Melbourne Veterinary School researcher and tutor Christina Marth received the Dairy Australia Award at the ABARES Outlook 2018 conference for research to help producers identify cows that may have difficulty falling pregnant.
Dr Marth’s Science and Innovation Award project will search for molecular markers associated with subfertility in cows, one of the biggest economic losses for Australian dairy farmers.
She ultimately aims to develop an easy test to identify cows less likely to conceive in the first round of natural or artificial breeding—a move that could completely transform the dairy industry’s approach to fertility management.
"This would allow for the targeted treatment of subfertile cows and decreasing calving intervals and thus increasing herd milk production," she explains.
The Dairy Australia award is among the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Attracting applications from young Australians aged 18-35 years, they aim to assist primary producers to develop more competitive, productive and selfreliant industries, advance the careers of young scientists, encourage the uptake of science in rural industries and increase interaction between award recipients, partners, tertiary and government sectors.
Previous Science and Innovation Award recipients in the Faculty include Clare Anstead for work on flystrike in 2017, and in 2016 awards were earned by Lauren Hemsworth to improve the welfare of lactating sows and Nadeeka Wawegama for the study of Mycoplasma bovis, a bacterium that causes mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and middle ear infections in cattle.
Dr Marth is originally from Germany, where she trained as a vet with a special interest in large animal reproduction. She has already had success with a similar project in horses, looking particularly at the animals' immune systems.
"When we spoke to people, they always said, 'that's really interesting, but have you thought of doing anything in cattle because for cattle it's so important',' she says.
'For horses… there's a lot of companion horses where it doesn't matter that much whether they get pregnant every year.
"Whereas for cows, it's such a big economic factor for farmers."
"Farmers and the dairy industry could benefit from a simple and innovative cowside diagnostic test that would provide a reliable diagnosis in a timely manner."
Dr Marth expects to find that genes associated with the immune system are expressed at significantly different levels between cows with normal and reduced fertility.
"It's actually really fascinating to see how well-orchestrated the immune system is," she says.
"I think that it has a much bigger impact on fertility in any species than we’ve given it credit for so far."
Banner image: Adrian Vittorio. Main content courtesy of Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.