Dairy conference offers mix of latest research and farmer practicality

Using genomics for feed efficiency, breeding for disease resistance, and crossbreeding hot topics at annual event

When it comes to the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, you just have to be there, says Gezinus Martens.

“For dairy producers this is the most important seminar to go to and the most well-attended one in Western Canada,” said the Calmar-area dairy producer and Alberta Milk director.

“It’s a really good mix of farm-level technology with the higher-up, more academic level.”

That was evident as a stream of producers, nutritionists and academics questioned the young man operating the manure press at the Five Star Cattle Company, a 330-cow dairy near Lacombe and one of the stops on the pre-conference tour.

“It’s a screw press for reclaiming the solids from manure,” noted Martens. “All the other presses I’ve seen have a big drum behind where the manure sits for 12 or 24 hours so it can heat up and kill the bacteria. But on this farm, the manure goes right to the press.

“So of course everyone was asking about their somatic cell count. But even though all the bacteria aren’t killed, their somatic cell count is not higher. So there were lots of questions and discussions about that.”

It’s that way throughout the conference with clusters of scientists, advisers and farmers having freewheeling discussions that mix the latest research and what makes sense at the farm level, said Martens, who is one of two Alberta producers on the 16-person advisory committee that develops the conference program.

The Red Deer event draws about 700 attendees, with a roughly even mix of academics and industry professionals to farmers, who come from across Western Canada.

From the Canadian Cattlemen website: Cows learn dairying faster when housed together: study

There were several topics that had producers talking this year, said Martens.

“Genomics is still fairly new and there was a presentation on using genomics to predict feed efficiency,” he said.

“There was also a lot of interest in something that’s call High Immune Response. Semex is already using this at the farm level to select for offspring that are less susceptible for diseases.”

Crossbreeding is another hot topic.

“In previous years, people have asked for more information about crossbreeding and we had a couple of presenters on that topic this year,” he said.

“It’s a very interesting area because with your first cross, the F1, you get better disease resistance and a stronger cow than a Holstein. You’re really building a better cow. But then it’s a question of where to go from there. Are you going to breed back to Holsteins or go back to other breeds? If you don’t do it right, your milk volume is going to decline and it won’t be economical. The presenters brought some really good points to the surface and there were some really good discussions.”

But while Martens insists that “if you don’t go, you really miss out,” all of the papers from the 28 presentations will be available online at www.wcds.ca later this year.

Alberta Farmer will highlight some of these presentations with short articles from Alberta dairy farmers who were at the conference and have a reading recommendation for their fellow producers. Look for Dairy Cases in future editions of the paper.

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