A BBSRC-funded research project, which has received a £1.24 million cash injection, aims to understand and address the causes of dairy cow heat stress within farm buildings.
Spearheaded by The Universities of Reading, Essex, Cardiff and Writtle University College, the project is set to bring together experts in animal and dairy sciences, mathematical modelling and statistics, and building design engineering.
It aims to address the problem of dairy cow heat stress to ensure sustainable milk production and improve cow welfare as temperatures look set to increase in the future.
Researchers are seeking to understand the interaction between temperature, ‘microclimates’ within farm buildings, and cow physiology and behaviour.
At high temperatures, dairy cows are known to suffer heat stress, which can reduce milk yield, impair fertility, and negatively affect their immune system and overall welfare.
Such problems are likely to be compounded by temperature increases due to climate change, experts say.
Research will take place at the University of Reading’s Centre for Dairy Research (CEDAR) and six commercial dairy farms across the UK.
Individual cow behaviour will be continuously monitored using tracking sensors that record patterns of movement, activity, and space use for each animal in the herd.
Detailed observations of barn ‘microclimates’ (temperature, humidity, air quality, ventilation) will also be obtained and combined with physiological data (cow body temperature, milk production, health).
Cows are known to adapt their behaviour to help cope with high temperatures and humidity: they may increase their water intake, seek shade or areas of increased ventilation, or exhibit other individual and social behavioural responses, all of which can be observed.
The approach the team is taking, using bespoke animal tracking and environmental sensors from industry collaborators, Omnisense and Smartbell, to model how building design influences indoor microclimates and cow behaviour, has never been done in this way before.
The research consortium also has industry support from AHDB (the UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), The Dairy Group, Etex, Innovation for Agriculture, and Map of Ag, as well as Defra (the UK government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).