Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Dr. Courtney Daigle, Assistant Professor at the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, is trying to determine which dairy cows are best suited for warmer temperatures. Dr. Daigle is leading a project to collect data on the productivity and phenotype of dairy cows regarding heat tolerance. Phenotype is simply the observation of the animal and its interaction with the environment.
The project is funded by a US Department of Agriculture grant. The goal is to develop database strategies needed to facilitate the genetic selection of cows that cope better with heat stress. The researchers are looking to better understand how cows manage heat stress and find the cows that can tolerate it, and then determine their behavioral and physiological differences.
Dr. Daigle says the changing climate is likely to impact dairy production because dairy producers in warmer regions may not have methods for cooling the cows. Cows can also still develop heat stress even when provided with cooling, so we need to breed cows that can tolerate heat stress.
Texas is a good place to perform this study because of its crazy weather patterns, allowing the study of lots of different temperatures and their effect on dairy cows. The study uses body-mounted sensor technology to collect behavior data, which is labor intensive.
Fortunately, the dairy industry is already high-tech and uses multiple types of software to collect different data on the performance of their cows. Dairy producers can anonymously contribute their data.
Basically, producers will be able to work with their own animals and find the ones tolerant of heat and focus on these cows’ genetics when breeding.