Heat-stressed dairy cows cost the American dairy industry $1.5 billion annually. With average temperatures expected to increase, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research recently awarded a $736,392 Seeding Solutions Grant to Cornell University to improve dairy-cow ability to withstand extreme heat. The grant is matched with funding from AB Vista, Adisseo, Balchem Corporation, Berg+Schmidt, Cornell University, Elanco, Phibro Animal Health, and Vetagro for a total $1.47 million investment.

The global demand for dairy products and milk is expected to increase 57 percent by 2050. Increasing temperatures will compromise the American dairy industry in meeting future demand. Dairy cows are unable to efficiently produce milk when their body temperatures rise to greater than normal, a condition known as hyperthermia-induced heat stress. Heat-stressed dairy cows also have reduced fertility, are more likely to develop infectious and metabolic diseases, and may succumb to premature death.

“Climate change and extreme heat represent key barriers for the sustainable production of milk that meets consumer expectations for quality as well as the rising global demand for dairy foods,” said Joseph McFadden, assistant professor of cattle biology and a principal investigator at Cornell University. “We must act now to develop innovative solutions that revolutionize how we feed heat-stressed cows to ensure optimum animal health and welfare while achieving gains in efficient milk production.”

Heat stress in cattle is linked to a condition commonly called leaky gut. Specifically hyperthermia can lead to bacterial endotoxins leaking from the gut, which causes liver inflammation. In response the cow’s body pulls resources from producing milk in order to preserve health.

Researchers will start by working to understand the relationship between dairy-cattle gut health, intestinal permeability, liver health, immunity and milk production. Working with the industry, McFadden’s team will determine whether heat-stressed dairy cows can recover if fed specific remedies. Ultimately the project aims to identify nutrition-based solutions that improve dairy-cow ability to adapt to extreme heat.

“Heat stress is an urgent animal-health and welfare concern, and it also creates additional pressures for the nation’s dairy farmers,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “The (foundation) is optimistic that Cornell’s research can improve the health of dairy cows, increase efficient milk production and help American dairy farmers protect their livestock.”

The Seeding Solutions Grant program is an open call for bold ideas that address pressing food and agricultural issues in one of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research’s “Challenge Areas.” Cornell’s research furthers the foundation’s 2018 Protein Challenge Area, now the Advanced Animal Systems Challenge Area. The work in that challenge area supports sustainable animal systems through innovative technologies, environmentally sound production practices, and advancements in animal health and welfare. The research project has the potential to not only meet the foundation’s goals but also to develop solutions that can improve the American dairy industry.

McFadden’s team will further partner with industry collaborators to reduce the use of limited natural resources. They will work to decrease dairy-production costs in support of a more sustainable and economically viable American dairy industry.

The consortium of allied industry partners that committed support demonstrates the urgent need for new strategies to improve gut and liver health in heat-stressed cows. Their involvement is essential to ensure translation of discoveries into practical on-farm dairy-nutrition strategies that improve heat-stress resilience in cows.

McFadden will work with each sponsor and the Cornell PRO-DAIRY program to disseminate knowledge in an annual editorial series called “Beat the Heat: Dairy Nutrition Strategies for Optimum Cow Health” that will be shared with thousands of American dairy farmers.

“The American dairy industry is a leading domestic and international supplier of dairy,” McFadden said. “This translational research program in collaboration with industry has the potential to revolutionize dairy-cattle nutrition to ensure that our American dairy farmers will continue to produce a high- quality food. Global population growth and climate change are real challenges and we aim to develop real solutions.”

Visit foundationfar.org for more information.