Dairy Innovation Hub awards grants to researchers on UW campuses

Wisconsin State Farmer
Environmental engineering student Victoria Chanez conducts sensory surveys to determine common features of customer satisfaction when it comes to ice cream.

After committing $1 million in 2020 towards funding better dairy research equipment, the Dairy Innovation Hub announced they have awarded nearly 20 grants to researchers on University of Wisconsin campuses.

Receiving campuses include Platteville, Madison and River Falls. A press release said this kind of dairy research can't be done without "cutting edge" equipment.

Bidhan C. Roy and Tom Zolper at UW-Platteville received funding for an Anton-Parr MCR 302 rheometer, which measures the viscosity of semi-solids like ice cream. Their research project wants to find how to predict "mouth-feel" by measuring the rheological (meaning the flow of matter, like liquids and semi-solids) properties of ice cream.

The group is looking to measure customer perceptions of ice cream, which can be difficult to accomplish since opinions of ice cream aren't necessarily scientific and differ from person to person. But there are ways to do it, Zolper said.

"We can take other things that we can measure scientifically, like the thickness of the ice cream, the smoothness of the ice cream, and the viscosity of the ice cream, and then do surveys of people tasting ice cream to figure out what is the optimum combination to maximize creaminess," Zolper said.

Forty high-resolution security cameras were purchased for Jennifer Van Os at UW-Madison for animal welfare research. Her project looks to observe cattle through video recording without the presence of humans, since their behavior may be altered in the presence of people. It can also help in continuous medical observation.

Overall, the video system will help improve staff training and farm maintenance for everyone.

"The camera system is used by numerous other faculty and students working to improve feed efficiency, identifying calving times, metabolic disorders, image analysis, machine learning and much more," Van Os said.

The IH Rissler mixer cart is a small and efficient system to feed TMR diets to cattle whose individual feed intake is being measured during research studies.

Matt Akins with UW-Madison and UW-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station bought an IH Rissler M740 mixer cart to automatically feed total mixed ration diets to individual cows as part of intake research studies. According to a press release, feed continues to be the biggest expense for most dairy farmers, making efficiency important.

Akins' research project measures intake for individually-fed lactating cows and heifers, which helps predict feed efficiency. He said the automated feeder will help free up researchers from having to mix the feed and give it to the cows by hand.

"Improving the turnaround time of feeding trials for researchers needing feed intake measurements allows studies to move faster and ultimately gets research results to the public more quickly," Akins said.

At UW-River Falls, Sonja Maki and David Zlesak are working on improving the quality of dairy forage through gene expression research. For that, they needed a QuantStudio 3 (ThermoFisher) qPCR machine, which analyzes nucleic acids in forages.

That research will help farmers better understand the properties of crops like alfalfa, including disease resistance and susceptibility. The new equipment will give Maki and Zlesak more capacity for plant breeding as well as precisely measure nucleic acids and compare genetic expression.

"For the Plant Tissue Culture class this spring, we are excited to use the qPCR machine to test regenerated plantlets for viruses," Maki said. "We will be able to learn our rate of success at virus elimination and hopefully have a clean version of the mother plant variety for future research applications."