Grant awarded: Kent Weigel receives USDA-NIFA funding to select high-frequency phenotypes for resistance and recovery from stressors

Kent Weigel, professor and chair in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, was awarded $650,000 for his project “The resilient cow: Next-generation selection using high-frequency phenotypes to achieve predictable performance in unpredictable conditions” through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Animal Breeding, Genetics, and Genomics (AFRI A1201). It was among 17 projects to share $9.6 million in funding.

Project description (from CRIS website): Our objective is to improve the health and welfare of dairy cattle and the operational and economic efficiency of dairy farms by selection for resistance to, and rapid recovery from, environmental and management disturbances that are increasingly prevalent in a warming climate with extreme weather events, labor shortages, disease outbreaks, and supply chain disruptions. Animal agriculture has made tremendous gains in production efficiency by improving mean performance under optimal conditions, but the ability of an animal to perform at a high level under challenging circumstances and rebound from unexpected disturbances has been largely ignored. Today’s precision livestock farming technologies allow real-time monitoring of phenotypes that can be used to quantify the ability of individual animals to perform consistently in adverse conditions. In Aim 1, we will use high-frequency phenotypes to quantify daily deviations of milk yield, feed intake, activity, and behavior from their expected values at the individual cow level. In Aim 2, we will develop and validate methods to detect environmental and management disturbances at the cohort level and study the behaviors that make cows resilient using causal inference models and smaller within-day (hour, minute) temporal scales. In Aim 3, we will assess genetic variation in the ability of individual animals to resist, and recover from, the negative impacts of environmental and management disturbances and develop a prototype for routine genetic evaluation of resilience in U.S. dairy cattle. In this manner, the project will enhance the sustainability of our dairy farms and the resilience of our food production system.