Improving the Comfort and Longevity of Cows

Project entitled:

Industrial Research Chair NSERC-Novalait-PLC-Valacta on Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle

Elsa Vasseur, Kevin Wade, Roger Cue, Doris Pellerin, Jeff Rushen, Joop Lensink


  • Dairy farmers have the challenge of providing the market with high quality products while ensuring maximum productivity. To do so, understanding the nutritional and physiological needs of cows, while simultaneously taking consumer expectations into account in regards to the environment, animal welfare and economic accessibility, is crucial.
  • Increasing the longevity of dairy cattle in order to decrease involuntary cullings and reduce economic losses for farmers and the industry, all while respecting concerns about animal well-being and comfort and the environment, is a major issue.
  • For these reasons, and to develop expertise in this field, the new research chair in the sustainable life of dairy cattle was created at McGill University. This important research initiative aims to provide dairy farmers with concrete data and tools to optimize comfort, with a particular focus on stall housing, and to increase the longevity of dairy cattle.
  • The chair also aims to improve recommendations concerning animal welfare to help farmers prepare for the implementation of the animal welfare component of the ProAction national program.



The research chair’s objective is to optimize comfort, with a particular focus on stall housing, and to increase the longevity of dairy cattle while considering dairy farm sustainability.


Results and potential benefits

The chair will conduct its research activities with a focus on three main themes over the next five years.

  • Theme 1: Cow comfort and herd management
    • The first research theme will concentrate on the knowledge and adaptations required to provide the appropriate environment for dairy cattle with respect to compliance. As current research on comfort is essentially conducted with loose housing systems, projects will be completed using a tie-stall system in order to better understand comfort needs and optimize recommendations.
  • Theme 2: Dairy cattle longevity
    • The second research theme will examine long-term profitability measures and animal survival in herds. The topics of replacement and producing cows will be examined. The projects completed under this theme wil benefit from the data collected on commercial farms as well as from Valacta’s database.
  • Theme 3: Environment and society
    • The third research theme will help provide a broader perspective on international standards, life cycle assessments and consumer acceptability. Measures to improve welfare and longevity in accordance with overall sustainability (environmental, economic and social) of dairy farms will be validated.


Professionals trained

The research chair has just been appointed (January 1, 2016) and a PhD student (Elise Shepley), three master’s students (Jessica St John, Sirine EL Hamdaoui, Véronique Boyer) (all focusing on welfare and comfort) and a postdoctoral fellow (Hector Delgado; large database analysis) have already begun or are about to begin their research programs at McGill University. In total, the chair’s research projects will involve more than a dozen graduate students and more than twenty interns.


Financial contributions

The research chair is funded under the program of the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair;

Industrial Partners are:

  • Novalait
  • Dairy Farmers of Canada
  • Valacta
  • McGill University