A new UK-based research project which will focus on the issue of dairy cow heat stress has received a £1.24 million funding boost.

The project, which seeks to understand and address the causes of dairy cow heat stress within farm buildings, will see the University of Reading collaborate with the University of Essex, Cardiff University and Writtle University College.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is funding the project. Researchers are hoping to gain an understanding of the interaction between temperature, “microclimates” within farm buildings and cow physiology and behaviour.

The researchers said at high temperatures dairy cows can suffer heat stress which can reduce milk yield, impair fertility and negatively impact their immune system and welfare.

These problems are are likely to be compounded by temperature increases due to climate change, researchers have warned.

Heat stress

The research project will be chiefly based at the University of Reading’s Centre for Dairy Research (CEDAR) and six commercial dairy farms across the UK.

Individual cow behaviour will be monitored continuously using tracking sensors that record their patterns of movement, activity and space-use.

Researchers will also obtain detailed observations of bran microclimates – temperature, humidity, air quality and ventilation – and combine the findings with physiological data (cow body temperature, milk production, health).

Professor of mathematical biology at the University of Essex, Edward Codling, said: “Our tracking sensors will allow us to analyse how indoor-housed dairy cows respond to, and cope with, heat stress in an unprecedented level of detail.

“By combining animal tracking data with continuous sensor monitoring of barn microclimates we will be able to model and predict the complex interactions between cow behavioural choices and their housed environment.”

Researchers hope the data collected will inform development of housing designed to reduce incidences and improve welfare.

Meanwhile professor in architectural and urban science at Cardiff University, Zhiwen Luo, said: “We have to respond to the changing environment and through better understanding of how cows interact with building microclimates, design housing and management systems that minimize heat stress and enable more sustainable dairy systems.”