The Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS) has gained an international reputation for pioneering research that pays close attention to the environmental and social needs of diary cattle.
At the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre (DERC) in Agassiz, LFS expertise attracts scholars and industry partners from countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Germany. In Canada, a new code of recommended practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle, published in March by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, drew heavily on DERC findings, such as pain control methods during dehorning, improved calf housing, feeding practices and lameness prevention.
“How dairy cattle eat, sleep, rest and interact speaks volumes about their preferences,” says Assoc. Prof. Marina von Keyserlingk. “By analyzing their behaviour, we can help producers avoid costly problems such as lameness and other common illnesses.”
DERC is a state-of-the-art research facility that offers 24-hour monitoring systems that record the movements and choices as well as food and water intake of more than 300 cattle. Researchers use sophisticated software to analyse the data.
To support their research, von Keyserlingk and her colleagues, professors Dan Weary and David Fraser, received a $1 million Industrial Research Chair joint award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and eight Canadian dairy industry organizations.
LFS researchers are particularly interested in key phases of the life cycle when the animals are most susceptible to illness. These periods include the start of lactation, the end of lactation and the weaning process for calves.
“We have the strongest group of cattle welfare researchers in the world,” says Weary. “A long history of collaboration with the dairy industry also keeps our research current. The changes we suggest are grounded in the constraints of modern dairy farming while still improving the lives of animals.