[ASC-media] Fuel efficient cows

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Wed Aug 9 01:45:04 CEST 2006

Fuel-efficient cows

$1 million trans-Tasman investment in research for more milk and less

The key to staying ahead of global dairy farming competitors lies in
breeding better, more efficient dairy cows.  

The Australia-New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund is investing $1
million to ensure that New Zealand and Australian farmers can choose the
most efficient cows for their breeding programs. 

"We're looking at 'feed conversion efficiency'," says Dieter Adam, the
Group General Manager of Innovation at New Zealand's Livestock
Improvement Corporation (LIC), which is collaborating with Australia's
Cooperative Research Centre for Innovative Dairy Products on the
project. He will be presenting their ideas at ABIC - the Agricultural
Biotechnology International Conference in Melbourne from 6 to 9 August. 

It's a simple concept. Essentially the researchers want to ensure that
what goes in - the grass, the grain - comes out again as milk solids,
the proteins and fat that makes up the solid component of the milk. 

Adam likens it to improving the fuel efficiency of a car, where the
amount of petrol in the fuel tank directly affects the distance the car
can drive. "We want fuel efficient cows."

Improving the feed conversion efficiency of dairy cattle is important to
the dairy export industries in both New Zealand and Australia, which
focus on exporting milk powder, butter, cheese and other milk
solid-derived products. 

Just as it is more cost effective to drive a fuel efficient car, it's
also more cost effective to have cattle efficient at converting feed to
milk solids.

Dairy farmers in both countries need to increase productivity in order
to stay ahead of the competition from other countries, especially in
South America. Improved feed conversion efficiency will be an important
factor in this race.

Better conversion to milk solids may also have a beneficial effect on
the environment, says Adam. 

"There is some scientific evidence indicating that if cows are more
efficient milk producers, they produce less methane," he says. 

But the project won't be easy. Feed conversion efficiency is likely to
depend on many different aspects of biology, ranging from the feeding
behaviour of cattle, to the biology of the cow's digestive system and
the biochemistry of milk production, as well as environmental factors
including the type of feed, the season and the geographical location. 

"It's quite a complex trait," says Adam, adding that quite a few genes
are likely to be involved. 

One of the first problems to be tackled is the need to accurately
measure how much food a cow eats. As most dairy cows in Australia and
New Zealand primarily get their food from the pasture, with a variable
amount and type of supplementary grain or silage, this is not a trivial
task. And some cows are more aggressive feeders than others. 

The researchers also plan to investigate how much genetic variation
there is between the individual cows in a herd. 

"Genetic selection of efficient feeders for breeding is only useful if
there is genetic variation present," Adam says. Some studies already
performed have found genetic variation for the trait in beef cattle,
suggesting that this won't be a problem in dairy cows either. 

Once the genetic variability of dairy cows has been established, the
researchers will move on to look at the genome of the cow, to locate and
identify genes involved in feed conversion efficiency. This task has
been made much easier by the recent availability of the bovine genome

It's likely to be a long term research program says Adam. At the moment,
the company is planning a three year project, starting with some small
pilot studies later this year and moving into larger studies in a herd
of 1500-2000 cows in Australia and New Zealand next year. 

On the New Zealand side, the project involves significant collaboration
with Dexcel, and is supported by Dairy Insight, the industry funding
body for on-farm R&D

The project has recently received a $1 million grant from the
Australia-New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund to get it started,
which will be matched by a $1 million contribution from LIC and a
further $2 million from the Australian partner and other contributors.

 "We were keen to work with Australian scientists, because of the
feasibility of doing such a big study and because of their expertise,"
Adam says. 

For further information contact:
*	Niall Byrne, +61 417 131 977, niall at scienceinpublic.com
*	Chris Boalch, Sector Director - Biotechnology, New Zealand Trade
and Enterprise, +64 27 2899581, chris.boalch at nzte.govt.nz 
*	Sophi Nauman, NZTE, +64 27 477 1987.

For more information on New Zealand, please visit www.newzealand.com.


Niall Byrne

Science Communication Consultant
Science in Public
PO Box 199 Drysdale 3222 Australia
(185 Scotchmans Road Portarlington 3223) Ph +61 3 5253 1391, fax +61 3
9923 6008, mobile 0417 131 977 
niall at scienceinpublic.com or niallprivate at scienceinpublic.com for
personal matters

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