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Predicting and enhancing lifetime resilience in dairy cattle


Resilience in animals refers to a capacity to cope with short-term environmental perturbations with a fast return to normal status; it is an acknowledged beneficial trait of farmed livestock. Resilience in dairy cattle at both individual and herd level is considered critical to optimise health, welfare, and productivity and to reduce the environmental footprint of dairy farming. Enhancing resilience has the potential to provide a step change to reduce endemic disease in dairy cows. A major contributor to an individuals' ability to be robust or resilient over their life-course is the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), whereby exposure of the gametes or developing embryo/foetus to adverse conditions at specific developmentally sensitive time points in utero, can alter an individuals' susceptibility to disease. Our hypothesis for this research is that perturbations to dairy cows during developmentally sensitive stages of early pregnancy influence lifetime resilience of their offspring. We will quantify and predict resilience using a large dataset containing detailed lifetime records for offspring (n>30,000) that can be mapped back to a wide range of maternal-mediated stressors experienced by the offspring at specific stages of pregnancy. We will measure the effect of known on-farm stressors during specific stages of pregnancy and evaluate how these underpin lifetime resilience. Project aims are; i) to produce an optimised, validated predictive model of lifetime resilience for dairy cows from events that occur while in utero and ii) to identify and quantify the major factors and events during pregnancy that impact most on lifetime resilience and thereby evaluate the extent to which resilience can be enhanced through optimised herd management. With this knowledge, a farmer will be able to use breeding and management strategies to maximise resilience of cows in the herd.

Professor Martin Green
University of Nottingham
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