Friday, 13 October 2017

ISAE 2017

Graduate students Elise Shepley (PhD candidate) Jessica St John (MSc candidate), along with Dr. Elsa Vasseur, attended the International Society of Applied Ethology (ISEA) 2017 conference in the lovely city of Aarhus, Denmark. This conference was an engaging experience, allowing for the transfer of new knowledge and networking between colleagues in the field of applied ethology. A recap of the presentations that we saw at the conference regarding new studies and innovations in the field of dairy cattle research and their corresponding presenters can be found on our Twitter account at
Elise presented a poster on her recent study on the validation of IceTag 3D pedometers for use in measuring stepping activity in tie-stall housed cows, a project conducted in collaboration with Marianne Berthelot.

Jessica presented a poster on her preliminary results for her research conducted on tie-rail placement. This research looked at multiple tie-rail placements, including two novel options following the neck line of the cow, on aspects of dairy cow rumination, feeding, and lying behavior as well as physical injury. 

Jessica presented a poster on her preliminary results for her research conducted on tie-rail placement. This research looked at multiple tie-rail placements, including two novel options following the neck line of the cow, on aspects of dairy cow rumination, feeding, and lying behavior as well as physical injury.  

Cow Life McGill Abroad

Collaborations are a natural part of scientific research, leading to a sharing of knowledge, the development of new ideas, and the forming of new relationships. The team at CowLifeMcGill has played host to a number of international students, including a few from the CASE research team at ISA-Lille in France. This summer, it was ISA’s turn to play host as they welcome PhD candidate, Elise Shepley, to their lab.
Members of the CASE research team and our team at CowLifeMcGill were joined by Dr. Kees van Reenen from Wageningen University May 30, 2017 to share current research and forge potential collaborations for the future! BACK ROW (L to R): Dr. Joop Lensink, Dr. Vanessa Guesdon, Dr. Hélène Leruste, Elise Shepley, Clara Dumon, FRONT ROW (L to R): Dr. Elsa Vasseur, Dr. Kees van Reenen.

In collaboration with the CASE team, Elise researched the effect of the type of loose-housing system (strawyard vs. free-stall) on dairy cow behavior and step activity. The study took place in both the winter and summer, with winter data collection already successfully carried out by the CASE research team, to determine if season and, more importantly, providing outdoor access has a positive effect of overall step activity and behavior in dairy cows.
PhD candidate Elise Shepley stands by her treatment areas (L: Strawyard, R: Freestall) at the dairy farm at the Institut de Genech.

This project is a part of a larger PhD focus investigating exercise in dairy cattle. Research has shown many benefits of providing exercise to dairy cows; however, much of the previous research has focused on pasture housing and our understanding regarding the amount of exercise opportunity provided by other housing types is limited. There is much to be learned with regard to the indoor housing environment on the dairy cow’s ability to move freely and exhibit normal behavior. The study carried out in France looked to see if all indoor loose-housing is created equally or if, indeed, a deeper look into housing structure is necessary to improve the amount of total exercise the cow has the opportunity to obtain in her given environment. This information will help us provide producers with better recommendations on housing as it relates to exercise and cow health and welfare as a whole.

This study and the wonderful experiences abroad are now completed! Be sure to keep up with the research at CowLifeMcGill to see updates on the findings for this study and our other ongoing research studies!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) Poster Presentations at McGill Macdonald Campus

On Monday September 11, 2017, the 11th annual Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) Poster Presentations was held at McGill’s Macdonald Campus. Here, students that had received a USRA this past summer presented the results of their research projects. One of these students was one of our summer interns, Elyse Perrault. 

At the session, Elyse presented her poster “Evaluating the impact of stall width on ease of movement of dairy cows housed in tie-stall systems”. She did a wonderful job!

Elyse’s poster abstract, as well as abstracts from all the participants, are available at: 

The USRA Program is supported by the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards Program and by donations from Alumni. The Macdonald Campus Research Office and the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences also sponsored the event. We would like to give a large thank you to all of the sponsors, advisors, and participants for coming together to create a wonderful poster session!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Double the width, double the welfare?

Our lab is currently working with Dairy Farmers of Canada on the proAction® initiative to develop a series of experiments, which will provide recommendations to producers on tie-stall design. These experiments will test varying aspects (width, length, neck rail position, chain length, etc.) of the tie-stall to see how they impact the cow and her ability to use her space within the tie-stall. Véronique Boyer and Erika Edwards’ started their project on June 5, 2017, which focuses on cows’ ease of movement with varying tie-stall widths. There are 2 treatments within the project: providing one tie-stall to the cow or two tie-stalls, which will double the width of the stall. We have collected data pertaining to cow ease of movement and space use (position within the stall, quality of lying and rising, number of contacts with the stall), production (milk volume and components), housing (stall cleanliness and bedding softness), and health measures (injuries, lameness, rumination time, feeding, etc.). 
A new measure related to rest has been added to the array of variables already recorded- namely lying time, number of lying bouts, and average duration of lying bouts. A dairy cow spends 12-14 hours/day resting, which makes it critical to provide adequate housing and space to ensure positive well-being. While it is key for a cow to be able to rest, there may also be some importance to what posture she is in while resting. It has been speculated that a cow’s ability to rest in certain postures has an effect on her comfort and welfare. Therefore, a portion of this project will also concentrate on what resting postures a cow assumes based on the stall width she is provided with. We predict cows provided with a wider stall will utilize this extra space by spending more time resting and assuming more relaxed resting postures. These results will allow us to provide recommendations to producers on tie-stall width and which cows may need to be provided with more space (i.e. special needs cows, older cows, etc.). By understanding how the tie-stall impacts the cow, we can improve her ease of movement in the short term and improve housing, production and health in the long term. 

Cow resting in a single width stall

Cow utilizing the extra space provided to her while resting in a double width stalls

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Mini Research day at the Macdonald Campus

On Wednesday July 19th, our lab attended the Animal Science department’s Mini Research Day at McGill Macdonald Campus. This was a day for graduate students of the department and featured guest speakers to showcase their research to each other. The day started off with a brief history of the department and campus by Dr. Kevin Wade, and was followed by student seminars and poster presentations.

Santiago Palacio presented his research on the effects of pasture access, winter exercise, and modified stalls on the behaviour and welfare of dairy cattle in tie-stalls (pictured below).
Photo by: Yangjing Pu

Other student seminars included a range of topics including using technology to determine genetic trends on-farm by Bernard Hagen, the effects of yeast supplementation on genetic expression in transition dairy cows by Audrey St Yves, and laparoscopic ovum pickup in prepubertal water buffalo by Luke Currin. 

A poster session followed the first half of the oral presentations and guest speakers. Jessica St John showcased her poster on the effects of various tie-rail height and forward positions on physical injury level of dairy cows in tie-stalls (pictured below). 

Some notable guest speakers attended the event, including the department's newest member Dr. Jennifer Ronholm, Holstein Canada’s Jeanette Van Der Linden, and McGill alumna Catherine Larivée-Bazinet. Dr. Ronholm gave an overview of her upcoming research looking at the microbiomes of cow mammary tissues and their relation to mastitis. Jeanette Van Der Linden talked about Holstein Canada’s genetic testing technology for herd improvement, while Catherine Larivée-Bazinet gave an overview of Quebec’s veal industry.

To end the day, a Brazilian-style barbeque was held at the Macdonald Campus Farm, where delicious food was provided and conversation ensued. Here it was announced that Jessica St. John had won the people’s choice award for best poster at the poster session! 
Photo by: Yangjing Pu
From left to right: Dr. Hernan Baldassarre, Dr. Kevin Wade, Dr. Bernardo Gasperin, Dr. Bushansingh (Shyam) Baurhoo
Photo by: Yangjing Pu
A special shout out goes to Yasmin Schermann for hosting and organizing the first Animal Science Mini Research Day. It was a wonderful event and we hope it will become a tradition in years to come!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Machine-learning techniques in animal welfare research

Project discussion at Valacta (from left to right): Liliana Fadul Pacheco (Valacta/McGill), René Lacroix (Valacta), Ortéga Wanignon Dovoedo (Valacta), Elsa Vasseur (McGill), and Daniel Warner (Valacta/McGill)

Risk factors explaining the animal welfare status of a dairy herd are currently being intensively investigated by our research team at McGill. Being able to predict actual dairy herds at low or high animal welfare status can make a major contribution to improve the animal welfare status on a large scale and change the status quo. 
Daniel Warner’s research focuses on using new machine-learning techniques to predict whether a specific dairy herd may have animal welfare deficiencies. The routinely collected milking data from Québec’s dairy herds by Valacta come in handy as these data contain plenty of information that may explain the animal welfare status of a specific dairy herd. As it is typical for such big data, relationships and patterns in routine milking data are not easy to grasp. 
Daniel has been, therefore, working on several machine-learning techniques, ranging from prediction models based on a simple decision tree to an entire (random) forest. Such models are often used as a decision support tool by big data companies around the globe. In our project, such models will help us to predict the actual animal welfare status of dairy herds based on routine milking data. Preliminary results are promising. However, the false positive and false negative alerts produced by these models are a continuous cause of concern. While it is essential that our models detect a high percentage of dairy herds with animal welfare deficiencies, it is equally important for a dairy producer that its herd may not be erroneously classified as a low animal welfare herd when in reality it is not. 
Daniel and his colleagues at Valacta and McGill intensified their research efforts to come up with sound prediction models. Based on our results, an intervention protocol will be developed to assist Québec’s dairy producers in improving the animal welfare status. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Recent Conferences (Early 2017)

Our lab member Santiago Palacio recently attended and presented a poster at the Annual Animal Welfare Research Symposium hosted by the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW) in Guelph, Ontario. Following this event he made his way down to Ames, Iowa to attend and present at the 13th North American Regional Meeting of the International Society of Applied Ethology (ISAE)
At both conferences he talked about the effects on the lactating cow's welfare when small affordable stall modifications and/or access to exercise were applied to cows housed in tie-stalls across Quebec and North Eastern Ontario.

We would like to thank our colleagues the University of Guelph and Iowa State University for putting on great events.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Acfas 2017 - À la découverte de la recherche en agriculture et en agroalimentaire

Le 7 mai dernier, à la ferme du Campus Macdonald, se tenait « De l’étable à la table », une activité grand public organisée dans le cadre du congrès 2017 de l’Acfas. Notre équipe a organisé le seule évènement de la conférence qui se tenait sur notre campus! Tous les laboratoires qui font de la recherche appliquée se sont joints à nous afin de présenter aux visiteurs venus de tous les horizons la recherche en agriculture et en alimentation conduite sur le campus! Initialement prévue à l’extérieur, l’activité a dû être déplacée à l’intérieur de la ferme laitière en raison de la pluie annoncée!

À travers cette activité, les membres du public ont eu l’opportunité de découvrir dans une ambiance conviviale de multiples innovations, que ce soit en agriculture de précision ou en alimentation, ou en lien avec la production de gaz à partir de biomasse.  
  L'équipe du kiosque "Agriculture de précision" 

Des groupes étudiants, tels que Farm-to-School et MSEG (Macdonald Student-Run Ecological Garden) étaient également présents.

Les visiteurs ont eu l’opportunité de voyager jusqu’au cœur de la fraise et au pays des semences, grâce à nos collègues du département des sciences des plantes.   

Le département des sciences animales était également bien représenté, avec une équipe de recherche en reproduction bovine, et bien évidemment, notre groupe!   

Notre kiosque sur place, avec quelques visiteurs intéressés! 

Malgré la température plutôt maussade, une centaine de visiteurs se sont présentés afin de découvrir les diverses facettes de la recherche en agriculture présentes sur le campus et trouver des réponses à certaines de leurs questions relatives à la production laitière, et aux autres productions agricoles.