Groundbreaking research will examine gut microbiomes from dairy calves across a four-year period to assess the impact of routine farm management on health, welfare, development and milk production.
In the first study of its kind, Aisling Carroll, lecturer in animal science at Hartpury University, will assess if use of probiotics from birth to post-weaning in dairy calves supports and safeguards them against stress-related microbiome variations during key management events.
Ms Carroll is also planning to examine whether analysis of faecal bacterial communities in dairy calves is an objective indicator of health, welfare and production state in lactating heifers.
It is hoped findings will provide dairy farmers, vets and other stakeholder groups help on best practice.
Stress and factors including diet and the environment are known to affect gut microbiomes’ structure, which can adversely affect calf health.
Research will involve access to Hartpury’s commercial farm, Home Farm, which includes 250 dairy youngstock, 200 Holstein milking cows and 50 Guernsey cattle, plus smart technologies at its agri-tech centre.
Ms Carroll, who is carrying out the research as part of her PhD with support from academic colleagues at Hartpury, said: “Reducing dairy calf mortality, and supporting the improvement of calf health and welfare, would be a notable positive contribution to the sector, but research informing strategic management intervention to support this is currently lacking.
“This research will examine the impact of management events such as grouping, housing, disbudding and weaning on faecal bacterial communities of dairy calves to understand the concurrent impact on development and health.”
Ms Carroll added: “Gastrointestinal tract microbiome development and influence of management events will be compared against health, welfare and production parameters of heifers that progress into dairy production.
“Assessing bacterial community structures is important to establish the biological effects of management events on dairy calves and to identify potential modulation points in the microbiota to improve health, welfare and production.
“These points can act as an innovative tool, supporting continuous calf monitoring on farms to reduce morbidity and mortality, directing strategic management intervention.”
Source: Vet Times