Building a firm foundation through research

Markets, weather, genetics, labor issues, they are all integral parts of a successful dairy farm.  Add one more building block and you have a solid foundation to keep the industry advancing: animal agriculture research.

For years Michigan State University (MSU) has been crucial in assisting the dairy industry using research in disease control, management, marketing and genetic advancements. Recognizing that important building block and the fact that funds have become limited in applied research, MMPA members annually approve the continuation of funding for the applied research fund in the amount equal to 2 cents per hundredweight produced by MMPA members for the month of September. This year marks ten years that MMPA members have been contributing to research that will benefit not only their own herds, but their communities and beyond.

In response to the need for more animal agriculture research funding, MMPA joined forces with leaders from across the livestock industry forming the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture (M-AAA).

“The Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture has made significant strides since its formation in 2014,” said George W. Smith Associate Director, MSU AgBioResearch Associate Dean for Research, MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In fact, this year M-AAA will more than double its investment in research and outreach funding on behalf of the state’s animal agriculture industry.

Smith said while the grant program started at $600,000 per year, the commitment has grown to nearly $1.5 million in 2017. This increase, according to Smith, will equate to greater impact on the industry. Program funding will allow MSU researchers to continue addressing major challenges like antimicrobial resistance, animal welfare and emerging infectious diseases.

“It’s a privilege to be involved in this relatively new initiative, which is unearthing innovative ways to secure funding for an often overlooked area of external grant funding,” Smith continued. “In fact, the animal agriculture industry receives less than 1 percent of all external federal grant funding. That’s pretty alarming, especially when you consider this industry provides the primary sources of protein consumed in America.”

MMPA is specifically directing funds toward two dairy research projects: Uncovering the true cost of infections with bovine leukemia virus (BLV) and a study that seeks to determine the relationship between amino acid and fat supplementation on the yield of milk and milk components, feed efficiency, nutrient digestibility, and metabolism of post-peak dairy cows.

In the 1970s, less than 10 percent of U.S. dairy cows were affected by BLV – a retrovirus that causes infection in dairy and beef cattle, and can lead to many other diseases. Today, MSU experts estimate that more than 40 percent are BLV-positive. The large escalation in occurrence is primarily because lack of attention paid to the virus. About five percent of BLV cases result in a cancerous tumor known as lymphoma.

Using M-AAA funding in 2016, MSU’s Paul Coussens showed that BLV infected cows displayed a reduced responsiveness to immunization for other diseases. Additionally, MSU’s Phil Durst, Ronald Erskine, Daniel Grooms, Paul Bartlett and Bo Norby engaged in an extension project led by Durst aimed at controlling the spread of BLV in Michigan.

“The greater purpose of the project was to help dairy producers identify the disease and develop a plan,” Durst said. “Our team visited each producer to discuss the steps that could be taken to reduce further transmission.”

Producers most commonly cited the need to change needles and sleeves for each animal as ways to mitigate the spread of BLV. The team will test the herds again in 2017 and 2018 to monitor the prevalence, which will inform researchers on the best ways to manage BLV moving forward.

Adam Lock is one of the MSU researchers working on specific dairy projects.

Fat supplements and their effect on milk yield, components and feed efficiency is the another MMPA funded study where MSU’s Adam Lock, professor of dairy cattle nutrition, is working closely with MMPA member herds.

“In Michigan, the yield of milk fat and protein are the major contributors to the price that producers receive for milk. The addition of supplemental fat sources to diets is a common practice in dairy nutrition to support milk production,” Lock noted. “Although there is a wide range of commercially available supplemental fat sources for lactating cows, unfortunately there is a lack of data available for commercial nutritionists and dairy farmers to reference that directly compares different fat supplements to one another.”

According to Lock, researchers observed that a diet supplemented with a palmitic acid enriched fat increased the yield of milk fat and protein and 3.5 percent fat-corrected milk, while a diet supplemented with a fat containing a mixture of palmitic and oleic acids increased body weight gain. Based on current Michigan milk prices, feeding a palmitic acid-supplemented diet would increase gross income by 81 cents/cow/day. After accounting for price of the supplement, this would translate to an increase in income of over $75,000 per year on a 500-cow dairy.

Lock stressed the importance and animal research, “Studies such as this help to facilitate discussions between scientists, industry professionals, and dairy producers to encourage both scientific discovery and adoption of new findings. It is essential that knowledge gained is accurately and appropriately conveyed to the producers in a way that can establish progress in practice.”

“Following the research at MSU’s research dairy there will be an on-farm demonstration project allowing us to utilize results from our experiments to determine the impact of adopting new feeding practices within the bounds of a dairies everyday experiences,” Lock continued. “We will partner with MMPA to identify local dairy farms interested in working with us on demonstration studies once the two experiments are complete.”

The recently passed state government budget bodes well in animal agriculture research with an increase in research dollars.  After being signed by Gov. Snyder, dairy producers have the added advantage of using progressive tools to keep their businesses healthy and thriving.

–Melissa Hart

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.