Dairy Centre of Excellence opens

FROM ideas that can be immediately used on farm to ones which will make a significant mark in the future, a new project at Liverpool University’s vet school has big ambitions – and all backed by a major retailer.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, director of corporate and legal affairs for Tesco, officially opened the Tesco Dairy Centre of Excellence at Liverpool University’s Wood Park Farm, Neston, Cheshire, last Thursday.

Key to the project is the 200-cow dairy farm owned by the veterinary faculty which will be home to an increased number of research projects and demonstrations.

Unveiling a plaque to mark the occasion, Ms Neville-Rolfe described the centre as a ‘unique alliance’ and key to Tesco’s ‘ambition for sustainability’ in the dairy sector.

The centre would provide farmers with information and demonstrate best practice, she said, while testing new ideas and sharing information would benefit everyone in the supply chain, including Tesco.

Profitability for all

Although Ms Neville-Rolfe skipped over the issue of whether Tesco would continue paying for milk at its current level, her only comment was that it was ‘committed’ to a ‘fair’ price; her general message was one of profitability for all.

“By working in partnership we can ensure everything we do is right for cows and also makes perfect economic sense,” she said.

Of immediate and long-term interest to farmers is work being done on lameness and mobility – especially as eradication of digital dermatitis is one aim for the experts involved.

Dr Rob Smith, the university’s head of livestock health and welfare, said the idea was very new and could not be taken up by farmers yet. However, he was confident that working within a closed herd they had some hope of success.

His colleague Prof Stuart Carter said they were confident digital dermatitis was spread by cow-to-cow contact only, as they could isolate the bugs in slurry, insect vectors or bedding, so could take steps to tackle a disease which was ‘very expensive’ for farmers to treat on an ongoing basis.

Vet Matthew Dobbs said the first step in tackling all types of lameness was regularly measuring the number of affected cows in the herd, which is why all farmers on Tesco contracts are required to mobility score cows and put plans in place should too many have a high grade.

Computer-based

Considering electronic methods of assessing cows, Dr Hilary Dobson said lame cows were less likely to express heat and so computer-based heat detection systems could play a role.

Ghassan Haddad from Fabdec said this type of technology could play a bigger role in the future.

For example, he is working with the university herd to trial heat detection tools and ‘vocal tags’ to monitor rumination.

He said digestive disorders would also stop cows showing heat and so he was working with the Liverpool veterinary faculty to develop vocal tags where microphones can gauge the pitch of a cow ruminating. Any alteration to this pitch would identify a digestive problem.

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