Wellness for dairy cows
03 November 2020
Does butter taste better when the cows are happy?
FHow much is too much for a liter of milk? What will dairy cows of the future look like? What does a glass of milk have to do with environmental protection? Will cows be pastured in future, too? These are some of the questions that the new Center of Integrated Dairy Research (Zentrum für Integrierte Milchwirtschaftliche Forschung) or “CIDRe” for short is looking to answer. Scientists from a wide range of disciplines are working in this recently established center at the University of Bonn for the benefit of a balanced and sustainable dairy industry.
or more than 10,000 years, humans have been using cows for obtaining milk and meat, as providers of fertilizer, and as draft animals. During cold periods, humans used the animals’ skins or their leather for protection. In short, cattle helped humans survive under adverse conditions. The production conditions have, however, changed drastically over time. Originally, cows gave about eight liters of milk a day to feed a calf.
Modern high-performance cows produce 50 liters a day now, sometimes at a dramatic price. “The dairy industry system has been off balance for quite some time,” said Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Büscher, Speaker of the new Zentrum für Integrierte Milchwirtschaftliche Forschung at the University of Bonn (CIDRe).
Extreme increase in milk production results in problems
Due to the extreme increase in milk production, cows often need significantly more energy during the first 100 days after calving than they can take in with their feed.
“This imbalance can result in fat and muscle wasting as well as metabolic diseases,” said veterinary Dr. Susanne Plattes, CIDRe Coordinator. High-performance cows are more susceptible to fertility problems or hoof and udder infections. Dr. Plattes explained further, “The animals’ wellness is becoming the focus for ethical and economic reasons. If more species-appropriate animal husbandry results in better products, the economic advantages will also be obvious.”
The environmental effects of modern milk production are also tangible. Gases that further stoke global climate change can escape from dairy cows’ stomachs. Consequently, the central question the researchers involved with the CIDRe, who come from Agricultural Science, IT, Physics, Veterinary Medicine, Economics and Social Sciences, are seeking to answer is how the complex dairy industry system can be brought into balance. In addition to mere milk production, both the health and wellness of the animals, as well as the protection of the environment should be taken into account. Related to this are socioeconomic questions; such as, how highly – in terms of price – consumers value a sustainable dairy industry.
Unique research project at the Frankenforst research station
First, however, lots of data must be collected in order to be able to optimize the dairy industry system also with regard to animal wellness and environmental protection. Here, the Frankenforst research station of the University of Bonn plays a central role in this research area.
“It is the only one of its kind in Germany and allows research at the highest level,” said Prof. Büscher.
So for example, a host of sensors captures how much feed a cow eats and how much she moves. Water intake, milk flow and ingredients as well as heart frequency are among the parameters that are recorded digitally, based on which the scientists can determine how each individual cow is doing. The animals’ behavior is analyzed in cooperation with the University of Halle-Wittenberg.
Comprehensive measured data for a simulation model
The scientists want to capture the dairy industry system as completely as possible and then develop models from their results.
“This will allow us to answer several critical questions,” said Dr. Plattes. “Such as solutions for the trade-off between more freedom to move and the related increase in ammonia and odor emissions.”
In addition, the scientists are interested in finding out whether there is an increased health risk an increased health risk for cows with high milk production. But economic issues are also studied, such as the difference in dairy animal husbandry profitability on field versus pasture locations.
Support for young scholars
“Over the past years, interdisciplinary cooperation in diary industry research at the Agricultural Faculty has been intensified greatly,” said the Dean, Prof. Dr. Karl Schellander. “CIDRe will focus the strengths of the participants involved in this research focus, intensify interdisciplinary research and contribute to increasing its visibility here and abroad.”
Another focus of the Center is supporting young scholars – among others, by means of the Theodor-Brinkmann Graduate School that offers both the Faculty’s Master courses of study as well as its structured doctoral studies, all under one roof. In addition, the CIDRe is scheduled to offer an interdisciplinary Summer School.
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