Dairy Farmers of Canada’s 2020 Dairy Research Highlights

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) 2020 Dairy Research Highlights is now available for download on Dairy Farmers of Canada’s website in the Dairy Research section at: https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-research

The publication contains relevant information on DFC’s investments in dairy production and human nutrition and health research, its research funding partners, a list of research projects in progress, as well as some of the main outcomes resulting from research and knowledge translation and transfer activities in 2020. A new section of the document includes a list of the institutions in Canada where DFC-funded research is being carried out as well as short biographies from four individuals that describe how and why they chose careers in scientific research in the Canadian dairy sector.

Excerpts from the 2020 report

Investments in research

  • In 2020, DFC invested $1.7 million in dairy production and human nutrition and health research, which was boosted to $9 million by leveraging its investments through grant programs and partnerships. DFC and 30 partners support scientific research to drive innovation in the Canadian dairy sector. 
  • More than half of the research investments (58%) target priorities associated to the role of dairy products in human nutrition and health.
  • 23% of investments target priorities in animal health and welfare; 15% on farm efficiency and sustainability and another 4% on milk composition and quality.
  • 39 research projects are in progress at 35 institutions including research centres and universities across Canada.
  • 124 scientists and 113 graduate students and postdocs are conducting studies in dairy production and human nutrition and health.
  • 3,023 dairy farmers from coast to coast are investing their time as part of several research projects to help drive innovation in the Canadian dairy sector.
  • More than 200 communications and knowledge translation and transfer products in both languages were developed and disseminated to targeted user audiences (Canadian dairy farmers, stakeholders, health professionals and Canadians).

10 key outcomes from DFC investments in research 

Dairy Farm Efficiency and Sustainability

  • In April 2021, Lactanet Canada was the first organization to introduce Feed Efficiency genetic evaluations for the Holstein breed in Canada and among the first globally to provide Feed Efficiency evaluations. Many partners domestically and internationally (including DFC) contributed to this five-year project that received $10.3 million in funding.
  • Three factsheets were developed and distributed to over 5,000 Canadian dairy farmers as part of the proAction® Environment module roll out for which farm environmental assessments will begin this September 2021. The content promotes best practices to mitigate greenhouse gases through livestockmanure, and crop management for better farm sustainability. 
  • Preliminary research results suggest that a slag filter (iron with a gravel pit) can be a low cost, highly effective method for collecting and treating nutrient-rich runoff from bunker silos. Researchers found that the collection and treatment of runoff with a slag filter could be more effective and durable than some other commercially available filters.

Animal Health and Welfare

  • Increasing evidence is being published under the Chair in Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle and a Dairy Research Cluster 3 project on the opportunity for dairy cattle movement suggesting that increased dairy cow mobility benefits the animal’s health, behaviour, and welfare. Studies have shown that the animals are motivated to be outside, and when they had more outdoor access, had fewer incidences of lameness and injury.
  • factsheet was developed to support farmers’ decision-making when drying off cull dairy cattle at high production and emergency situations. Following the procedures can also help farmers comply with the new revised federal regulations (2020) for dairy cattle transport.
  • Recent key findings from the Chair in Dairy Cattle Welfare at the University of British Columbia included recommendations and practices for feeding and housing calves; helping heifers adapt to new situations like housing; transition cow health and care; outdoor access for dairy cattle; comfort for cows when calving; and the effectiveness of benchmarking reports to help farmers improve calf management.

Milk Composition, Quality and Safety

  • Preliminary research results have shown that an increasing number of farmers are adopting best management practices for selective dry cow therapy (35% in 2019 compared to 11% in 2015) and selective treatment of clinical mastitis (59% of farmers), which has the potential to reduce antibiotic use and resistance.
  • New resources and tools like factsheetsreports and services have been developed to assist farmers, in consultation with their veterinarians, to apply protocols for the adoption of selective dry cow therapy.

Milk Products and their Components in Human Nutrition and Health

  • Research results from a randomized controlled trial found that dairy products consumed as part of a weight management and exercise program for over-weight/obese adolescent females had favourable effects on their body composition. The researchers concluded that dairy products should remain a part of their healthy diet.
  • DFC’s dietitians organized and delivered webinars to health professionals and produced two factsheets that were distributed to 8,296 health professionals, teachers, and sector stakeholders to reinforce the importance of the role of dairy products in Canadians’ diets.

Visit the Dairy Research hub or DairyNutrition.ca to access the content.

My Dairy Research Student Competition

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) My Dairy Research Student Competition was launched on June 21st and is receiving keen interest amongst students working in Canadian dairy research.

This new online competition is targeted to all graduate students (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) involved in a research project funded by DFC in a Canadian university.

The objective of the competition is to engage students in the creation of innovative content for research users, which features their project’s results, new knowledge and the impacts/benefits of their research for the dairy sector and Canadians.

This nationwide online competition provides opportunities to graduate students:

  • To apply their science communications and knowledge transfer skills in developing content for research users;
  • To receive acknowledgement for their research in an online community of potential future employers in the dairy sector; and,
  • To be part of DFC’s dairy research success stories showcased in multiple online channels.

Graduate students (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) are invited to prepare and submit content, in English or French, describing their dairy research project and results in one of the following categories. Content must include the following: key project results, methods used, new knowledge and the potential economic, social or environmental impacts of the research on the dairy sector and Canadians. 

  • Podcast (max. 3 min.)
  • Video (max. 3 min.) 
  • Infographic (max. 1 page)

All entries will be evaluated by a Selection Committee. A minimum score of 75 out of 100 must be met to be eligible for a prize. The three entries with the highest scores in each category will be posted online on Facebook for public viewing and voting. 

Prizes

Grand Prize: $1,500 cash prize, in each category, for the submission that received the most votes from the public.

Second Prize: $800 cash prize, in each category, for the submission that received the second highest number of votes from the public.

Third Prize: $500 cash prize, in each category, for the submission that received the third highest number of votes from the public.

Timeline 

  • September 15, 2021 – Deadline for submissions at info@dairyresearch.ca
  • October 15, 2021 – Selection Committee identifies the top three submissions in each category
  • October 22 – November 5, 2021 – Online Public Voting Period 
  • November 9, 2021 – Prizes announced

*FINAL EDITION* of the DairyResearchBlog.ca

After seven years and 185 published articles in English and French, today’s posts are part of the final edition of the DairyResearchBlog.ca. Effective August 1st, 2021, the Blog will be progressively shut down. The URL for the blog will remain live until the process of migrating content from the blog to the knowledge transfer section of Lactanet’s website at lactanet.ca is complete (Fall 2021). Recall that DFC is partnering with Lactanet to include DFC KTT materials on the Lactanet website. Content like extension articles and factsheets currently found on the DairyResearchBlog.ca and DairyResearch.ca sites is being transferred over in the context of a new DFC-Lactanet partnership in KTT content delivery that will optimize dairy farmers’ search and access to a combination of tools and materials online in one national, central location. To subscribe to Lactanet’s monthly newsletter, click here:  Dairy Knowledge at Your Fingertips.

The link DairyResearch.ca will remain live to re-direct users to Dairy Farmers of Canada’s NEW Dairy Research Hub that houses DFC research content, such as governance, research programs, strategies, partners, etc. The DairyResearch.ca site will also be progressively shut down by the end of 2021. We invite the scientific community to subscribe to Dairy Farmers of Canada’s new Dairy Research newsletter that will be published quarterly and contain announcements and updates on calls for research funding proposals along with other pertinent research program news. Click here to subscribe: Dairy Research Newsletter.

We wish to thank all our readers and subscribers for following the blog and providing comments and feedback over the years! 

My Dairy Research Student Competition: Enter for a chance to win $1,500

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) My Dairy Research Student Competition is an online competition for all graduate students (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) involved in a research project funded by DFC in a Canadian university.

The objective is to engage students in the creation of innovative content for research users containing their project’s results, new knowledge and the impacts/benefits of their research for the dairy sector and Canadians.

This nationwide online competition will provide opportunities to graduate students:

  • To apply their science communications and knowledge transfer skills in developing content for research user audiences;
  • To receive acknowledgement for their research in an online community of potential future employers in the dairy sector; and,
  • To be part of DFC’s dairy research success stories showcased in multiple online channels.

Graduate students (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) are invited to prepare and submit content, in English or French, describing their dairy research study and results in one of the following categories: 

  • Podcast (max. 3 min.)
  • Video (max. 3 min.) 
  • Infographic (max. 1 page)

Content must include the following: key study results, methods used, new knowledge and the potential economic, social or environmental impacts of the research on the dairy sector and Canadians. 

All entries will be evaluated by a Selection Committee. A minimum score of 75 out of 100 must be met to be eligible for a prize. The three entries with the highest scores in each category will be posted online on Facebook for public viewing and voting. 

Prizes

Grand Prize: $1,500 cash prize, in each category, for the submission that received the most votes from the public.

Second Prize: $800 cash prize, in each category, for the submission that received the second highest number of votes from the public.

Third Prize: $500 cash prize in each category, for the submission that received the third highest number of votes from the public.

Timeline 

  • September 15, 2021 – Deadline for submissions
  • October 15, 2021 – Selection Committee identifies the top three submissions in each category
  • October 22 – November 5, 2021 – Online Public Voting Period 
  • November 9, 2021 – Prizes announced

NEW Dairy Research Hub Launched on DairyFarmersofCanada.ca

A new Dairy Research hub was launched on Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) website at: https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-research. The site contains key information on DFC research investments, governance, My Dairy Research Student Competition and research partners. As a part of the DFC corporate site, the new look and feel of the research content enables easier navigation, a better user experience on all devices and enables quick and easy page sharing across social media platforms.

Video on DFC research investments and impacts

Watch the video featuring DFC’s investments and impacts in Canadian dairy research by clicking on the following link: https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-research

What’s Next?

Over the next five months, DFC’s research program and funding information for dairy production and human nutrition and health research will be transferred from the site DairyResearch.ca and DairyNutrition.ca and housed in the DFC Dairy Research Hub. Watch for updates including the call for research proposals for the Dairy Research Cluster 4 set for the Fall of 2021.

DFC’s New Dairy Research Newsletter 

Dairy researchers, students and stakeholders will soon be invited to sign up for the new Dairy Research newsletter.  The newsletter will contain announcements and updates on calls for research funding proposals along with other pertinent research program news. 

Effective September 2021, the process of migrating content from the DairyResearchBlog.ca and DairyResearch.ca will be completed. The link DairyResearch.ca will remain as a live URL to re-direct users to the new Hub that houses DFC dairy research content. Both DairyResearch.ca and the DairyResearchBlog.ca will be progressively shut down. 

By late 2021, content developed by DFC and its partners for the purpose of delivering knowledge translation and transfer materials will be housed in Lactanet’s new website at Lactanet.ca.  DFC is partnering with Lactanet to include DFC-branded materials on their website. Content like extension articles and factsheets currently found on the Dairy Research Blog and DairyResearch.ca will be migrated gradually to the Lactanet.ca website. This new DFC-Lactanet partnership in KTT content delivery will optimize dairy farmers’ search and access to a combination of tools and materials online in one national location. 

Canadian Dairy Farmers Have their Say in Dairy Research

Dairy farmers of Canada has initiated the process to update the National Dairy Research Strategy to guide investments in science over the next five years. The process, under the oversight of the Canadian Dairy Research Council, involves an online survey developed for broad consultation on research topics and facilitated focus groups with technical and scientific experts to determine key research orientations for each of the priorities identified from the survey results.

The survey, targeting Canadian dairy farmers, industry stakeholders as well as the scientific and professional communities, was online from April 1 to 23.  The questions covered the following research priority areas: Farm Environmental Sustainability, Farm Productivity, Dairy Genetics, Animal Care and Welfare, Milk and Dairy Products and, Dairy Consumption and Health Attributes, as well questions about knowledge transfer of research results. There were 1,056 respondents from all the provinces; 58% were dairy farmers, 11% researchers and students; and 13% health professionals. DFC wishes to thank all respondents for their participation!

The following graphs represent the demographics of survey respondents.

DFC’s new National Dairy Research Strategy should be released in October and will be the basis of the next Dairy Research Cluster call for proposals to be launched by the end of 2021.

Nutrition Factsheets Show Importance of Dairy in the Diet

Two factsheets were developed and made available on the DairyNutrition.ca website. More than 8,000 copies were distributed to dietitians (2,732 copies of both factsheets), high school teachers (4, 414 copies of the Calcium factsheet) and nutrition affiliates in the provinces (1,150 copies of the Calcium factsheet) as part of DFC’s 2021 Nutrition Month Campaign in March.

The factsheet Calcium: A Nutrient of Concern in Canada highlights data from the most recent national dietary survey on the status of calcium intakes amongst Canadians and the contribution of milk products to calcium needs. It demonstrates the widespread calcium inadequacy intake in all age groups, which is mainly related to a decline in milk and milk product consumption over an 11-year period.

Download a copy of the factsheet here: Calcium: A nutrient of concern in Canada

The EAT-Lancet’s Planetary Health Diet: How Does it Compare to Canadian Nutrient Recommendations?  factsheet outlines the nutritional assessment of the dietary patterns defined by the Eat-Lancet Commission compared to current Canadian recommended nutrient intakes. Four dietary patterns described by the EAT-Lancet’s Planetary Health Diet do not meet the daily recommended intakes of several essential nutrients for many life-stage and gender groups. These problematic nutrients are calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin A and vitamin B12.

Download a copy of the factsheet here: The EAT-Lancet’s Planetary Health Diet: How does it Compare to Canadian Nutrient Recommendations?

More than 20 years of research supports ongoing improvements in dairy cattle care and welfare in Canada

Photo credit: UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre

For more than 20 years, David Fraser, Dan Weary and Nina Von Keyserlingk at the University of British Columbia have been the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) – Industrial Research Co-Chairholders in Dairy Cattle Welfare. This team has been leading the science of animal care and welfare practices in the Canadian dairy sector and internationally. DFC and a number of other sector partners have financed the Chair since it was created in 1997 and in 2019, the Chair was renewed for another five years with DFC support and several other partners.

The scientific results have helped farmers continuously improve their practices, establish standards for the evaluation of the animal care module of proAction® and served as evidence for revisions to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle (2009).

Dan Weary and Marina (Nina) von Keyserlingk, NSERC Co-Chairholders in Dairy Cattle Welfare
Photo credit: UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre

Highlights of results from the 2014-2019 research program:

Calves fed high volumes of milk and raised in pairs or in groups experienced benefits for their health, welfare and behaviour (social adaptation)

Building on work started early on in the Chair’s history where research showed tremendous weight gain benefits to feeding calves more milk (up to 12 Litres per day) via a nipple (on average daily gain was about 0.90 kg/d) accompanied by reductions in cross sucking, the group moved to explore social housing. Studies of calves paired or housed in groups, showed that calves ate more starter and gained more weight compared to calves housed individually.1,2 Pair housing also improved starter intake (at 3-10 weeks old), improving daily weight gain by an average of a 130 grams per day more compared to individually housed calves. 

From a behavioural perspective, the benefits observed of housing calves with a partner included better socialization and learning and reduced distress response at weaning. For instance, calves in paired housing adapted sooner to new feed, were calmer when moved to new environments and did better when subjected to cognitive tasks.3

Heifers benefited from having a social role model for adaptation to situations like a new housing environment.

Studies found that heifers reared in open pens showed reduced lying and feeding times when first introduced to free stall housing. But when a role model like an experienced cow was with heifers, the heifers adapted to stall use more quickly.4 The team concluded that grouping heifers with experienced older animals positively affected their behaviour and adaptation to pasture and new housing systems.5

The transition period is a critical time for cows and a number of studies were completed to help improve transition cows’ health and care. 

  • A study concluded that an unpredictable and competitive social environment before calving causes changes in feeding and social behaviour, leading to changes in health status and increases the risk of uterine disease in multiparous cows after calving.6
  • Reducing lameness during the dry period and avoiding over-conditioning at dry-off likely promotes improved transition health.7 The researchers found that lameness at dry-off was associated with metritis and transitional diseases, but not with subclinical ketosis. An association between lameness and transitional diseases is partially mediated through reduced feeding time. 
  • A high incidence of lameness during dairy cows’ dry period was observed; hoof trimming before the dry period reduced the risk of lameness for primiparous cows but not for multiparous cows.8
  • Low body condition at dry-off and non-infectious hoof lesions in the weeks before dry-off were associated with chronic lameness during the dry period.9
  • Changes in feeding, social and lying behaviors can help identify cows at risk of metritis. Cows ate less, were replaced at the feed bunk more often and spent less time lying down compared to healthy cows10 during a two-week period before calving and at 3 days before a clinical diagnosis of metritis. 

Cows’ motivation to access the outdoors varies with time of day and season and providing a mechanical brush in the barn can be an important resource for the animals. 

The researchers studied free stall housed cows’ motivation to access pasture. They gauged the cows’ motivation by having them push on a weighted gate to access fresh feed compared to a weighted gate used to access pasture. Weights on the gates were gradually increased over time by the same amount to test the animals’ motivation. They found that cows will work as hard to access pasture as they will to access fresh feed. Cows also worked hardest for outdoor access in the evening.11 When given the choice, cows housed in free stalls spent 25% of their time on an outdoor pack in summer and primarily at night. In winter, they spent 2% of their time outside. On an outdoor pack, cows spent 53.7% of the time lying down during the summer and 4.7% of the time lying down during the winter.12

Similarly, the researchers tested cows’ motivation to access a mechanical brush using a weighted gate system. Cows were trained to push a weighted gate to access fresh feed, a mechanical brush or the same space without a brush. They observed that cows are highly motivated to access a mechanical brush for grooming, suggesting that this is an important resource for these animals.13

Improvements for animal care at calving

Their studies found that cows that were calving preferred sand or concrete flooring, suggesting that these types of flooring may provide better traction for bouts of lying and standing when calving.14 They also demonstrated that cows that were calving preferred visual isolation from others and if provided the option, they will hide behind a barrier. The researchers recommend that providing a plywood barrier for cows when they are calving is a simple and low-cost method of meeting a cow’s need for isolation when calving.15

Benchmarking practices for improved dairy cattle welfare on commercial farms 

The researchers tested farmers’ use of benchmarking reports to measure dairy cattle growth rates and transfer of immunity from colostrum in dairy calves. The use of reports resulted in a majority of farms making at least one management change in consultation with their veterinarian to improve their results.16 They concluded that benchmarking specific outcomes associated with calf rearing can motivate producer engagement in calf care, leading to improved outcomes for calves on farms that apply relevant management changes.

What’s next? In 2019, a new five-year NSERC-IRC program (2019-2024) was launched by co-Chairs Dan Weary and Marina (Nina) von Keyserlingk. Over the next 5 years these two scientists will combine practical studies on commercial farms with a series of experimental studies conducted at the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre. The objectives for the new program following industry partner consultations are focused on: calf and heifer rearing, cow health and lameness, housing facilities and management, and painful procedures. 

IRC Chair in Dairy Cattle Welfare overview

Chairholders: David Fraser, Marina (Nina) von Keyserlingk, Dan Weary (University of British Columbia)

Current Investment Partners: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Dairy Farmers of Canada, Alberta Milk, BC Dairy Association, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd., BC Cattle Industry Development Council, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, Intervet Canada Corp., Lactanet, Saputo Inc., SaskMilk, and Semex Alliance.


1 https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(16)00140-5/abstrac

2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030215004944

3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030216001405

4 https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0365779

5 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002203021500781X

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30077452

7https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337051971_The_relationship_between_transition_period_diseases_and_lameness_feeding_time_and_body_condition_during_the_dry_period

8 https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(19)30850-1/fulltext

9 https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(19)30850-1/fulltext

10 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030218301425

11https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315590760_Dairy_cows_value_access_to_pasture_as_highly_as_fresh_feed

12https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329927045_Dairy_cow_preference_for_access_to_an_outdoor_pack_in_summer_and_winter

13 https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0303

14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24359828

15 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260807240_Dairy_cows_seek_isolation_at_calving_and_when_ill

16 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030217301601

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 bvandoormaal@lactanet.ca

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