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.

PROupdateeng2Summary

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

DFC-financed research at the 2020 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar

ES1fQqTUcAE-B9yDairy Farmers of Canada’s research booth was at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar (WCDS) the week of March 9-13 in Red Deer, Alberta. There were close to 900 dairy farmers, stakeholders, researchers, students and exhibitors at the conference. At DFC’s booth, handouts were provided on the latest research projects, and fact sheets on Animal care, Water conservation and Footbaths for the Prevention and Control of Digital Dermatitis were shared with many farmers.

While sessions were planned for the whole week, conference activities scheduled for March 13th were cancelled when Alberta Health officials issued an advisory to avoid all large public gatherings due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the province. WCDS organizers announced the closure of proceedings at the end of the day on Thursday, allowing all attendees to return safely home.

We wish to thank the WCDS organizing committee for a very informative and productive week of meetings!

Results from research financed by DFC and dairy partners 

Several student posters and abstracts at the WCDS provided results from studies at different stages of progress from four major research initiatives supported by DFC and other dairy partners. Listed below are extracts from posters that have preliminary results for completed studies or a description of the expected outcomes for new studies. To view a study poster or abstract, click on the words “Poster” or “Abstract” after each outcome.

Preliminary study results: Optimizing health and production of cows milked in robotic systemslogo_grappe_3__sans_txt_EN-FR

Principal Investigator: Trevor DeVries, University of Guelph

  • Maintaining good hoof health, mobility, and body condition are key factors to optimize productivity and milk quality in robotic milking herds. {Poster}{Abstract}
  • There are potential benefits of using automated milking and feeding systems for farmers’ mental health: dairy farmers may be less stressed, anxious and depressed. The study also found that milk yield and cow health are associated with positive or negative farmer mental health. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • A description of the current trends and benchmarks in management and housing practices across robotic milking farms. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • Greater milk production and quality are being achieved in Canadian robotic milking herds by increasing feed push-up frequency, reducing stocking density, and using sand to bed their free stalls. {Poster} {Abstract}

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Preliminary study results: Surveillance of antimicrobial use and resistance to improve stewardship practices and animal health on dairy farmslogo_grappe_3__sans_txt_EN-FR

Principal Investigators: Javier Sanchez and Luke Heider, University of Prince Edward Island; Co-investigator at the University of Calgary:  Herman Barkema

  • Researchers surveyed farms from different Canadian Regions and found variations among selective dry cow therapy and selective clinical mastitis treatments. This shows an existing opportunity to reduce antimicrobial use associated with dry cow therapy and clinical mastitis treatments on all Canadian dairy farms. {Poster} {Abstract}

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Preliminary study results and expected outcomes from new studies: NSERC Industrial Research Chair on Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle (2019-2024)

Chairholder: Herman Barkema, University of Calgary

Preliminary study results

  • Communications training provided to veterinarians delivered through an online virtual Veterinary Dialogue Trainer and other means enhanced communication skills raised standards of veterinary herd health advice and improved farmer satisfaction and herd health. {Poster}
  • Predictive models for detecting mastitis using neural networks can be effective for detection/prediction of mastitis. Including measurements other than just milk traits increases model performance and incorporating more farms may make models more robust. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • A systematic review of existing studies was performed to identify key genetic markers and genes associated with mastitis-related traits and somatic cell scores in dairy cattle to provide a better understanding of the genetic architecture of mastitis in dairy cattle. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • Inflammatory skin damage was high in Digital Dermatitis (DD) lesions when compared to healthy skin; there was no change in macrophage population in DD lesions found over the course of time; a treatment with Oxytetracycline did not have any change in the macrophage population in DD lesions. {Poster}

 New studies in progress

  • Communication between veterinarians and dairy farmers: Effect of communication training on communication skills and mental wellbeing in veterinarians, farmer satisfaction and herd health outcomes. {Abstract}
  • Cattle Health Surveillance System (CHeSS): Monitoring major infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance in the dairy farms of the Western provinces. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • Effective and economic Johne’s disease control using new early disease detection assays. {Poster} {Abstract}
  • Motives and barriers to providing outdoor access for dairy cows. {Poster} {Abstract}

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Study results:  NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Welfare (2014-2019)

Chairholders: David Fraser, Dan Weary and Nina Von Keyserlingk, University of British Columbia

  • A variety of scientific methods are now available to make strong inferences about affective states in cattle. Alone and in combination these can be used to identify management changes that improve welfare. {Poster}
  • Calves remembered caustic paste disbudding as more aversive than hot-iron; we recommend hot-iron disbudding with the use of sedative, local anaesthesia and analgesia, or avoiding the procedure by using polled genetics. {Poster}
  • There is a higher incidence of lameness during the dry period; cows that spend less time feeding prepartum have a higher risk of becoming sick; cows that stand more after calving are likely to develop sole lesions. {Poster}

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For more information on DFC’s research activities and investments, visit DairyResearch.ca. To view the proceedings from the 2020 WCDS visit: https://wcds.ualberta.ca/proceedings/.

 

 

 

Information and Resources from Dairy Farmers of Canada on COVID-19

Questions regarding milk supply

Over the last few weeks, you may have witnessed fluctuations in milk product inventory at your local grocery stores and viewed news stories about the challenges farmers are experiencing. Across Canada, dairy farmers are working with our partners throughout the supply chain to do everything they can to ensure an uninterrupted supply of milk despite the unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The pandemic resulted in unforeseen fluctuations in demand for dairy products which resulted in shortages in some retail locations. These are not the result of a lack of production capacity at the farm, but rather reflect some real-time challenges in the supply chain in getting milk products to market. The entire supply chain has had to adapt to the circumstances by implementing new measures to prevent the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19. The near complete shutdown of the restaurant industry has also had significant impacts on the demand for some key dairy products.

These rapid and unforeseen shifts have resulted in a need to dispose of some of the milk at the farm in certain areas as a portion of the raw milk could not find a home to be processed. However, this was done in accordance with environmental rules and regulations. The last thing a dairy farmer wants to see is milk being discarded, but as you know, for safety reasons, raw milk needs to be processed before it can be consumed. Dairy farmers are working collaboratively with processors to adjust to the circumstances and find solutions.

Across Canada, dairy farmers actively support food banks throughout the year, and the industry is ramping up its support of food banks and other initiatives.

These are exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic and dairy farmers are working hard to mitigate the impact. Along with everyone else, we look forward to the end of this difficult situation.

Dairy farmers salute the hard-working men and women throughout the country who are working in unprecedented circumstances and thank the many public health officials, organizations, front-line healthcare workers, emergency personnel and all those who, tirelessly, provide care and work to contain the spread of this virus.

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The Dairy Research team members are continuing our activities safely from our home offices and respecting the public health requirements and guidelines with respect to COVID-19.

If you have any questions concerning dairy research, please contact info@dairyresearch.ca.

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s dairy research kiosk at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s (DFC) research kiosk will be set up at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar (WCDS) in Red Deer, Alberta from March 10-13, 2020. With more than 800 participants, most of which are dairy farmers, DFC will be handing out a new fact sheet on best practices for footbath use, as well as summaries of the new Dairy Research Cluster 3 projects.

UnknownMoreover, among the many featured speakers at the WCDS, Nina von Keyserlingk, professor at the University of British Columbia, and one of the NSERC Industrial Research Chairholders on Dairy Cattle Welfare will be speaking on Identifying Gaps in Building Bridges: Working Towards a Sustainable Dairy Industry. DFC was one of the founding investment partners of the Dairy Cattle Welfare Chair at the University of British Columbia when it was established in 1997 and has continued investing in the program since its creation. DFC has renewed its commitment to the program for a new five-year term from 2019-2024.

Nina von Keyserlingk and co-chairholders Dan Weary and David Fraser have developed a world-class program in this area of research, providing scientific evidence for best practices and standards for dairy cattle welfare in Canada and globally. Notably, the results published from their research have served as science-based evidence in the development of animal welfare assessment protocols for DFC’s proAction® Animal Care module.

For a summary of recent findings from the Chair in Dairy Cattle Welfare consult the 2018 Dairy Research Highlights.

 

 

Vitamin B12 is better absorbed from dairy products

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Milk is an excellent source of vitamin B12. A glass of milk (250 mL serving) provides approximately half of the Recommended Daily Intake of this vitamin for an adult.¹ What’s more, the conclusions of research studies, some of which were financed under the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018), found that vitamin B12 is much better absorbed when consumed in cow’s milk than when taken in vitamin supplements and that cheddar cheese is one of the best natural sources of vitamin B12, after cow’s milk.

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Christiane Girard, research scientist at the Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre, and her team of collaborators conducted their studies using pigs, which have a very similar digestive system to that of humans. The researchers gave pigs either cow’s milk or vitamin B12 supplements to compare the absorption rates of this vitamin. They found that vitamin B12, which is naturally present in cow’s milk, is absorbed two times better than synthetic vitamin B12.²

The research team also investigated whether vitamin B12 in other types of dairy products is better absorbed than a synthetic supplement is. For comparison purposes, pigs were given a meal of cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, yogurt, tofu (completely free of vitamin B12) or tofu with added synthetic vitamin B12. They compared the levels of vitamin B12 in the pigs’ blood in the following hours and discovered that cheddar cheese wins hands-down over tofu enriched with synthetic vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 from the cheese was two times more bioavailable than the synthetic vitamin B12 in the enriched tofu. Cheddar cheese is, therefore, one of the best natural sources, after cow’s milk, of vitamin B12.³

Source and function of Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B12 is present only in foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and milk products.  It can  also be found in few plant foods that are  fortified with this vitamin.
  • Vitamin B12 is essential for neurological functions and the growth and division of cells, including red blood cells.
  • Vegetarians, especially vegans, older adults, and pregnant women are more at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

{This article contains extracts from a text published online by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada}


¹ https://www.dairynutrition.ca/nutrients-in-milk-products/other-nutrients/milk-an-excellent-source-of-vitamin-b12

² J. Jacques Matte, F. Guay and C. L. Girard, Bioavailability of vitamin B12 in cows’ milk. British Journal of Nutrition 2012; 107, 61-66

³ D. Dalto Bueno, I. Audet, C.L. Girard, J. J. Matte, Bioavailability of Vitamin B12 from Dairy Products Using a Pig Model. Nutrients 2018 Aug 21;10(9). pii: E1134

 

DFC webinar presents the latest science on diet, cardiovascular disease and mortality

Dairy Farmers of Canada’s team of registered dietitians hosted a webinar in November to provide health professionals with the latest scientific evidence on saturated fat and its association with cardiovascular disease outcomes and mortality.

Dr. Andrew Mente of the Population Health Research Institute and Associate Professor at the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact (HEI), McMaster University presented on the latest scientific evidence on saturated fat and its association with CVD outcomes and mortality; the PURE study and some of its key findings for saturated fat, carbs and various foods; and, the PURE healthy dietary pattern.

The PURE study is a landmark 21-country multinational cohort study of individuals aged 35-70 years old. Researchers tracked dietary intakes and consumption of milk, yogurt, and cheese of 138,484 individuals over time. They also tracked mortality and total major cardiovascular events (i.e. major CVD, stroke, myocardial infarction) to assess any associations between total dairy and specific dairy product consumption with mortality and CVD events. The team of researchers found dairy consumption, especially of regular fat dairy, was associated with a lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease events in a diverse multinational population.

For more information on the PURE study, read the article in the DairyResearchBlog.ca.

 

Celebrating Dairy Research Excellence Before the Holidays!

Leading up to the holiday season, we wish to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions made by Canadian dairy scientists and their teams in 2019. Notably, some researchers working on projects funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada were awarded for their dairy research excellence for advancing scientific findings to improve productivity, sustainability, dairy cattle health and welfare as well as improve knowledge of the health benefits of milk and dairy products.

An article by Drs. Chaouki Benchaar, Édith Charbonneau and Doris Pellerin is selected as one of the Canadian Journal of Animal Science (CJAS) Editors’ Choice papers in 2019

The article “Development of an equation to estimate the enteric methane emissions from Holstein dairy cows in Canada” published in May 2019 by Chaouki Benchaar, Research Scientist, Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre, Édith Charbonneau, Professor, Université Laval, Doris Pellerin, Professor, Université Laval and their co-authors, was selected as one of the CJAS Editors’ Choice papers in December 2019. The Editors’ Choice designation highlights articles of particularly high calibre and topical importance.

The article contains the methods to develop and validate a more precise equation to predict enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle fed typical Canadian diets in Canadian conditions – an outcome from the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Mitigation of enteric methane production from dairy cows and impact on manure emissions: filling knowledge gaps. Their overall findings resulted in:

  • Improved accuracy of the calculation of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s national inventory of enteric methane emissions from Canadian dairy cattle;
  • Improved accuracy of the calculation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) inventory of enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle;
  • Science-based evidence that cows in Canada emit less methane than previously reported by national and international expert organizations measuring countries’ GHG emissions.

An article by Drs. Hassan Vatanparast and Susan Whiting is selected as one of the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism Journal (APNMJ) Editors’ Choice papers in 2019

The article “Type 2 diabetes prevalence among Canadian adults — dietary habits and sociodemographic risk factors” published in August 2019 by Hassan Vatanparast, Professor, and Susan Whiting, Professor Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan and their Ph.D. student Zeinab Hosseini was selected as one of the APNMJ Editors’ Choice papers. The article reports on the results of their study to determine the prevalence of Type 2 diagnosed diabetes, undetected (undiagnosed) Type 2 diabetes, and prediabetes of Canadian adults, and to evaluate whether individuals with diagnosed diabetes have different dietary intakes compared with the other groups, using data from Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycles 1 and 2. This paper is based on data from their Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Association Between Dietary Intakes and Cardiovascular Risk of Canadians using the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycles 1+2.  Their project provided new knowledge related to diet and important health conditions by producing Canadian data showing diets containing dairy products can reduce the risk of Metabolic Syndrome, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

Unknown-4Dr. Pierre Lacasse awarded the Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS) Fellowship

The CSAS award was provided to Pierre Lacasse, Research Scientist, Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre, for truly outstanding contributions in the field of animal agriculture. His work has led to the understanding of the biological processes controlling lactation and immune resistance, to the development of tools and methods to improve the health, well-being and longevity of dairy cows and the improvement of milk quality.

Pierre Lacasse has been a contributing scientist in the Mastitis Network for several years, including projects in the three Dairy Research Clusters (Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network;  The Mastitis Network: Continuing the advancement of milk quality in Canada).

He also led a project in the Dairy Research Cluster 2, Dairy Cow Management for the Next Generation, which resulted in:

  • Development of baseline information exploring the biology of lactation persistency;
  • Identification of biomarkers in 12 genes that were significantly associated with lactation persistency, providing information to allow for the selection of cows and bulls with higher lactation persistency; and,
  • Concluded that increasing milking frequency to 3 times a day after peak of lactation helps to maintain high levels of milk production that may enable profitable extended lactation.

T DeVries 2019Dr. Trevor DeVries received the Technical Innovation in Enhancing Production of Safe Affordable Food Award

This Canadian Animal Science Society award recognizes excellence in technical innovation and teaching with an emphasis in the fields of biotechnology, genetics, physiology and animal behaviour. Trevor DeVries is a Professor at the University of Guelph and has produced research findings that led to innovations and practical solutions for improving the nutritional management, housing, and well-being of calves, replacement heifers, and mature lactating dairy cattle. He is currently the principal investigator of the Dairy Research Cluster 3 (2018-2022) project, Optimizing health and production of cows milked in robotic systems and was a collaborating scientist in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018) project, Automatic Milking Systems (AMS): Factors Affecting Health, Productivity and Welfare. The researchers’ findings in Cluster 2 provided important, unbiased information to help identify cows at risk of, or experiencing, illness, lameness or poor adaptation to the AMS.

Unknown-5Dr. Stephen LeBlanc Awarded the Web of Science Group’s Highly Cited Researchers List for 2019

For the second year in a row, Stephen LeBlanc, Professor, University of Guelph, was part of the top one per cent of researchers with the most citations in their field. Stephen LeBlanc studies dairy cattle health and performance with a focus on reproductive and metabolic health. His research aims to improve livestock reproduction through disease prevention and treatment by developing reproductive management programs. He is currently collaborating in the Dairy Research Cluster 3 project, Accelerating genetic gain for novel traits in Canadian Holstein cows and was a collaborator in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 project, Sustainable Solutions to Improve Estrous Detection and Reproductive Efficiency in Dairy Cows. The Cluster 2 findings indicated that prioritizing detection of estrus in a reproductive program can be as effective as some current programs of timed artificial insemination programs.

Unknown-6Dr. Sylvie Turgeon Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Agrocampus Ouest, France

On December 16, 2019, Agrocampus Ouest (Institute for Life, Food and Horticultural Sciences and Landscaping, France) awarded an Honorary Doctorate to Dr Sylvie Turgeon, Professor, Université Laval. The title of Doctor honoris causa is the Institute’s highest distinction and honors foreign individuals who are recognized for their scientific contributions internationally and have developed strong ties with the Institute. Sylvie Turgeon collaborated in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 project, The Effect of Milk Products and Novel Milk Products on Satiety, Food Intake, and Metabolic Control (Glycemia) in Early and Late Adulthood, and is currently a collaborating researcher in the Dairy Research Cluster 3 projects, Understanding the contribution of milk composition and microflora during ripening of cheeses and the Role of dairy products on body weight and metabolic health in families.

These researchers will join others that were awarded in 2019, namely Drs. David Kelton and Todd Duffield (University of Guelph), and Herman Barkema and Karin Orsel (University of Calgary), for their achievements in dairy research excellence! Read the article on their achievements on the DairyResearchBlog.ca.

Sweeter alfalfa to improve milk production and dairy farm sustainability

The dairy cow, as a ruminant, has the unique ability to transform forages that can’t be digested by humans into a high-value nutritious food: milk. A multidisciplinary team of scientists across Canada are working on improving forages, especially alfalfa, to increase the efficiency of milk production and dairy farm sustainability.

“Our overall objective is to increase alfalfa’s nutritive value, yield, and persistence through crop breeding and management”, said Dr. Annie Claessens, a research scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – Quebec Research and Development Centre and the principal investigator of a new Dairy Research Cluster 3 project called, Increasing the production and utilization of alfalfa forages in Canada. “We are using genetics to identify and select traits in alfalfa populations for greater energy to protein ratios to develop a higher nutritive value in alfalfa-based forages fed to dairy cattle. We are also selecting for higher yield, persistence and disease resistance,” added Dr. Claessens.

Alfalfa plants at different stages of testing. Photo credit: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – Quebec Research and Development Centre.

Dr. Claessens, who is also co-owner of the Phylum dairy farm in Quebec, understands the importance of producing quality forage for dairy cows. Feed costs are one of the highest cost items on a dairy farm¹ and forage makes up about 50-60% of the ration fed to dairy cows. While the selection and breeding of forages take time – anywhere from 10 to 20 years to commercialize new cultivars – the return on investment can be considerable². An economic study from the University of Nevada³ on the use of a new alfalfa cultivar with a 5% yield increase was estimated to provide a 43% return on investment, showing the potential economic benefits of forage improvement on dairy farms.

Cows fed with forages with a higher sugar content use nitrogen more efficiently and have higher milk production. Previous research conducted by Dr. Claessens’ team as part of a project funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2 from 2013-2018 identified 26 genes related to sugar concentration in alfalfa, developed two alfalfa populations with greater sugar concentrations and associated different crop management practices favouring a higher energy to protein ratio.

The team is using the results from the Cluster 2 project to select plant material with superior sugar concentration to accelerate the development of cultivars with this trait and evaluating it under field conditions. The populations are planted on research sites across Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec) to subject them to different weather and soil conditions and then measure yield and persistency.

In the labs, the team of scientists analyze the nutritional value of the plants at different times of harvest, in variable conditions. “We will be testing the populations to identify the crop management practices that achieve an optimal balance between readily fermentable carbohydrates and non-degradable proteins, using different alfalfa-based mixtures of forage. We then examine the effects of the energy to protein ratio on in vitro microbial protein synthesis in the rumen,” said Dr. Gaëtan Tremblay, research scientist and team member at the Quebec Research and Development Centre.

Dairy farmers can expect that when the project is completed, the data and genetic material from alfalfa evaluation trials across Canada will be available to Canadian forage breeders to select experimental populations and potentially commercialize new and improved cultivars. Ultimately, the availability of new alfalfa cultivars will help increase the production of milk from forage and improve protein utilization, thus reducing reliance on concentrates and nitrogen discharges …  significant economic and environmental impacts!

A summary of Dr. Claessens’ new research project is online at dairyresearch.ca. Forage breeding and management for improved yield, resistance, conservation, quality and digestibility is a priority area of research and investment in Dairy Farmers of Canada’s National Dairy Research Strategy.

Quick project facts

  • Project timeline: 2018-2022
  • Budget: $1,124,970
  • Funding partners: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada
  • Number of students to be trained: 4 graduate students and ˃ 25 undergraduate students

The research team

RESEARCHERS ORGANIZATION ROLES
Principal Investigator (PI)
Annie Claessens AAFC – Quebec Responsible for forage breeding and genetics, coordination of activities among researchers and student training and supervision.
Co-investigators and collaborators
Bill Biligetu (Co-PI) University of Saskatchewan Forage breeding and genetics; student training and supervision.
Patrice Audy, Gilles Bélanger, Annick Bertrand, Julie Lajeunesse, Solen Rocher, Marie-Noëlle Thivierge, Gaëtan Tremblay AAFC – Quebec and Normandin Forage crop molecular genetics; assessment of the nutritive value of feedstuffs; crop physiology and agronomy; forage pathology, physiology and biochemistry; agro-ecosystem modelling and agroclimatology; site testing; student training and supervision.
Shabtai Bittman, Derek Hunt AAFC – Agassiz Nutrient management in farming systems; plant biology; site testing.
Surya Acharya AAFC – Lethbridge Forage breeding.
Édith Charbonneau, Caroline Halde Université Laval Dairy cow forage nutrition; agroecology; student training and supervision.
Ralph Martin University of Guelph Forage agronomy; site testing.
Kathleen Glover, Yousef Papadopoulos AAFC – Kentville Forage agronomy; forage breeding; site testing
Daniel Ouellet AAFC – Sherbrooke Nitrogen metabolism and nutrition of dairy cattle; student training and supervision.
Philippe Seguin McGill University Management, physiology and ecology of field crops; student training and supervision.
Vern Baron AAFC – Lacombe Forage and pasture agronomy and crop physiology.
Mike Schellenberg AAFC – Swift Current Range and forage plant ecology.
Charles Brummer University of California Forage breeding and genetics.
Josef Hakl Czech University Agronomy and forage nutritive value.
Huguette Martel Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec Forage crops and agro-environment.

¹https://www.milk.org/Corporate/pdf/Publications-ODFAPReport.pdf

²https://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/breeding-forage-varieties-13

³Kettle et al. Investing in new varieties of alfalfa: Does-it pay? Fact Sheet 99-31. University of Nevada

Scientists present new research at dairy symposium

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Dairy Farmers of Canada’s dairy research kiosk was at the Symposium sur les bovins laitiers in Drummondville, Quebec, on October 29, 2019 to provide information on the new Dairy Research Cluster 3 projects and distribute fact sheets on footbaths, water use and water quality. More than 500 dairy farmers and professionals took part in the one-day symposium.

Three scientists with research projects funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada under the Dairy Research Cluster and the Industrial Research Chair in Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle provided findings from their projects.

Unknown.jpegDr. Benoît Lamarche, researcher and lead of the clinical nutrition investigation unit, Université Laval, gave a talk on the impact of dairy products consumption on health, providing evidence that dairy products consumption does not pose a health problem and that some dairy products could have favourable effects on health (per se, by replacing other foods or by contributing to the intake of certain nutrients) and concluding that current recommendations on low-fat dairy products should be reconsidered. His presentation included research results from his project on dairy products consumption and cardiovascular health conducted under the Dairy Research Cluster 2.

Unknown-2Dr. Annie Claessens, a scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centre in Quebec, informed delegates on early findings from her project on increasing the production and use of alfalfa forages in Canada. The development of more nutritious and persistent alfalfa cultivars through genetic selection is a long and complex process, but the expected results are promising – increased production of milk from forages, better protein use, reduced reliance on concentrates and fewer nitrogen discharges – significantly positive economic and environmental impacts!

elsa_vasseur_109-1465408337-1575199832460.jpgDr. Elsa Vasseur, Chairholder of the Industrial Research Chair in Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle at McGill University, explained how farmers can make stall bases more comfortable. Using bedding keepers to maintain deeper bedding is a practical and feasible solution for tie-stall farms. Dr. Vasseur’s results show this practice increases cow comfort and rest time while protecting cows from bodily injury. She also reported on how the first case of mastitis or lameness in primiparous cows can affect their longevity and profitability.

 

New video available on bedding management to improve animal comfort

A new video produced by Novalait explains how dairy farmers at the Ferme René Dupuis Inc. in Quebec successfully applied research results to improve cow comfort on their farm. Adding a bedding keeper helps farmers maintain deeper bedding to reduce injuries and increase the comfort of their herd. Changes were made following science-based recommendations from the research carried out under the Industrial Research Chair in the Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle. The Chair is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Novalait, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Lactanet.