Ontario Agri-Food and Innovation Alliance

On our last blog post, we talked about events and feed data collected routinely at the Ontario Dairy Research Centre (ODRC). Today we’ll talk about milk and milk analysis data. If you missed the other parts of this series, check the links at the end of this post to learn more about other types of data collected daily at ODRC.


Milk Analysis


In Canada and around the world, there is a standardized method of collecting milk samples and associated data from dairy cows during their lactation period, known as Test-day records. This process is part of the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) program, a comprehensive system that aims to monitor and enhance the productivity, health, and genetic traits of dairy herds.


During Test-day, individual cows are sampled to collect data on various milk production and quality parameters. For Holsteins, the predominant dairy breed in Canada, which are known for their high milk production, this process is particularly crucial. The data collected on Test-day includes milk yield, milk composition (milk fat and protein, and somatic cell count), energy-corrected milk, lactation number, and days in milk.


The data collected during Test-day is not only used for individual cow management but also for broader herd analysis and genetic improvement programs. It helps dairy farmers make informed decisions about feeding, breeding, and overall herd health. Furthermore, by monitoring and analyzing the performance of Holstein cows on Test-day, farmers can make genetic selections that contribute to the development of a more productive and resilient dairy herd over time.


At ODRC, its database has stored all Test-day/DHI results since January 11, 2006, with over 600 tests, comprising around 78,000 records from just over 1,600 cows milked on all milking systems. This dataset includes regular monthly tests and additional tests requested by researchers.


Milking Systems


Rotary Parlour

Operating since June 2016 the Rotary Parlour has produced almost 1M records from almost 1,000 cows. This information includes milking start and end times, duration, total and expected yield, and other relevant parameters, offering a comprehensive view per milking sessions within this system.


Tie Stalls & Maternity

Starting in late 2015, milking data from cows housed in the Tie Stalls and Maternity area consists of almost 65,000 records from over 1,000 cows. It provides milking durations, total yield, average milk and peak flow, and days in milk per session.


Voluntary Milking System (VMS)

The VMS data started to be recorded in December 2016 and it encompasses just over 170,000 records. It includes milking start and end times, session duration, total yield, expected total yield, number of kick-offs, cell counts, and various parameters for each teat, such as yield, expected yield, conductivity, mean and peak flow. Additionally, there are over 300,00 records that document actions taken by the VMS, such as acceptance to milk, rejections, or released un-milked scenarios, which helps in understanding the behavior of cows interacting with the VMS.


Aggregated Milk Data

Given the research nature of ODRC’s herd, a cow can be milked on multiple milking system in a short period of days depending on the research trial she is enrolled in. To help researchers to easily download the data respective to the cows on their research trial, aggregated milk data was created by leveraging the power of ODRC’s relational database. A single table with around 1.2M records contains all relevant milking information from all milking sources, including animal ID, milking start and end date, milking start and end time, milking duration, session number, lactation number, total yield, days in milk, and milking location.


Previous posts

A Peek Inside the Ontario Dairy Research Centre – Part 1

A Peek Inside the Ontario Dairy Research Centre – Part 2


Lucas Alcantara


The Ontario Dairy Research Centre is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Government of Ontario and the University of Guelph.


Let’s continue to peek into more of the types of data collected routinely at the Ontario Dairy Research Centre (ODRC). Today we’ll talk about health, reproductive, preventive, and research-specific events data, as well as feed analysis and intake data. If you missed part one of this series, read A Peek Inside the Ontario Dairy Research Centre – Part 1 to learn more about other types of data collected daily at ODRC.


Events: A comprehensive record

Tracking health and reproductive events is fundamental in dairy management. Since 2006, a multidisciplinary group composed of faculty, veterinarians and staff members from ODRC have been leveraging over 30,000 entries associated with the management of animal health from birth until they leave the herd.

Reproductive events track crucial data for optimizing the herd’s breeding program and ensuring a healthy, productive and sustainable herd. Since 2005, there have been over 45,000 reproductive events recorded in the centre’s herd management software, such as heat detection, inseminations, pregnancy checks, and calving dates.

Almost 50,000 preventive treatments have been recorded since 2007 to provide insights into disease prevention strategies, such as vaccinations and early disease detection. Once-in-life events (5,400+) have also been tracked for each animal since 2009, such as birth weight, weaning date, and date they left the herd. Lastly, over 15,000 research-specific events have been captured since 2008, forming a history of specific events from previous research trials, such as treatments, weights, and trial start and end dates.


Feed analysis and intake

Understanding the nutritional needs of dairy cattle is key to their health and milk production. The centre collects feed analysis from accredited lab analysis and daily feed formulations from feed management software. This information helps researchers to know the nutritional composition of each ingredient of a cow’s diet at any given day. Since 2014, there have been almost 300 reports of feed analysis tracking over 100 different feed components, such as protein, fat, fibres, total digestible nutrients, dry matter, iron, and zinc.

On the other hand, individual daily feed intakes are recorded for cows fed at the maternity and tie stall areas (amount offered and leftovers), as well as from 100 automated feeding bins (Insentec System, Hokofarm Group) located in the dry cow area and half of the lactating housing. With almost half a million total daily intakes since 2015, this data reveals how much each cow is eating from a couple of months before calving until the end of lactation, which is crucial for ensuring they are receiving the right amount of nutrients they need.

Written by Lucas Alcantara


The Ontario Dairy Research Centre is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Government of Ontario and the University of Guelph.



The Ontario Dairy Research Centre (ODRC) stands as an example to the importance of data-driven research in the dairy industry. With a dedicated commitment to several areas of dairy research, this research centre has been collecting and storing an extensive array of data through regular operations and exciting research projects. Today, we’re peeking into three types of data collected at ODRC.

Basic Information

Understanding the daily life of dairy cattle is essential for their well-being and optimal productivity. A wealth of information is collected at this research centre, and it all starts with some basic data entered on its herd management software. This includes details about each cow’s unique registration number, birth date, pedigree, and whether they are still part of the herd. Researchers can use this data to track the lifecycle of individual cows and monitor the longevity of their presence within the herd, as well as use their pedigree for genetic analysis.

Daily positions within the barn are also recorded. This data helps researchers track where calves, heifers, or cows were throughout their trials. For example, they can see when a cow was moved to a different pen, which can be indicative of health issues or reproductive activity. With data stretching back to when the current centre was opened in 2015, and continuing to the present day, this comprehensive dataset of over 1M records spans nearly eight years, from over 2,000 calves, heifers, and cows.

Body Condition and Weight

Maintaining the health and body condition of dairy cattle is vital for milk production and overall well-being. The Body Condition Score (BCS) data collected from BCS cameras placed at the exit of the milking parlour is a key source of information. This data helps assess the body condition of cows, which is critical for their reproductive success and overall health. Body weight data is another essential component. Collected from walk-over scales, this data offers insights into the weight fluctuations of cows over time. Since 2017, automated daily recording of BCS and body weight has produced almost 1M records.


Ensuring the comfort of dairy cattle is paramount, and environmental factors play a significant role. Ventilation data is recorded every 15 minutes in key areas, including Lactating Housing, Milk Harvest (Rotary Parlour), Nursery Pens, Replacement Housing, Special Needs Housing (Maternity and Dry Pens), and Tie Stall Housing. This meticulous monitoring ensures that cows and heifers are housed in environments that prioritize their comfort, well-being, and overall productivity. Over the past 6 years, a total of over 1,2M records has been collected, including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and carbon dioxide.

Stay tuned, as on our next post we will talk about feeding and events data collected at ODRC, such as automated feeding systems, precision feeding, and reproductive, health, and preventive events.

Lucas Alcantara


The Ontario Dairy Research Centre is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

This blog post marks the beginning of a series exploring the invaluable data collected at livestock research centres owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance. These centres are instrumental in advancing agricultural knowledge and practice, boasting remarkable infrastructure for research data collection.


The Alliance itself is a visionary initiative that brings together industry experts, researchers, and farmers, uniting their efforts to collaboratively collect crucial data that drives ground-breaking solutions for the future of food production. Operating through state-of-the-art research centres across Ontario, researchers can leverage cutting-edge technology to gather and analyze data, thereby addressing the multifaceted challenges confronting the agricultural industry today.


Ontario Dairy Research Centre (Elora)

The Ontario Dairy Research Centre, located in Elora, is the cornerstone for dairy-related research in Ontario. This facility is not only dedicated to pioneering solutions and innovations within the dairy industry but also boasts an impressive research capacity and flexibility. Researchers at this centre collect and analyze research data across various domains, including livestock health and welfare, genetics and genomics, livestock and human nutrition, management and technology, and product development. What sets this centre apart is its commitment to utilizing automated data collection methods, further enhancing its research capabilities, and making it a standout hub for advancing dairy-related research and driving innovation in the dairy industry.


Ontario Beef Research Centre (Elora and New Liskeard)

The Ontario Beef Research Centre operates in two locations, Elora and New Liskeard, where it conducts cutting-edge research with a strong focus on data collection. Their work has significantly improved livestock growth, efficiency, meat quality, and overall herd health. Research encompasses vital areas such as livestock health, nutrition, genetics, management, reproduction, and behavior. This commitment to comprehensive data collection plays a pivotal role in driving advancements and ensuring the continued success and sustainability of beef production.


Ontario Swine Research Centre (Elora)

The Ontario Swine Research Centre, located in Elora, represents an exciting development in swine-related research, as it has recently replaced the Arkell Swine Research Centre with a state-of-the-art facility. With a unique focus on swine health, welfare, nutrition, husbandry and breeding, this new centre builds upon the legacy of its predecessor. Researchers at this cutting-edge facility continues to employ innovative techniques and resources to address the challenges and opportunities within the swine industry, distinguishing it as a vital hub for advancing swine research and development.


Ontario Sheep Research Centre (Ponsonby)

The Ontario Sheep Research Centre, located in Ponsonby, stands out for its exceptional Specific Pathogen Free status, and it boasts as one of the highest-levels of pathogen-free sheep flocks in North America. Operating as a closed system, the facility strictly controls livestock movements, ensuring that once a sheep departs, it cannot return, thus safeguarding its superior health status. Researchers at the Ontario Sheep Research Centre routinely gather valuable data to drive advancements in sheep farming and health. This dual focus on maintaining top-tier flock health and contributing to the body of sheep-related research makes the centre a uniquely invaluable resource for the industry.


Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre (Alma)

The Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre, located in Alma, specializes in research areas critical to Ontario’s aquaculture sector, with a strong emphasis on comprehensive research data collection. These areas include breeding, genetics, culture methodology, fish health, nutrition, and waste management. The centre offers essential resources such as quarantine facilities for controlled importation of fish species, supporting pilot testing, scale-up research, and industry training. The quarantine unit’s successful introduction of new fish species to the Ontario aquaculture industry demonstrates its pivotal role in advancing aquaculture practices and data-driven innovations.


Ontario Poultry Research Centre (Arkell)

The Ontario Poultry Research Centre, located in Arkell, serves as a hub for comprehensive poultry-related research, with a strong emphasis on research data collection. This vibrant research environment encompasses a wide range of critical domains, including genetics, nutrition, reproduction, behavior, and housing for various poultry categories such as broilers, broiler breeders, pullets, laying hens, and turkeys. The centre’s active research initiatives not only address current industry challenges but also prioritize the collection and analysis of research data. This commitment to data-driven research plays a pivotal role in advancing poultry production methods, welfare, and sustainability, ensuring that the poultry industry remains at the forefront of innovation.


These research centres represent a true connection between research and innovation, so stay tuned as we delve deeper into their remarkable contributions to livestock and agri-food research.


Written by Lucas Alcantara