A new £6 million centre that will position the University of Nottingham at the forefront of research into the health, nutrition and welfare of dairy cows is to be officially unveiled at its Sutton Bonington campus.
The new Centre for Dairy Science Innovation is a state-of-the-art extension to the University's longstanding dairy facilities and will offer the latest research technologies for studying a range of dairy-related topics including mastitis control, antimicrobial resistance, feed efficiency, environmental emissions and new so-called wearable technologies for the herd.
Among the technologies in use are robotic milking machines that allow the cows to decide when they are ready to be milked and robot 'scrapers' which help to maintain the general hygiene of the facility by automatically disposing of waste.
Jointly funded by the University and the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), by the UK's innovation agency, Innovate UK, as part of the UK's Agri-Tech Strategy, the facility brings together researchers from the University's Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary Medicine and Science alongside industry.
It will be opened on Wednesday 23 May by Sir Peter Kendall, Chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, and former President of the National Farmers' Union and World Farmers Organisation.
Martin Green, Professor of Cattle Health and Epidemiology in the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, said: "The University of Nottingham already has an international reputation for the excellence of its research into cattle health and nutrition and this centre will help us to cement our position as leaders in the field.
"We work across the spectrum, from 'blue sky', very fundamental studies to research at the applied level which has already allowed us to influence national policy on issues including mastitis control and the reduction of antibiotic use."
Ian Cox, Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres, Innovate UK said: "This state-of-the art-facility, proudly co-funded by Innovate UK, will allow the UK's dairy industry to work with leading researchers at the University of Nottingham to develop solutions the industry needs to build on its already excellent position in animal health and welfare. This will help to cement the UK's position as a global leader in applied animal research and contribute to the nation's industrial strategy."
The new facility will increase the size of the University's dairy herd from 240 to 360 cows and will be focused on four main areas of research.
The facility is part of the dairy hub of the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), which brings together 12 world-class research institutes creating Europe's largest applied animal research group to develop new industry-needed solutions as well as commercial trial farms for real world, with the ultimate aim of delivering improved food quality and farming systems.
It will double the capacity for studies into nutritional sciences, led by Professor Phil Garnsworthy, Head of Division of Animal Sciences and Professor of Dairy Science in the School of Biosciences. The facilities will allow studies with up to 100 individually-fed, high-yielding dairy cows and heifers to test the effect of a range of diets on milk production and composition, feed intake and live-weight change. It will also study issues including rumen function, digestibility, greenhouse gas emissions, reproduction and feeding behaviour.
A new building will be the focus on emerging technologies to prevent disease and improve cow welfare. The unique flexible housing facility for two groups of around 30 animals will allow researchers to evaluate the impact of the environment on the health, welfare and physiology of housed dairy cows. It will be possible to test the effects of building layout, access to indoor and outdoor loafing space, feed space and bedding on cow physiology, production, health, welfare and economics. Professor Martin Green and Drs Jasmeet Kaler and Chris Hudson, in the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Health, are particularly interested in whether technologies such as wearable and bolus sensors connected through the internet could help vets and farmers to more closely monitor cattle and predict disease.
New cutting-edge laboratory facilities will expand the Dairy Herd Health Group's capacity to study mastitis and investigate novel therapies and vaccines derived from new genomic technologies. These areas of research, led by Professor Jamie Leigh and Dr Tracey Coffey in the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Health, are concentrated on the leading causes of mastitis in the UK.
In addition, the expansion will double the farm's Lely Astronaut robotic milking machines from four to eight. The cows decide when they are ready to be milked and go into the milking machine, where motorised brushes clean their teats before laser guided milking cups attach themselves automatically. When milking is finished, the cows' udders are disinfected again before leaving the machine.
Small robot 'scrapers' will patrol the floor of the facility on a programmed route, slowly weaving their way around hooves and maintaining the general hygiene by pushing waste through specially-designed concrete slats in the ground, returning periodically to their stations to re-charge.
Lyndsay Chapman, CIEL's CEO, said: "With over 98% of British households regularly consuming dairy products, and a growing level of volatility in UK markets, investment in targeted R&D and supporting infrastructure is essential for supply chain resilience. The health and welfare of dairy herds is key to maximising production efficiency and this new centre significantly adds to our research capability in this area. The studies undertaken here will lead to new products, services and techniques to benefit the entire supply chain and ultimately develop the products that consumers want and need."