing Economic Values

The Pro$ index was developed such that the Pro$ difference between sires was directly related to the extra lifetime profit to six years that their daughters would generate for Canadian producers. The scale used is in Canadian dollars. This allows for comparison between sires to easily understand the expected differences in their daughters’ profit but also makes the index susceptible to fluctuations with annual updates due to variability in the economic values contributing to the overall profitability of Canadian dairy cows.

Each year a Lactanet economist updates the economic values used for DHI cow profitability reporting. These same numbers are used to calculate the average profit to six years of age for Canadian daughters of Holstein, Jersey and Ayrshire sires to determine the Pro$ formula for each breed. Table 1 shows the economic values used in cow profitability calculations for 2020 and the previous 2019 formulation of Pro$. Of note, rearing costs increased for all three breeds. The increase is a result mostly of the decline in the value of culled cows, which is deducted from rearing expenses such that the profit calculations consider only the net replacement costs. The rise in rearing costs, however, affects the profitability of all cows very similarly. A more consequential difference is in the net profit per kg of protein produced (the earned revenue minus the marginal feed cost for protein), which increased by around 20%.

PROupdateeng1The combined result of updates to the economic values and incorporating an additional birth year of cows who have now had the opportunity to reach six years of age, was an observed increase in the average cow profitability values and an overall increase in the variability and range of daughter profit levels. Compared to 2019 calculations, the average cow profitability to six years for the 2020 calculations was approximately $522, $311 and $230 higher for Holstein, Jersey and Ayrshire breeds, respectively. More importantly, the variation observed in cow lifetime profitability increased, especially for Holstein and Jersey. While the majority of cows experienced increased lifetime profits with the changes to the production costs and milk prices, the more profitable females become even relatively more profitable than the average cow. This finding translates directly to the changes observed in Pro$ index values with the recent update and release.

Top Bulls Go Up for Pro$

The April 2020 release of official genetic evaluations by Lactanet showed a large increase in Pro$ proofs amongst the top animals. An examination of the less visible group of animals making up the bottom end of the Pro$ index rankings shows that this group had their Pro$ proofs decline, dropping even further below the breed average. Genetic evaluations for the newly updated Pro$ formula are greater than 99% correlated with results from the previous formula and its relationship with individual traits of interest and reranking of bulls due to formula changes are minimal for all breeds. However, the scale of the updated Pro$ values has widened significantly. For the Holstein breed, the average change for the Top 100 Pro$ sires in December is an increase of $371 this round, with the highest increase being $670. For the Jersey breed, the average change for the Top 50 Pro$ sires in December is an increase of $290 this round, with the highest increase exceeding $700. The Ayrshire breed, which did not exhibit the same large changes in actual daughter lifetime profitability as Holstein and Jersey, had an average change near zero for the Top 50 Pro$ sires in December. The interpretation and scale of expression for the Pro$ index is maintained such that Pro$ is directly related to the expected average daughter profit to six years of age in Canadian dollars.

The range in the magnitude of Pro$ values has increased for the Holstein, Jersey and Ayrshire breeds. With the Pro$ formula update, just like when other changes may occur between releases, it is vital to consider that adjustments may be required on how to interpret resulting Pro$ values. While the comparison of Pro$ values between any two sires remains the same, a previously established minimum Pro$ value for sire selection may not bring the same level of selection intensity as before. Table 2a shows the Pro$ values categorizing various percentile ranks for proven bulls in each of the three breeds for April 2020, which can be compared to the same values for December 2019 evaluations in Table 2b. Differences between the two tables combine the impact of the updated Pro$ formula, a genetic base update and the addition of highly ranked, newly proven sires. The Pro$ value needed for a sire to be within the percentile rankings greater than 50% has increased for all breeds especially in the top rankings, while the decline in Pro$ values for the bottom bulls demonstrates that the entire Pro$ range has expanded in both the positive and negative directions.


The Pro$ formula was updated in April 2020 to ensure the index remains current with the latest changes to milk pricing and costs of production in Canada. The most visible change with the Pro$ update is that Pro$ values for top animals in the Holstein and Jersey breeds increased notably. The range of observed Pro$ values has broadened with top animals increasing the most and the lowest ranking bulls decreasing to be further below breed average. The current economic values used to derive the Pro$ formula produced higher and more variable cow lifetime profitability values when applied to actual data compared to the previous economic values. Sire Pro$ values directly represent the average difference in profit that their daughters are expected to earn up to the age of six years. Thus, the disproportionate increase in Pro$ values for top sires is explained by the greater average profits expected to be earned by their daughters.

To download a copy of the article, visit CDN.CA.

Authors:  Allison Fleming, Geneticist and Brian Van Doormaal, Chief Services Officer, Lactanet