REMINDER – Have your say in Canadian dairy research: Answer DFC’s survey to help guide strategic research priorities for the future

There is still time to have your say in Canadian dairy research! Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) online survey about future priorities for Canadian dairy research is open until April 23, 2021.

DFC invites dairy farmers, industry stakeholders as well as scientific and professional communities to complete the survey to help identify research priorities as part of the organization’s process to update its National Dairy Research Strategy. The updated strategy will be used to guide investments in science over the next five years. 

Your participation in the survey is vital to growth and innovation in the sector. DFC invests about $2 million annually in dairy production, and human nutrition and health research. This amount is leveraged to increase investments in research to approximately $8 million annually through matching funding programs and partnership contributions.

It takes about 15 minutes to complete the survey and answers will be kept confidential and amalgamated. Individuals have the option to leave their name and email to enter a draw for the following participation prizes: a $200 gift certificate from Lactanet and three $50 gift certificates from DFC’s Blue Cow Shop.

Please share the survey link widely and encourage your dairy colleagues to have their say too!

Canada Among the First to Introduce Feed Efficiency

{Source: Lactanet press release}

The week of April 9th marked an important highlight in the history of dairy cattle improvement services in Canada as Lactanet introduced the first genetic evaluations for Feed Efficiency in the Holstein breed.

Feed is a major expense on every dairy farm and represents more than half of on-farm production expenses. Some animals are more efficient at converting feed at the bunk to milk in the tank – the primary source of income for dairy producers. Lactanet’s new Feed Efficiency evaluation focuses on selection for improved biological efficiency without affecting production levels or body size and aims to minimize stress during the transition period.

“We are very proud of the launch of new genomic evaluations for Feed Efficiency, which positions Canada among global leaders in terms of the opportunity for genetic selection to improve the production efficiency of dairy cattle”, stated Neil Petreny, Lactanet CEO, “and provide Canadian dairy farmers with additional savings for their everyday operations”. Lactanet Board Chair, Barbara Paquet, added “The Board recognizes and appreciates the significant time and effort invested by Lactanet staff, other industry personnel and the highly qualified team of research scientists involved in this initiative to reach this pivotal successful outcome”.

The launch of Feed Efficiency evaluations was made possible through a large-scale international research project that spanned from 2015 to 2020. The Efficient Dairy Genome Project was a Canadian-led collaboration involving Lactanet as the major industry funding partner and a joint research team from the University of Guelph and University of Alberta. The $10.3M initiative also received much appreciated funding from Genome Canada, Genome Alberta, Ontario Genomics, Alberta and Ontario Ministries of Agriculture and the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Only four months after this project’s completion, Lactanet brings this latest world-leading innovation in research to dairy farms across Canada in the form of genetic evaluations for Feed Efficiency.

Initially, Feed Efficiency evaluations are available only for genotyped bulls in A.I. and females in herds enrolled on Lactanet’s milk-recording services, but access will be available to all Canadian herd owners before the end of the year. For every 5-point increase in a sire’s Feed Efficiency evaluation, the daughters are expected to reduce their total dry matter intake after peak lactation by 60 kg without impacting production levels or body weight – each and every lactation.

For more information, contact: Brian Van Doormaal, Chief Services Officer

Click on the titles below to read other genetics articles of interest by Lactanet: 

Are some cows genetically susceptible to Johne’s Disease?

A research project led by Nathalie Bissonnette (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) -Sherbrooke) and Kapil Tahlan (Memorial University of Newfoundland) is investigating genetic markers in dairy animals that may be associated to Johne’s disease susceptibility or resistance. The project, Unraveling the genetic susceptibility to Johne’s disease, is financed by AAFC and Lactanet with in-kind contributions by Holstein Canada under the Dairy Research Cluster 3. 

For dairy farmers, this disease results in financial losses related to reduced milk production, decreased pregnancy rates, increased premature culling, and impacts overall animal welfare. Economic losses in the Canadian dairy sector resulting from Johne’s disease were recently estimated at $21.5 million to $34.1 million.[1]  

The main pathogen that causes Johne’s disease is Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP). Management tools are currently in place to reduce the spread of Johne’s disease in Canada. For example, by implementing the Biosecurity module of proAction®, dairy farmers work with their veterinarians to mitigate the risks of introducing existing and emerging animal diseases on their farms to maintain the health of the herd. However, controlling Johne’s disease is difficult due to the disease’s unpredictable progression and the weak sensitivity of diagnostic tests. 

Previous research has shown the potential to reduce the prevalence of Johne’s disease in cattle by selecting for animals that are genetically resistant to the disease. This innovative application would be a complementary to the tools farmers can use alongside management strategies to prevent infections.  

Over a five-year period, Nathalie Bissonnette and her collaborators collected serum and fecal samples from 3,150 cows. The team used this data combined with other diagnostic tests to define a classification system and identify animals as either infected and infectious, infected and assumed resistant, or healthy. Using this unique dataset, they were able to accurately model the development of Johne’s disease over time and correctly differentiate between cows that would eventually develop Johne’s disease and those that resisted the infection and did not excrete the pathogen. The researchers are also genotyping cows using two proven genetic testing methods (i.e. single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) panel and genotyping-by-sequencing), and analyzing the epigenetic profile of susceptible cows.  So far, the team has identified genetic and epigenetics markers associated with the susceptibility of developing Johne’s disease.

In recent publications, the researchers confirmed the presence of genetic modifications[2],[3] and the epigenetics effects[4],[5],[6]  that are associated to Johne’s disease. 

Analysis was performed to study the markers in vitro[7],[8] and studying immune tolerance to JD using bovine primary macrophages.[9] Further research on a second population of dairy cows is ongoing and will confirm the usefulness of the genetic markers for selection of JD resistance/tolerance.

The team is also investigating the genetic diversity of MAP strains by using validated tools[10] and classifying the variants from animals across Canada that are infected with Johne’s disease at different stages. These analyses will define which factors affect the performance of diagnostic tests and explain disease progression. This ongoing work to identify MAP variants that could be more virulent will be key for the development of a successful vaccination program in the future.


Principal Investigators: Nathalie Bissonnette (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) – Sherbrooke) and Kapil Tahlan (Memorial University of Newfoundland) 

Co-Investigators: Eveline Ibeagha-Awemu (AAFC-Sherbrooke), David Kelton, Flavio Schenkel (University of Guelph), Gilles Fecteau (Université de Montréal), Franck Biet (Institut national de la recherche agronomique – France) 

Total Budget: $1,019,988 

[1] Rasmussen P, Barkema HW, Mason S, Beaulieu E, Hall DC: Economic losses due to Johne’s disease (paratuberculosis) in dairy cattleJ Dairy Sci 2021.

[2] Mallikarjunappa S, Schenkel FS, Brito LF, Bissonnette N, Miglior F, Chesnais J, Lohuis M, Meade KG, Karrow NA: Association of genetic polymorphisms related to Johne’s disease with estimated breeding values of Holstein sires for milk ELISA test scoresBMC Vet Res 2020, 16(1):165.

[3] Bissonnette N, Marete A, Kelton D, Schenkel F, Ibeagha-Awemu E, Fecteau G, Miglior F: Conditional GWAS using sequence-based genotypes for susceptibility to Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis infection in Canadian HolsteinJ Anim Sci 2020, 98(4):

[4] Ibeagha-Awemu E, Bhattarai S, Dedemaine PL, Wang M, McKay SD, Zhao X, Bissonnette N: Genome wide DNA methylation analysis reveals role of DNA methylation in cow’s ileal response to Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosisJ Anim Sci 2020, 98:

[5] Ibeagha-Awemu E, Bhattarai S, Dudemaine PL, Wang M, McKay SD, Zhao X, Bissonnette N: DNA methylome wide profile associates differentially methylated loci and regions with cow’s ileal lymph node response to Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis. Journal of Animal Science 2020, 98(4):

[6] Marete A, Ariel O, Ibeagha-Awemu E, Bissonnette N: Identification of long non-coding RNA associated with bovine Johne’s disease using a combination of neural networks and logistic regressionFrontiers in veterinary science 2021,

[7] Mallikarjunappa S, Shandilya UK, Sharma A, Lamers K, Bissonnette N, Karrow NA, Meade KG: Functional analysis of bovine interleukin-10 receptor alpha in response to Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis lysate using CRISPR/Cas9BMC Genet 2020, 21(1):121.

[8] Ariel O, Brouard JS, Marete A, Miglior F, Ibeagha-Awemu E, Bissonnette N: Genome-wide association analysis identified both RNA-seq and DNA variants associated to paratuberculosis in Canadian Holstein cattle ‘in vitro’ experimentally infected macrophagesBMC Genomics 2021, 22(1):162.

[9] Ariel O, Gendron D, Dudemaine PL, Gevry N, Ibeagha-Awemu EM, Bissonnette N: Transcriptome Profiling of Bovine Macrophages Infected by Mycobacterium avium spp. paratuberculosis Depicts Foam Cell and Innate Immune Tolerance PhenotypesFront Immunol 2019, 10:2874.

[10] Byrne AS, Goudreau A, Bissonnette N, Shamputa IC, Tahlan K: Methods for Detecting Mycobacterial Mixed Strain Infections-A Systematic ReviewFront Genet 2020, 11:600692.