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Dairy Genome Project Churns Up Excitement

To the layperson, “research” and “excitement” don’t always go hand-in-hand. Yet you don’t need an advanced degree to see the potential in a Genome Alberta project applying genomics to feed efficiency and methane emissions, two areas of critical importance to the dairy industry. And as the temperature drops with the change of seasons, this is one initiative that’s just warming up. In part, that’s because of a boost in two areas that can make or break research in any field: partners and data.

Work with me

At present, the project involves four international partners, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Government of Victoria in Australia, Scotland’s Rural College and Qualitas AG in Switzerland. If all goes as planned, that number will soon increase.

“We’re looking to bring in one new partner from Denmark and another from the Netherlands,” said project manager Mary De Pauw.

“They would both be great additions as they boast considerable experience with this type of project and have worked extensively with feed efficiency and methane emission data,” said De Pauw. “They also run ongoing projects that are complementary to ours.”

That last point is significant, as it means each party can learn from the others’ experiences and benefit from their data.

“The more data we have to work with, the more accurate our genomic predictions will be,” said De Pauw.

While adding the two new partners is not a done deal as yet, De Pauw said they’re working on it as we speak (or write).

Commercial break

International collaboration aside, the Genome Alberta team is equally charged about another development closer to home.

“We’re very pleased that we have now found a commercial farm in Alberta to partner with,” said De Pauw.

The farm milks over 400 cows and is currently expanding, which makes this the perfect time for the Canadian Dairy Network and GrowSafe to install bins for measuring feed efficiency.

“The bins will be installed by the end of September, allowing us to collect feed intake data on heifers as well as first lactation and later lactation cows,” said De Pauw. “For us, it’s important to get data from a working commercial farm rather than just a research farm, so the results will be more reflective of the real world.”

 Made to measure

With new GreenFeed units installed at the University of Alberta and University of Guelph research farms to measure methane eruptions from cows, the project is starting to fire on all cylinders.

“We’re also collecting milk infrared spectroscopy (MIR) data and hoping to put it into genomic formulas for predicting feed efficiency. By October, we’ll be getting MIR data from our two research farms and the commercial farm, as well as gathering data on feed intake and methane emissions, so the pieces are coming together.”

Gathering data, of course, is like collecting antiques or works of art. You might think “the more the merrier”, until you have to find a home for it all. Fortunately, De Pauw and her team have done just that.

“We are in the process of developing a huge project data base that will be housed at the Canadian Dairy Network and used for both Canadian and international information.”

The data base is likely the first of its kind in the world. Although a lot of people are working on feed efficiency and methane emission, nobody has collated the data from all of these countries and brought it into one place…until now.

“This will allow for standardization of data so we’re not comparing apples to oranges. Without that, it’s very tough to compare and share data; it’s almost like you’re speaking different languages.”

If all of that’s not enough, the project has also developed a website (www.genomedairy.ualberta.ca), where you’ll find more information, updates, future plans and a complete list of the sponsors, researchers and institutions involved.

With so much on the go, if you still can’t get excited about this research project, don’t bother with the advanced degree; get a pulse check.

Dairy Genome Project Churns Up Excitement

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