University of Guelph researchers will study livestock production, health and welfare in innovative ways, thanks to a $25-million, state-of-the-art research facility opened today.

The Livestock Research and Innovation Centre (LRIC) — Dairy Facility at Elora involves U of G, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO) and Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO).

This multidisciplinary centre will bring together scientists, students and stakeholders from Ontario and beyond to study environmental, social and economic issues for the dairy industry.

They will study everything from genetics, nutrition and quality improvement to animal welfare, food safety, and animal and human health.

Training and education will address the needs of the Ontario and Canadian dairy sectors.

“This world-class facility puts Ontario at the forefront of innovation and technology development for tomorrow,” said U of G president Franco Vaccarino.

“It reflects the University’s long and productive research partnership with OMAFRA. This facility will help ensure that we continue to lead in sustaining and enhancing Canada’s agri-food industry.”

Jeff Leal, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, added: “The new Livestock Research and Innovation Centre is an excellent example of how industry, government and academia can work together to ensure Ontario’s livestock sector remains innovative, competitive and a leader in the agri-food sector. Ontario’s dairy farmers and stakeholders, with the support of the Ontario government, are committed to leading research in animal husbandry, environmental sustainability and best management practices to ensure the highest quality dairy products for Ontarians.”

The Ontario government, through ARIO, committed $20 million to the project, and DFO and industry partners provided $5 million, including a $3-million contribution from the federal government.

“The Dairy Farmers of Ontario, on behalf of industry, are proud partners in this world-class dairy research and innovation facility at Elora,” said Ralph Dietrich, DFO chair.

U of G will operate the facility under its partnership with OMAFRA.

Among the highlights of the new facility:

  • A maternity wing and nursery with sophisticated lighting and ventilation controls will allow calves to be fed individually or through a robotic feeder.
  • High-tech sensors for studying feeding behaviour will help researchers learn about dairy cow behaviour, nutrition and welfare, and improve cattle feeding.
  • A custom-designed metabolic research wing will allow researchers to study and monitor individual animals.
  • A robotic milker will use an identification system to recognize individual animals and help ensure product quality by recording information such as milk yields and by rejecting subpar milk.

Rich Moccia, associate vice-president (strategic partnerships), said the innovation centre is the latest example of the benefits of the OMAFRA-U of G partnership. “It promotes a research culture that develops knowledge and mobilizes that knowledge to benefit the agri-food sector, which is vital to the health and prosperity of Ontario.”

Plans for the facility were announced in 2012, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 2013. Research will begin in the fall.

The new research centre will employ 25 full-time positions at the Elora Research Station. It replaces the dairy facilities at the station, which were built in 1969 and run by the University as part of the OMAFRA-U of G agreement.