A University of Queensland project aimed at early detection of infectious disease in dairy cows could save Australian and New Zealand dairy industries millions of dollars.
Professor Mitchell said the risk of death for dairy cows is up to six times greater during the transition from pregnancy to lactation.
“The transition time is incredibly draining,” Professor Mitchell said.
“A cow goes from producing no milk to producing milk on a daily basis and they use a lot of energy to accommodate that.
“During this vulnerable time their immune system weakens so they become prone to infectious disease and debilitating metabolic conditions.
“This transition period is a key time for early diagnosis and intervention.”
Professor Mitchell said cows failing to complete the transition costs Australian and New Zealand dairy industries an estimated $300 million and $1 billion respectively each year, a burden he believes can be reduced.
“We aim to improve the early diagnosis of at-risk transition cows by identifying specific early biomarkers of major diseases.
“We’re looking specifically at biomarkers which are secreted from cells and can be measured by testing certain liver enzymes.
“By identifying these biomarkers we can determine which cows will struggle during transition and which won’t.
“This will allow dairy farmers to better focus resources on cows most likely to successfully transition, and develop preventative strategies which could reduce the economic burden by at least 25 per cent.”
Professor Mitchell said the project shows the value of long term relationships and the linkage between high-end science and the practical needs of the community.
“Dairy New Zealand are our industry research partner for this project and are providing more than 400 cattle for us to sample.”
The project also shows the value of lateral thinking between animal and human diseases.
“We use the same methodology to look at women who could be at risk of disease during pregnancy or during labour.
“While this research has a veterinary clinical endpoint the project lets us refine and improve the methodology for people-focused research in the future.”
Professor Mitchell and his team Professor Gregory Rice of UQ’s Centre for Clinical Research and Professor John Roche of Dairy New Zealand were awarded a Discovery Program grant of AUD$660,500 over three years.
Professor Mitchell also holds an Affiliated Academic position with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI).