SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

September 24, 2015 10:00 ET

Dairy industry changes benefit both consumers and the health and welfare of dairy cows

University of Calgary's Dr. Herman Barkema leads review of changes in the dairy industry

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - September 24, 2015) - The dairy industry worldwide is undergoing significant changes. In recent decades, there has been rapid adoption of new technologies such as automatic milking systems and cow activity monitors. Dairy producers are modernizing their production practices and adopting higher standards of food safety and biosecurity. Enhancements in nutrition and herd management are improving the health of cows and helping increase milk production.

These changes -- and what they mean for the health and well-being of dairy cows -- are explored in a review of research led by Dr. Herman Barkema, DVM, PhD, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). Barkema's team of dairy science experts published their insights into these changes in the current issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

"There are many reasons behind the profound changes this industry is seeing," says Barkema professor in Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases at UCVM. "Economic pressures, technological changes, demographic shifts, consumer expectations and an evolving regulatory framework have all played a role."

Barkema's paper also looks at the science associated with key dairy industry changes. Average milk production per cow has increased, partly because of improvements in nutrition and care but also because of genetic selection for milk production and disease resistance.

"Genetic and genomic selection for increased resistance to diseases offers substantial potential but requires collection of additional phenotypic data," says Barkema. "And there is every expectation that changes in the dairy industry will be further accentuated and additional novel technologies and different management practices will be adopted in the future."

Consumer expectations for improved health and welfare of food animals have also played a part in the impetus for change. Barkema says Canadian dairy farmers have never relied heavily on antimicrobials and hormones and take great pride in their humane record. Globally, however, the proportion of organic dairy farms has increased and conventional farms may be able to learn from well-managed organic farms.

"Collectively, these changes profoundly impact dairy health and welfare," says Barkema. "The challenge is to balance those decisions and practices that may provide short-term economic gains but may also be associated with long-term risks regarding sustainability."

"Changes in the dairy industry affecting dairy cattle health and welfare," by H.W. Barkema, M.A.G. von Keyserlingk, J.P. Kastelic, T.J.G.M. Lam, C. Luby, J.-P. Roy, S.J. LeBlanc, G.P. Keefe, and D.F. Kelton (DOI:, Journal of Dairy Science, published online in advance of Volume 98, Issue 11 (November 2015) by Elsevier.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732-238-3628 or to obtain copies.

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.’

For more information, visit Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For details on faculties and how to reach experts go to our media center at

Contact Information

  • Media Contact
    Collene Ferguson
    Manager, Marketing and Communications
    Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
    University of Calgary