Students’ research
supports Pillars

9 December 2018

We talk to three of DairyNZ’s PhD students currently involved with projects under the levy-funded Pillars of a new dairy system research partnership.

The Pillars of a new dairy system programme is levy-funded, with matched co-funding from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and aligned core funding for fertility from AgResearch. Additional funding and resources are provided by Fonterra, Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and CRV Ambreed.





Stacey Hendriks

Stacey is using DairyNZ electronic activity data to look at how dairy cow behaviour and metabolic and immune markers might link with the presence of subclinical disease.

“We’re focusing  on the ‘transition’ period when cows are calving. This is when they’re at increased risk of metabolic and infectious diseases due to temporarily-reduced immunity,” says Stacey.

“This study still ha several other stages to come, but in the long term, we hope we’ll be able help farmers monitor individual cow behaviour to detect issues early, so they can improve lifetime productivity, cow health and wellbeing. This method would allow early intervention in a way that is non-invasive and more efficient than current measures like blood testing at a herd level.”

Olivia Spaans

Investigating cows’ inflammatory states – in particular, leading up to, during and after calving – is the focus of Olivia’s study.

“We want to know how dairy cows’ inflammatory states affect their immune function, reproductive physiology, health and ongoing fertility,” says Olivia.

“Inflammation around the calving period is normal to some degree and it performs some important functions, but it’s damaging if it goes on too long.”

Later in the study, Olivia will potentially be testing some anti-inflammatory compounds

which farmers might be able to administer at the ‘right time’ (still to be pinpointed) to get their herds’ health back on track before mating and calving starts.

“It’s really cool to be working on something that will make a difference on-farm – it’s very farmer- connected.”

Charlotte Reed

Charlotte is examining how disease and fertility breeding value affect oocyte (unfertilised egg) quality.

“Up to  30  percent of New Zealand’s dairy cows’ pregnancies are lost in the first week, and we know that oocyte quality is one of the major factors driving early pregnancy loss in cows,” says Charlotte.

“By identifying oocyte quality in dairy cows and  linking it  to the biochemical make-up within the ovarian follicle, we can then try developing solutions for reducing this early embryonic loss. These solutions could be delivered through improved genetics for fertility or ways that farmers can manage the herd to ensure the follicle is in good shape for providing a high-quality oocyte when cows are bred.”

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