Iowa State studying feed efficiency in dairy cattle

AMES, Iowa — An Iowa State University animal scientist is on a team of researchers that will work to improve the feed efficiency of dairy cattle.

Diane Spurlock, associate professor of animal science, is one of the geneticists on the team of 16 researchers, which includes nutritionists and extension specialists from across the United States and the Netherlands.

The $5 million project is funded for five years by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Mike VandeHaar, an animal scientist at Michigan State University, is the leader of the project. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in animal science at Iowa State in 1984 and 1988.

Spurlock said her genetics research for the project will focus on the ability to select cows that use less feed to produce milk, an approach that has been identified as a USDA priority area that differs from past research.

“In the past the genetic focus has been more on getting as much milk as possible,” she said. “And to support more milk, the cows have to eat more feed. Milk has been a higher priority than efficiency, but that is changing.”

Spurlock will be measuring feed intake of about 1,000 Holstein cows at the Iowa State University Dairy Farm, which has a system where researchers can electronically track individual cow feed intake. The entire project will collect data from 8,000 cows.

Using the data, researchers will estimate the genetic value of animals for feed efficiency. Others will analyze the data to gain a better understanding of the nutritional aspects of feed efficiency.

The project includes an extension component to share research findings with dairy producers. Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin extension specialists will lead efforts to provide producers management strategies to imp-rove feed efficiencies and educate producers about the new genetic information that will enable them to select cattle for improved feed efficiency.  

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