Identifying new milk biomarkers in dairy cows

Experiments have been set up across Europe to identify new milk biomarkers for production efficiency, health, physiological status, fertility, environmental footprint and the animal welfare state in dairy cows. This work is organised within Work Package 3 of the EU funded project GplusE.

A total of 200 dairy cows from 6 experimental herds in Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and Germany are involved. Potential new milk biomarkers include metabolites, mastitis parameters, hormones, glycan profile and infrared spectra obtained using the MIR technology. The biomarkers measured in milk will be compared with the production, health and welfare traits observed in the same animals. A potential biomarker will be identified as a valid when an observed trait can be predicted with good precision from that particular biomarker measured in milk.

The cows participating in the experiments are placed in diversified production environments regarding nutritional status, levels of productivity and health status; it is therefore expected that the identified biomarkers will be robust enough to accommodate the variety of farming environments encountered in the European dairy herds.

milking cowIn contrast with traditional biomarkers that are mostly measured in blood, the new biomarkers are measured in milk, which is readily available twice a day and less invasive. This will potentially enable the use of the biomarkers at an affordable cost for individual cows in commercial herds.

The use of milk biomarkers can enhance genetic progress within the specific trait as well as give farmers new tools for an efficient management of their animals for better productivity, improved health and welfare and lower impact on the environment.

The experiments are now well on their way and the results should be available in early 2016. A selection of the best identified milk biomarkers will then be tested in thousands of cows within the GplusE project to investigate their usefulness in genomic selection, epigenetic studies and development of new management strategies to aid development of more robust and environmentally friendly cows and to promote early detection and prevention of disease.