Innovative research to advance genetic and genomic improvements in the Canadian dairy sector

Genetic gains in the Canadian dairy industry have been advancing at an unprecedented rate since the introduction of genomics in August 2009, when the first genomic evaluations were published in Canada.[i] In the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, the average rate of genetic gain more than doubled. It is estimated that genomic selection for novel, economically important traits could generate an additional $200 million per year in annual net benefits to the dairy sector as a result of increased genetic progress for new relevant traits. [ii]

Two research projects funded under the Dairy Research Cluster 3 (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Lactanet (DairyGen Council)) will make considerable contributions to optimizing breeding strategies and maximizing genetic gains to benefit the dairy sector.

1.  Understanding the impact of cutting-edge genomic technologies on breeding strategies for optimum genetic progress in Canadian dairy cattle

Researcher Christine Baes of the University of Guelph is leading this project focused on the analysis and comparison of breeding strategies and novel tools from an economic and genetic improvement perspective to increase progress in Canadian dairy cattle breeding programs. Ultimately, the outcomes will serve to help dairy farmers make more informed decisions about using new technologies, methods and breeding strategies on their farms.

In some of the work done to date, the researchers appraised and described in detail the current breeding structure and are investigating the impact of either continuing with the current structure or incorporating new technologies and traits to optimize dairy cattle breeding programs. A list of 70 traits in use in Canada was prepared and the costs of collecting records on animals were calculated and estimates made of the genetic parameters of all measured traits. A large dataset of more than four million breeding records was used to investigate the use of reproductive technologies in Canadian herds and describe breeding practices.[iii]

Recommendations on how to best incorporate prospective new technologies and novel traits to optimize Canadian dairy cattle breeding programs will be developed, as well as considerations for adoption to help fully understand the long-term effects of altering the current breeding scheme. 

Project overview

  • Principal Investigator: Christine Baes (University of Guelph)
  • Co-Investigators: Flavio Schenkel, Getu Hailu, Angela Cánovas (University of Guelph) 
  • Period: 2018-2023 
  • Total Budget: $908,723 

For a summary of the project, click on the following link: Understanding the impact of cutting-edge genomic technologies on breeding strategies for optimum genetic progress in Canadian dairy cattle.

2.  Accelerating genetic gain for novel traits in Canadian Holstein cows

Previous research has demonstrated that the accuracy of genomic evaluations for novel traits can be improved by increasing the size of the reference population in a cost-effective manner by genotyping cows that already have phenotypes for novel traits. In this new project, researcher Flavio S. Schenkel of the University of Guelph and his team are investigating ways to establish a much larger reference population of genotyped females to maximize the genetic progress for novel traits such as mastitis, metabolic diseases, fertility disorders, hoof health, feed efficiency and methane emissions. 

The researchers are aiming to genotype some 25,000 cows from commercial herds that are collecting relevant phenotypes to increase the size and diversity of the current reference population used in genomic selection. The enlarged reference population will be used to determine genetic parameters, develop or improve genomic evaluations, and deliver more accurate genomic predictions for a series of novel traits. 

A larger female reference population of genotyped cows from herds recording novel traits of interest will support and increase the accuracy of routine genomic evaluations for a portfolio of traits and accelerate genomic gains, leading to the ability to breed more disease resistant and efficient animals. 

Project Overview

  • Principal Investigator: Flavio Schenkel (University of Guelph)
  • Co-Investigators: Christine Baes, Angela Cánovas, Janusz Jamrozik (University of Guelph) 
  • Collaborators: Xin Zhao (McGill University), Ronaldo Cerri (University of British Columbia), Stephen LeBlanc, Eduardo Ribeiro, Filippo Miglior (University of Guelph) 
  • Period: 2018-2022 
  • Total Budget: $999,922 

For a summary of the project, click on the following link: Accelerating genetic gain for novel traits in Canadian Holstein cows.


[ii] Chesnais, J. P. (2016). Breakthroughs in Dairy Genetics and Genomics. Presentation to Dairy Research Symposium of Dairy Farmers of Canada, February 5, 2016, Ottawa, Ontario.


Webinar: New insights on the role of milk products in the prevention of type 2 diabetes

Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes and roughly 90% of people living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes (T2D). Growing evidence suggests that dairy product consumption, including consumption of higher fat milk products, is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  

Dairy Farmers of Canada is organizing and hosting a webinar featuring speaker Anthony Hanley, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 from noon to 1 p.m. (EST). He will present scientific information on the role of milk products in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, including:

  • The prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D), especially in Canada
  • Risk factors in the development of T2D
  • Scientific evidence on the role of milk products in the prevention of T2D
  • Potential mechanisms related to milk products in the prevention of T2D 
  • New and emerging evidence: dairy fatty acids, fermented dairy foods

To register for the webinar, click on the link here:

Dairy farmers needed! Canadian researchers are seeking your input on silage production and management practices

A Canadian research team led by Nancy McLean, Dalhousie University and Linda Jewell, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) – St-John’s, Newfoundland, is inviting dairy farmers to fill in a survey on silage production and management. The deadline to fill in the survey is March 31, 2021.

Dairy Farmers of Canada, in collaboration with AAFC, is supporting this research project called, Identifying best management practices for high quality silage production under the Dairy Research Cluster 3. 

The participation of dairy farmers is a crucial part of the project. By participating, dairy farmers will contribute to the achievement of significant research that will make evidence-based information on best management practices, costs reduction options, and the optimal conditions for high quality silage production across Canada available to farmers.

Click on the following link to answer the survey:

For more information, please contact Nancy McLean at Nancy.McLean@Dal.Ca.

Large-scale research projects investigating the role of dairy product consumption in Canadians’ health

Three research projects are currently underway that are investigating the role of dairy products on appetite (i.e. satiety), body weight, glycemic control, metabolic health and prevention of type 2 diabetes. 

  1. RESEARCH PROJECT: Effects of long-term consumption of dairy products on satiety, body weight and glycemic control

This project builds on the results of a large Dairy Research Cluster 2 study that provided evidence of the potential benefits of long-term habitual consumption of full-fat dairy to control appetite (i.e. satiety) and postprandial blood glucose. This project led by Harvey Anderson, University of Toronto, will conduct randomized controlled trials to determine the impact of the consumption of dairy products on appetite and blood glucose control (glycemia) and weight management. All three factors are related to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

Three diets will be served to a group of more than 150 men and women aged 19-45 years old for 24 weeks. The diets are: 1) a low-dairy, energy-restricted diet 2) a diet that is energy-restricted with three servings of dairy per day (regular-fat cheese, yogurt and milk); and 3) a diet of three servings per day of regular-fat dairy without energy restriction. Measurements on weight and body composition, blood pressure, blood lipids such as cholesterol and other risk factors, satiety (i.e. appetite control) and blood glucose control after meals (i.e. postprandial glycemia) will also be taken.

Scientific evidence and data published as a result of this study may support health claims related to the beneficial effects of consumption of dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese) on curbing appetite, weight control and blood glucose.  

Project Overview

  • Principal Investigator: Harvey Anderson (University of Toronto)
  • Co-Investigator: Bohdan Luhovyy (Mount Saint Vincent University) 
  • Collaborator: John Sievenpiper (University of Toronto) 
  • Period: 2019-2023 
  • Total Budget: $1,245,133

For a summary of the project, click on the following link: Effects of long-term consumption of dairy products on satiety, body weight and glycemic control.

2. RESEARCH PROJECT: Role of dairy products on body weight and metabolic health in families

The objective of this project is to determine the impact of dairy products (regular fat and lower fat) on weight management in families consisting of adults and children. Led by researchers Angelo Tremblay and Vicky Drapeau, Université Laval, the team is examining the effect of dairy products on body weight and appetite control, diet quality and metabolic health in normal weight/obese adults and children using an innovative web-based approach. 

The researchers are developing a web-based program to assess the impact of integrating dairy products into the diets of families with normal weight and obese adults and children, under free-living conditions. The program will measure dairy consumption; dairy variety and diet quality; body weight and appetite control; reported energy intake; food preference and eating behaviors; and cardiometabolic risk factors (e.g. glycemic control, blood lipids). 

The evidence and data collected on dairy product consumption and weight management may help support health claims related to the beneficial effects of dairy product consumption on weight management.

Project Overview

  • Principal Investigators: Angelo Tremblay and Vicky Drapeau (Université Laval)
  • Co-Investigators: Sylvie Turgeon, Vincenzo Di Marzo (Université Laval), Éric Doucet (University of Ottawa) 
  • Collaborators: André Marette, Jean Doré (Université Laval), Marion Hetherington, Graham Finlayson (University of Leeds – England) 
  • Period: 2019-2023 
  • Total Budget: $660,000 

For a summary of the project, click on the following link: Role of dairy products on body weight and metabolic health in families.

3. RESEARCH PROJECT: Role of dairy products in the prevention of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) in Canada is a significant health, economic and societal burden. Recent data from a large body of evidence has shown that dairy products, especially yogurt and cheese, may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.[i]

Researcher Sergio Burgos of McGill University and his team will conduct randomized controlled trials to determine whether eating different types of dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt) with differing fat content can improve insulin sensitivity in overweight and obese people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Evidence from randomized controlled trials will provide critical data needed to substantiate health claims regarding the benefits of consuming dairy products on type 2 diabetes prevention. 

Project Overview

  • Principal Investigator:  Sergio Burgos (McGill University)
  • Co-Investigators: Stéphanie Chevalier, Roger Cue, Errol Marliss, José Morais, Rob Sladek and Michael Tsoukas (McGill University), David Wishard (University of Alberta)
  • Period: 2020-2025 
  • Total Budget: $1,276,785

[i] Drouin‐Chartier JP et al., 2016