Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Authors: Dr. Ronaldo Cerri (University of British Columbia) and Meagan King, (Postdoc, University of Guelph)

Why are automated activity monitors (AAM) becoming more popular on Canadian dairy farms? DFC-funded research has shown that AAM can work just as well as synchronization programs while also predicting which cows will have better fertility.

Neck collars or leg pedometers are currently used on 10% of Canadian dairy farms as their main strategy for reproductive management (>50% of inseminations). Visual heat detection and timed AI are still used more than AAM, but this may change as hormone use is further scrutinized.

Two large field trials in Ontario and BC (funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2, supervised by Dr. Ronaldo Cerri at the University of British Columbia and students Tracy Burnett, Augusto Madureira, and Liam Polsky) found that reproduction programs using AAM for heat detection are equally efficient as those relying heavily on synchronization protocols.

Breeding cows based on AAM data had similar pregnancy per AI and days open compared with a strict timed AI program (Presynch-Ovsynch). With goals to improve heat detection accuracy and the use of AAM data to make farm-level management decisions, Dr. Cerri’s research group studies how estrus events and intensity are related to ovulation, ovarian/uterine function, fertility, and performance in dairy reproduction programs.

The researchers also found that cows with high intensity heats and large changes in activity (during spontaneous and induced estrus) had greater pregnancy per AI and better fertility, compared to cows with low intensity heats who had more ovulation failure. Moreover, the top 25% highest-producing cows had heats with the lowest intensity and shortest duration. Older cows, those with low body condition, and those experiencing high temperature-humidity indices (above 65) showed less estrus behaviour as well.

In the BC field trial, each individual farm was a big source of variation in the performance of programs based on heat detection, likely because AAM are more prone to individual farm variations compared with established timed AI protocols. This means that the best reproductive program for each farm may differ based on their specific strengths, particularly whether they can better use AAM or injection-schedules properly and consistently. Anovular cows and those with poor leg health can also impair the performance of AAM reproductive programs.

Ultimately, differences in attitudes and preferences among Canadian dairy producers (highlighted in a nationwide survey by José Denis-Robichaud) should be considered when choosing the optimal reproduction management tools. For example, producers have differing views about reproduction hormones in terms of profitability and long-term effects on fertility. However, for farms already reaching 30 to 35% conception rates from breeding at estrus, doing that will still be more profitable than completing full synchronization protocols.

 

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Authors: Dr. Karin Orsel, Emily Morabito (MSc.) and Caroline Corbett, (Ph.D), University of Calgary

Cow comfort and animal welfare are of great importance to the dairy industry. The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle contains recommended practices and requirements for Canadian dairy producers regarding welfare; however, it is unknown whether changes are actually made on farms, and what effects these changes have on cow comfort.

A research project led by MSc. student Emily Morabito and supervised by Dr. Karin Orsel at the University of Calgary investigated whether changes were made to the freestalls on farms that had previously participated in a cow comfort risk assessment, and then reassessed animal measures of cow comfort described on the Canadian Dairy Research portal. The team found that farms that made changes to the freestall area following the first assessment had a lower percentage of lame cows, and cows had increased average daily lying time compared to the farms that did not make changes, or farms that had never been assessed. Additionally, farmers that had made changes to the freestalls scored certain risk factors for lameness as more important when compared to the group that made no changes.

In the first part of the study, 60 cows were selected on each farm and assessed for lameness, leg injuries and lying time over four days. The 1st group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier and had since made changes to the freestall area; the 2nd group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier, but did not make changes. The 3rd group (14 farms) had never been evaluated previously. Based on the responses from the 1st group, the most frequent changes to the freestall area were increased bedding quantity, changing the stall base to geomatresses, and grooving crossover alleys; however, the specific changes and their effect on cow comfort could not be directly assessed due to the variability in the types of changes, or combination of changes that were made. The changes made are in line with current research, especially those indicating that deep bedded straw or sand, decreases leg injuries that may occur.

Secondly, a questionnaire was conducted on-farm with the producers that was similar to the one they had completed 5 years earlier, and their answers were compared to those that had been provided at the previous assessment. Farmers in the 1st group tended to score risk factors for lameness as more important than those in the 2nd group; however, these producers started with a higher measurement of lameness in the earlier assessment, which may have contributed to their decision to make changes. All farmers scored risk factors as more important during the most recent questionnaire, indicating the previous assessment may have had an impact on producer perceptions of lameness. Additionally, other resources of information resulting from increased industry awareness may have led to all farmers being more knowledgeable regarding lameness and risk factors as time progresses.

This study indicates that those who make changes had improved animal-based measures of cow comfort, and being exposed to cow comfort assessment impacts the perceived importance of risk factors associated with lameness.

Risk Factors for Lameness

  • Cow comfort

  • Facility design

  • Management/Environmental factors

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

The Dairy Research Cluster is pleased to present the 2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action next February 9th at the Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario.

Who should attend?

Canadian dairy farmers, dairy stakeholders and professionals working in the dairy farm sector that want to receive new and emerging knowledge on production and human nutrition and health research and tools have been developed drawing from these projects in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018).

Registration details and a preliminary agenda will be available later in the month of November.

We hope you can join us on February 9th!

Scientific advances in organic dairy farming: Switchgrass as a promising sustainable alternative bedding for cows

A research project financed in part by Dairy Farmers of Canada and its partners under the Organic Science Cluster investigated sustainable alternative sources of bedding for dairy cows. The research team led by Dr. Renée Bergeron (University of Guelph), and collaborators the University of Guelph (Dr. Trevor De Vries), Université Laval (Dr. Doris Pellerin, Dr. Anne Vanasse, Anick Raby) and McGill University (Dr. Elsa Vasseur, Dr. Philippe Séguin, Tania Wolfe) found that switchgrass is a promising alternative to wheat straw as bedding material for dairy cows. They discovered that cows preferred switchgrass over the straw and there were no negative effects on cow comfort, cleanliness and teat end contamination. Switchgrass may also be a more economically advantageous choice for some dairy farmers.

In their study, they assessed cow preference, lying behavior, stall and cow cleanliness and potential bacterial contamination of teat ends. They also analyzed the economic impact of the use of Switchgrass and the best harvesting practices for performance and quality as a bedding.

 UnknownSwitchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a high-yielding, long-term perennial grass grown on marginal land (Sanderson et al., 2006). It is well adapted for growth under temperate climate, is disease and pest resistant, requires low fertilizer applications and is relatively inexpensive to grow and harvest (Frigon et al. 2012).

In a first experiment, nine cows were housed individually in pens with three stalls with different lying surfaces. They were submitted to a preference test for three types of bedding: deep-bedded chopped switchgrass (SG), “switchgrass-lime” mattress (mixture of chopped switchgrass, water and carbonic magnesium lime – farms using organic bedding commonly add lime to reduce bacterial growth), and wheat straw on a rubber mat (control). The cows had been previously exposed to stalls with sawdust covered mattresses. Lying times were recorded and the cows filmed.

pastedImageIn a second experiment, 24 cows in a free-stall housing were offered the same three bedding treatments. Researchers tested the effects of the three types of bedding on lying behavior, cow cleanliness and teat end bacterial contamination. Stall usage was recorded and samples were taken of teat ends and tested for bacteria (coliforms, Klebsiella spp., and Streptococcus spp.).

The researchers found that the cows preferred the switchgrass bedding compared to the other two bedding types when given equal access and choice. The results also showed that the switchgrass and switchgrass-lime deep bedded options were equivalent in terms of lying behavior and cow cleanliness, but the higher moisture content and teat end coliform counts on the switchgrass-lime surface make it a less favorable option. A longer term study would be required to confirm the latter finding.

When wheat-straw and switchgrass were compared for lying time, cleanliness, injury, SCC and teat end bacteria, they were equivalent in terms of comfort and cleanliness.

Harvest and use of switchgrass

The research team also investigated the economic impact of using switchgrass as an alternative bedding and identified harvesting practices to optimize its performance and conservation.

Switchgrass was grown, harvested and dried on two sites in Quebec – at Université Laval and McGill University. The field experiments showed that yields are much higher when switchgrass is harvested in the fall compared to the spring. However, the spring harvest resulted in lower moisture content. Harvesting before or after the first frost in the fall does not seem to affect winter survival or regrowth in the spring and drying efficiency is higher when switchgrass is harvested before frost, compared to after the fall frost. However, the final moisture content of switchgrass remains higher before frost than after frost.

To assess the economic impact of using switchgrass as bedding, ten Quebec dairy farms in five regions of the province were surveyed. For most, it was an economically advantageous choice. Farmers reported that yields and persistence are advantages and other benefits cited included smaller storage space required.

Take away messages:

  • Switchgrass is a promising alternative to wheat straw as bedding material for dairy cows, both as a deep-litter option or used on top of a mattress or mat.

  • There were no negative effects on cow comfort, cow cleanliness or teat end contamination, and switchgrass had better absorbency than straw.

  • Switchgrass may be an economically advantageous choice for bedding on dairy farms.

    For a summary of the dairy-related organic science cluster projects, visit DairyResearch.ca.

 

Genetics: Does Filtering Really Help Achieve Your Breeding Goals?

The following is an extract from an extension article published by Brian Van Doormaal and Lynsay Beavers of the Canadian Dairy Network.

Some producers have adopted the strategy of applying minimum values on one or more traits for filtering through sires to identify those to use in the herd. Such a strategy can have a very significant impact on the resulting sire selection, which is often not considered.

The ideal strategy for producers to achieve their breeding objectives is first to rank sires based on their preferred selection index (i.e. Pro$ or LPI). Once the highest sires for that index are identified, then the second step is to determine how to best incorporate them in your herd by avoiding matings that result in too much inbreeding and/or a higher risk of carrying an undesirable genetic recessive such as the gene associated with Cholesterol Deficiency.

Two national genetic selection indexes, LPI and Pro$, have a critical role to play. Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) and each breed association provides lists of top animals with proven sires, genomic young bulls, cows and heifers, ranked based on their LPI and Pro$.  These indexes have been developed and implemented to guide Canadian producers in terms of setting their breeding goals and then realizing them. Select which index best suits your breeding goals and then stick with it to select the sires to use in your herd while managing the inbreeding level and likelihood of genetic recessives for each mating.

Recall that Pro$ was introduced in August 2015 as a profit-based index that ranks sires and cows according to the net profit that their daughters are expected to realize during the first six years of their life. Compared to Pro$, producers using LPI as their primary selection index can expect more genetic progress for conformation traits but slower gains for production yields and both indexes have a similar expected response for most functional traits.

To consult the full article, click here: https://www.cdn.ca/document.php?id=470.

 

Canadian dairy researcher and extension specialists awarded!

The Order of Agronomists of Quebec awarded Dr. Hélène Lapierre (AAFC), Steve Adam (Valacta) and Julie Baillargeon (Valacta) for their contributions to advancing dairy research and extension. The awards were delivered at their annual conference in Sherbrooke, Quebec held on September 21-22, 2017.

Award of Merit for Agronomy

Unknown-1Dr. Hélène Lapierre, AAFC Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre

Dr. Lapierre has close to 30 years experience as a research scientist at AAFC working with dairy cows. One of her major achievements was to develop unique insights into how nitrogen is used by dairy cows. Nitrogen is an important part of a cow’s diet because it is the key component of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The findings of the research will help improve the formulation models used to develop feed rations for dairy cows. The new formulations, which will cut the protein content of the rations, will increase revenues for dairy farms while reducing releases of pollutants into the environment.

The results of her research over her career have been published in 136 scientific articles, 19 scientific reviews and book chapters and 206 scientific oral presentations and posters.

Medals of Distinction for Agronomy

Steve Adam, Dairy Production Expert on Animal Comfort, Behaviour and Well-being, Valacta and Julie Baillargeon, Technology Transfer and Research Project Coordinator, Valacta

Steve Adam and Julie Baillargeon were awarded the medal of distinction for agronomy in recognition of their exceptional work in the context of a training program on animal comfort. The Barn, A source of comfort was developed to explain the importance of animal comfort for dairy cattle and provide dairy producers with knowledge and practical solutions to apply in their barns.

Together, Steve and Julie surveyed, reviewed and translated the most pertinent research results to develop the program. Much of the research involved dairy farms in Quebec and Canada, with projects financed in large part under the Dairy Research Cluster.

The program and information received wide coverage: it was accessed in 26 countries and to date, their videos were viewed over 20,000 times. Moreover, they were an integral part of a team in partnership with Dairy Farmers of Canada that adapted the program into a series of six webinars (3 english and 3 french) and delivered the information to dairy producers across the country.

Congratulations to our colleagues for their outstanding achievements!

 

Nutrition Symposium 2017: Celebrating Women’s Health.

2017Dairy Farmers of Canada’s symposium entitled Celebrating Women’s Health examines a number of important aspects related to nutrition and health for women. The following topics will be presented by renowned speakers:

  • Weight bias and stigma
  • The role of protein in aging
  • Bone health across the lifespan
  • Nutritional needs of active women

To consult the program and register, visit DairyNutrition.ca.

 

This event is organized in collaboration with: