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CowLife McGill Visits the City Where Pigs Fly: ADSA 2019

We sent another sizable delegate to this year’s annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association in Cincinnati, Ohio!

The meeting kicked off with the opening ceremonies, where a number of prominent scientists in the dairy sector were recognized for their work and dedication to improving the dairy industry and cow wellbeing. It was a fun evening, capped off with the Graduate Student Mixer at 16-Bit Arcade, where we at CowLife McGill made sure to leave a reminder of our visit (and where Elise proved she was the best Mario Kart racer on our team)! Definitely a great way to start the week!


From left to right: Daniel Warner (Post-doctoral fellow), Maria Antonieta Puerto (M.Sc. candidate), Elise Shepley (Ph.D. candidate), and Sarah McPherson (M.Sc. candidate)

16-Bit Arcade offered a throwback to the 80’s with arcade style games…and some more modern options (left). We couldn’t help but leave a reminder on their chalkboard wall (right) of our visit, either!

M.Sc. candidate Sarah McPherson was one of the first presenters to kick off the conference presentations Monday morning, where she informed a captive audience of the importance of stall design and bedding on cow lying time and injury prevalence. Sarah’s project, entitled ‘Making stall beds more comfortable: The effect of longitudinal space on lying behavior and leg injuries on dairy cows housed in deep-bedded tie-stalls’ investigated the combined effect of stall length and manger wall height (defined as ‘longitudinal space’) and bedding depth on cow comfort and injury prevalence. Longer stalls led to higher lying time; however, lying time for all cows was considerably higher than in other studies at the Macdonald farm, suggesting that the increase in bedding depth also improved lying time. Moreover, the addition of a deep-bedding in existing tie-stalls led to a significant reduction in injuries on the cow, particularly on the hocks! The best part: we were able to achieve this increased bedding depth in existing tie-stalls by using a bedding keeper, making this an applicable option for producers looking to improve the comfort and well-being of their cows!

Sarah presenting the results of her study.

Tuesday was a busy presentation day for the CowLife Crew. First up was Ph.D. candidate Elise Shepley, with a presentation entitled ‘Housing tie-stall dairy cows in deep-bedded loose-pens during the dry period has the potential to improve gait’. Her project showed that, when tie-stall cows are released into a deep-bedded loose-pen for the duration of their dry period, cows were able to improve over the 8-wk period in many aspects of gait, especially joint flexion. Coupled with the findings related to lying behaviors presented at ISAE 2018, which showed that the loose-pen cows also had higher lying times, were able to express more lying, and were able to move between lying and standing with greater ease, providing cows with more opportunity to move during select periods of time, such as the dry period, is a good way for producers to provide comfort and improve the condition of their cows before the next lactation.


Elise delivers her findings.

Following Elise’s presentation was that of M.Sc. candidate Maria Antonieta Puerto, whose presentation, entitled ‘Could the first time be the last time? Implications of the first incident of mastitis or lameness on total milk production in first-lactation cows’, demonstrated the impact that mastitis and lameness can have not only on the cow’s welfare, but on the producer’s economic returns. Maria especially emphasized the impact that these health issues can have on first-lactation cows during the transitional (+21 DIM) and early (+22 to +100 DIM) periods of the lactation, with long-lasting effects on milk yield and gross profit throughout the entire lactation. Knowing the cost of these diseases on gross profit is important for producers to make informed decisions on which cows to keep in their herd.


Maria fills us in on how greatly an instance of mastitis or lameness can affect milk yield and gross profit.

Tuesday’s dissemination of our work from the CowLife lab continued with a presentation by Post-Doctoral Fellow Daniel Warner, who pulled double duty with an oral presentation on Monday and a poster presentation Tuesday. Daniel’s presentation, ‘Development of a prediction equation for body weight change in early-lactating cows by Fourier-transform infrared predicted fatty acid profiles in milk’ in which he sought to validate if milk fatty acid profiles could be used to predict body weight change in early lactating cows, who are most at risk of negative energy balance, on commercial dairy farms. His poster presentation, titled ‘Keeping the most profitable cow and not the most yielding one: Lifetime cost-benefit assessment as a decision-making support tool in dairy management’ detailed an easy-to-use tool that he worked to develop, in conjunction with Lactanet, which allows producers to see how their herd (and even individual cows within their herd) compare to other dairy herds. As with Maria’s work, Daniel’s equations and tools provide additional information and resources to producers looking to make more informed decisions in the management and culling of animals in their herd.


Daniel Warner presenting his poster.

CowLife McGill also welcomed proxy-member, Ph.D. candidate Mazen Bahadi, to the team for ADSA 2019! Mazen’s work, entitled ‘Detecting welfare status in a milk sample: Effects of tie-rail placement on milk composition by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy’ used milk samples from the tie-rail placement project conducted by recent M.Sc. graduate, Jessica St John, to see if welfare status could be detected through milk samples. Mazen’s results revealed a significant difference in one of the tested principal components of the milk which corresponded with the treatment in Jessica’s study to have an increase in neck injuries in two locations. The ability to detect welfare status through milk components which are regularly taken on-farm would help advisors target farms that are most in need of assistance, and, while more work is needed, this study’s results show that this just might be possible!


Mazen Bahadi presenting his poster entitled "Detecting welfare status in a milk sample: Effects of tie-rail placement on milk composition by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy".

Our lab also adopted a stray graduate student for the conference! Ph.D. candidate Bernard Hagen, student of chair collaborator, Dr. Roger Cue, presented his research on the realized genetic selection differentials along a number of pathways of genetic improvement and variabilities in Canadian Ayrshires, titled ‘Realized genetic selection differentials in Canadian Ayrshire dairy cattle herds’.


Bernard Hagen presenting his work entitled "Realized genetic selection differentials in Canadian Ayrshire dairy cattle herds".

And, of course, no trip to Cincinnati would be complete without a trip to Skyline Chili for one of Cincinnati’s famous chili cheese dogs and a trip across the Kentucky-Ohio line for a hardy German meal and freshly tapped beer at the Haufbräuhaus! Cheers to another great conference filled with new scientific discoveries, networking with fellow dairy-enthusiasts, and fun adventures!


Our presenters celebrate the end of another successful conference!

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