Overview of the Dairy Feed Efficiency Project and its Instructional Components
- Project Title: Genomic Selection and Herd Management Tools to Improve Feed Efficiency of the Dairy Industry.
- Participating Institutions: Michigan State University; University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wageningen UR, The Netherlands, Iowa State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and University of Florida.
Challenges Addressed by this Project
The efficiency of converting feed to milk in the US has doubled over the past 60 years. Further improvement is essential to feeding a growing population in a sustainable system. We believe there are currently three major limitations to further improvement:
- Research-related Challenge: The improved efficiency of the past was largely the indirect result of increased productivity. However, further increases in productivity have a diminishing impact on feed efficiency. We must select dairy cows that digest and metabolize feed nutrients more efficiently.
- Extension-related Challenge: Research of the past 30 years has produced considerable information on how to feed and manage cows throughout the lactation cycle, but many consultants and farmers do not currently make use of this knowledge. We must identify the reasons preventing application of this information on farms and then develop better, more user-friendly tools that will impact herd management to improve overall efficiency
- Educational-related Challenge: Few Americans today understand how food is produced and the synergy between productivity, economic efficiency, stewardship of resources, and reduction of waste. They do not understand the value of technology for sustainable agriculture. We must do a better job of educating the leaders, voters and consumers of the future to ensure that technological innovation continues to improve efficiency and sustainability.
Project Goals and Products
Our overall goal is to increase the efficiency with which the dairy industry uses feed to produce milk, resulting in improved global food production and economic stability as well as decreased wastes for improved environmental stewardship. Our project includes research (Aims 1, 2), extension (Aims 3, 4) and teaching (Aim 5) and is fully integrated with funding allocated at approximately 63% research, 30% extension, and 7% teaching. We propose five major aims:
- Research-related aim 1: Develop a dairy feed efficiency database seeded with genotype and phenotype data for 8000 Holstein cows
- Research-related aim 2: Determine the genetic architecture of feed efficiency and build a foundation for genomic selection of more efficient animals.
- Extension-related aim 3: Develop and implement genomic breeding tools to produce cows with enhanced feed efficiency.
- Extension-related aim 4: Develop and implement practical decision support tools to improve whole herd feed efficiency.
- Educational-related aim 5: Educate future leaders, voters, and consumers about key practices in dairy husbandry that promote feed efficiency and environmental sustainability.
- Research-related product: Novel feed efficiency breeding values suitable for immediate incorporation into genetic improvement programs;
- Extension-related product: A suite of decision tools to aid farmers in managing dairy herds for improved overall feed efficiency;
- Educational-related product: Novel educational materials for K-12 and undergraduate students.
Aim 5 of the project is to educate future leaders, voters, and consumers about key practices in dairy husbandry that promote feed efficiency and environmental sustainability. The main stakeholders of our instructional activities include not only undergraduates in dairy science but also agricultural youth educators and their audiences (primarily 4-H and FFA programs) as well as K-12 teachers and students. Our project team includes faculty with many years of teaching experience and moreover our team encompasses minority-serving institutions; Co-PD Dr. Worku will act as a liaison with other 1890 institutions using established contacts in her role on the Southern Agbiotech Consortium for Underserved Communities. The three specific aims of the educational effort include:
- Aim 5a: Develop and implement educational programs for Ag Education in K-12.
- Aim 5b: Develop and implement original pedagogy for undergraduate instruction.
- Aim 5c: Mentor students in undergraduate research relating to feed efficiency.
Partnership with K-12 and precollege programs is essential to help the next generation of consumers better understand where food comes from and its central role in society and generate interest among students with little background in agriculture (in particular minorities and urban population) to consider professional careers in food and agricultural sciences.
We will build on existing collaborations with local chapters of USDA Agriculture in the Classroom (agclassroom.org/) to engage university students and 4-H participants in K-12 education. Together, teachers, undergraduate students, and 4-H youth will develop and implement grade-specific lesson units on the economic, environmental, and social contributions of the dairy industry to society, and on the relationship between feed efficiency and environmental sustainability of contrasting dairy systems.
We will educate the broader community of teachers and K-12 students by producing short articles for science newsletters, fliers for science classes, slide shows, web-postings, and documentary films in collaboration with industry partners, the MSU Ag & Nat. Res. Video Production Unit (anrcom.msu.edu), and a local teacher with directing experience and from a non-Ag background. At least three student populations will be targeted to participate: a) undergraduate students in agriculture, b) student-teachers from ag. education programs, and c) student organizations, such as dairy clubs and Association of Women in Agriculture. Limited funds will be made available to undergraduate students enrolling for independent study, service-learning, or internships focused on K-12 education.
In addition, we will work with the 4-H Youth Specialists at UW, MSU, and other collaborating institutions to reach out directly or indirectly (on-line social network such as Facebook or Twitter) to high school, 4-H and FFA programs (for example, see uwex.edu/ces/dairyyouth/).
Vision for Working with K-12
As indicated above, the educational component of the project aims at educating the public on key practices in dairy husbandry practices that promote environmental sustainability. The K-12 educational component should strive at developing curriculum (and other educational materials) in the form of lesson units (including teachers notes) that are designed to meet specific educational standards applicable to middle and high schools.
Although the central issue of this project focuses on efficiency of milk production by dairy cows (and dairy herds), this topic will need to be placed in a broader context of social, economic or environmental studies so that it is made relevant to educational standards of middle and high school curricular. Because most individuals consume three meals a day including dairy products, there are unlimited number of thematic perspectives that educators could used to engage students at a personal level to learn, think about, and debate issues related to the food that they eat every day. For example, we are looking forward to work with K-12 instructors and educators in leverage existing resources (and new knowledge generated under the research component of this grant) to develop curriculum dealing with (for example):
- Biological processes (genetic selection, turnover rate of a dairy herd, nutrition),
- Biotechnology (DNA extraction, genomic),
- Mathematical concepts (regressions, exponential decay),
- Economic (business decision-makings, diminishing returns),
- Social issues (farming practices, acceptance of farm practices, and/or perception of biotechnology,)
- Natural resources management (water, feed/forage, land management under various dairy production systems)
- Human health and nutrition (what is milk, where does it come from? How is it produce? Is organic milk better than milk from “factory farms”?)
- Ethical issues and welfare of farm animals,
- Math departments
- English departments
- Social studies departments
- Computers and technical education departments
- Special education department
- Foreign language departments (?)
- The Over-arching (K-12) Activities and Objectives of the Collaboration with K-12 teachers...
Below is a list is of examples and ideas that may be explored further on how to bridge the main educational opportunities created by this grant with the educational / instructional needs of K-12 educators and students, which will depend undoubtedly on a multitude of factors such as school type (e.g., urban vs. rural ) grade level, core curriculum and associated educational standards targeted, and personal interest/needs urban vs. rural school, etc.). Any of the following questions could be used as a starting point for an educational projects under this grant:
- What is efficiency?
- Why should we be concerned about animal efficiency?
- What do we know about the carbon footprint of milk?
- Can you describe what happen in your digestive system as you digest food with mathematical equation?
- What is sustainability? What is sustainable development?
- Where are dairy products coming from?
- What are the roles of dairy farming in [your state], and what does it contribute to?
- How does dairy farming contribute to the economic growth, social welfare and environmental stewardship?
- How does a dairy farm work? Is is a profit-driven business or is it a maternity ward of milk-producing cows?
- What are dairy systems? What are the main inputs and outputs necessary in milk production by a cow (by a dairy herd)?
- What are the connections between dairy cow (dairy farm) and climate change?
- What are the consequences of buying organic milk compared with regular milk? What difference does it make? (for the consumers, for the producers, on use of natural resources, etc. )