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USask LFCE researchers.jpg University of Saskatchewan
Masters student Caleb Eidsvik (left) and USask cattle nutrition researcher Greg Penner at the USask Livestock & Forage Centre of Excellence. Penner's research was among projects receiving funding.

Saskatchewan awards $7m to livestock research

University of Saskatchewan receives funding for 20 projects to advance cattle, swine and poultry research.

Twenty University of Saskatchewan (USask) projects have been awarded nearly $7 million through a joint federal/provincial government funding program to advance cattle, swine and poultry research.

Investment from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF), supplemented by contributions from industry partners, will help researchers improve health and safety for animals, reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming and provide promising researchers of tomorrow with invaluable experience, USask said in an announcement.

“This major funding commitment from our partners supports agricultural research essential to food security in Saskatchewan, Canada and the world,” Karen Chad, USask vice president, research, said. “This stellar livestock research helps increase agriculture value-added revenue, grow our agri-food exports and address climate change while training tomorrow’s skilled workers in this sector.”

The funding includes a $3.2 million investment in the USask Livestock & Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) for the center's management and operations. Seven of the 20 USask research projects awarded ADF funding will be conducted all or in part at the LFCE, which has a mandate to improve the sustainability of the livestock and forage industries through research and education in five key areas: soil, forage and crop systems, cow management, feedlot operations and alternative livestock, including bison, USask said.

Projects announced Jan. 29 involving USask animal health research include:

  • Developing a universal vaccine for influenza A in swine. Influenza A virus in swine is highly contagious and has the potential to cause significant economic loss and to “jump” to humans. USask molecular biologist Yan Zhou at the Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) will improve an existing vaccine so it can provide broad protection against all dominant strains of the virus in swine, increase production and reduce costs, helping farmers across Saskatchewan and throughout North America.
  • Tracking antimicrobial-resistant Escherichia coli in chickens. Infections in chickens caused by E. coli can kill up to 20% of a flock and are the leading cause of economic loss in the industry in Canada. Using whole-genome sequencing, USask microbiologist and VIDO-InterVac scientist Aaron White will lead a research team to track and predict virulence and antimicrobial resistance in different strains of E. coli to better understand the cause of the infections. VIDO-InterVac scientist Jo-Anne Dillon and veterinary microbiologist Dr. Joe Rubin are part of the team.
  • Testing for Salmonella dublin in dairy herds. S. dublin, a commonly multiple-drug-resistant variety of salmonella bacteria, poses significant risks to cattle health and is increasingly prevalent in western Canadian dairy operations. While infections in people are rare and associated with consuming unpasteurized milk products and undercooked meat, the symptoms can be severe: S. dublin causes more frequent and longer hospital stays than other strains do. USask cattle researchers Dr. Christopher Luby and Dr. Kamal Gabadage are aiming to improve existing testing methods to increase accuracy in identifying which cows carry the bacteria.

Examples of livestock research projects with potential to reduce environmental impact include:

  • Using pea starch for swine feed. Increased global demand for pea protein has led to a surplus of pea starch that's leftover from the extraction process. USask researcher Rex Newkirk, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture endowed research chair in feed processing technology, will determine safe levels of the starch to include in pig feed to increase efficiency and help producers.
  • Hybrid fall rye as a new forage source for beef cattle. Hybrid fall rye, a new variety developed in Germany, is a hardy winter crop with the potential to dramatically increase yields, protect the environment, increase resistance to disease and improve farmers’ bottom lines. USask cattle researcher Greg Penner will study the rye for suitability to feed cattle and inform producers of the results.
  • Strategies to address mineral nutrition in the face of poor-water quality. Sulfate-contaminated water is a major potential problem for livestock in Saskatchewan, causing nutrient deficiency and reproductive problems in cows. Penner has also been awarded an ADF grant to test whether supplementing cattle with the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol or other dietary additives may be a solution.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cattle feedlots. USask engineering professor Terry Fonstad will determine the most environmentally friendly, efficient way to store, transport and fertilize soil with cattle manure, examining the economics and total environmental footprint of various practices. Fonstad will also measure greenhouse gases in a closed cattle barn in order to compare different strategies.

Read a backgrounder from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture with details on all the livestock projects, including those at other institutions.

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