Dairy cows have been bred for optimal dairy production, but the gene mix brought along horns. Angus beef were bred for optimal beef production, and don't have horns. Since the dairy industry doesn't want animals with horns because they can hurt each other or farmworkers, it is common practice to remove them shortly after birth.
Removing the horns involves an uncomfortable procedure called debudding, in which, after being treated with a local anesthetic, the cells on the animal's head that would grow into horns are killed with an electrical appliance.
"Consumers are concerned about how we care for dairy animals. They expect us to do a good job and are concerned about pain and discomfort," said UC Davis veterinarian Terry Lehenbauer in a video about the advancement (See the video below).
Using precision genetic "editing," scientists were able to delete the dairy cow gene that produced horns and replace it with the angus gene that resulted in hornlessness.
At UC Davis, the two calves' growth and development will be tracked. Eventually they will father cows with horned mothers to see if the hornless trait is passed on to the offspring. The odds of them doing so, Van Eenennaam said, are 100 percent, if "Mendelian genetics hold true." Mendelian genetics are laws of gene inheritance discovered by 19th century monk Johann Mendel.
Van Eenennaam said it's not clear whether other, unexpected effects of the gene editing will occur. However, if successful, gene editing will allow the dairy industry to bypass decades of breeding for hornless cows.
The director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center, Daniel Sumner, was one of three guests on the one-hour talk radio program Your Call, which was broadcast on KALW, Local Public Radio in San Francisco. The topic - How would reducing our intake of meat and dairy affect the drought? - was prompted by off-the-cuff comments made by Gov. Jerry Brown in June. Answering the question, "Is part of the drought strategy to reduce meat consumption?" Brown replied, "If you ask me, I think you should be eating veggie burgers."
On the Your Call show, Sumner explained that beef consumption has little impact on the California drought.
"I do want to make clear, when it comes to water embedded in any product, it depends where the water is from," Sumner said. "We feed cattle in California with grain from the Midwest."
Dairy production is another issue. "Dairy cows are fed lots of grain, soybeans and canola coming from Canada and the Midwest, but also silage and alfalfa, much of which is from California. California dairy is a drought water issue. Beef really isn't."
UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist Dan Putnam appeared on the KTVU Evening News to discuss alfalfa water use with reporter Ken Wayne. Putnam said the drought has hurt the state's alfalfa industry.
"Statewide, it's been fairly devastating," Putnam said. "We're at the lowest acreage we've seen probably since the 1930s."
He also noted the importance of the crop, a key part of dairy cattle's diets.
"An average field of alfalfa produces approximately 2,400 gallons of milk per acre," Putnam said.
"We used to have somewhere roundabouts 25 million dairy cows in the United States, and we're down to nine million now,” says Van Eenennaam. "It [has] actually reduced the environmental footprint of a glass of milk by two-thirds relative to the 1950's."
Van Eenennaam is currently studying cattle genomics to understand the animals susceptibility to respiratory disease. Her research is funded by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
Read more about the benefits of genomics to the dairy industry and the environment in the UC Green Blog.
"If we don't get rain or have a good winter, our farmers might leave the state," Barcellos said.
Dairy products - milk, cream, butter and cheese - are by far the largest segment of California agricultural production, contributing $140 billion annually to the state's economy. But the the state's industry is shrinking.
According to Lesley "Bees" Butler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, California has lost 1 to 2 percent of its dairy industry in the last three years. About 100 dairies go out of business every year waiting for rain.
"It's a huge time of uncertainty," Butler said.
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard himself made a personal appeal for the state, where ag officials estimate that a single dairy cow creates $15,000 in economic activity each year.
In recent years, an average of 100 California dairies have closed annually, said Leslie "Bees" Butler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.
"Ten years ago, California was the low-cost producer," Butler said. With low milk prices and high feed costs, "it's become more difficult to dairy here."
Tweaking feed recipes can go a long way toward protecting farmland in and around dairy farms
Joshua Emerson Smith, The Merced Sun-Star
Overfeeding salts and other minerals to dairy cows can negatively affect soil and groundwater quality, according to a research report in the Journal of Dairy Science by Alejandro Castillo, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County.
"This is going to be important for the sustainability of our dairy farms," he said. "We need to try to see the future and imagine the sustainability of our dairy farms and maintain the business for a long time."
A new lease on life
The Davis Enterprise
A series of photos by Sue Cockrell from the recent "groundbreaking" ceremonies for the new home of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in Davis.