Dwarf cattle breeds make cooler cows

The findings of a new study on cattle could help farmers plan for the impact of climate change. 

Researchers from the University of Western Australia have found that dwarf cattle breeds are better adapted to high temperatures, and say the findings are important for developing climate-ready cattle.

Lead researcher, Dr Muhammed Elayadeth-Meethal said the study showed for the first time that dwarf breeds of cattle use different heat tolerance mechanisms than standard cattle breeds, making them better adapted to hotter climates.

"Standard size cattle breeds can acclimatise in the short term to higher temperatures but reach their tolerance limit under prevailing tropical conditions, while the dwarf breeds are genetically adapted to the warmer climate," he said.

He said the standard cattle breeds acclimatise to the warm environment through physiological, biochemical and molecular changes while the dwarf breeds have adapted through changes in their genes.

The study included Vechur cows, which are the smallest breed of cattle averaging 50-130kg and 61-90cm respectively.

They are valued for the large amount of milk ithey produce relative to the amount of food it required.

Vechur is the smallest breed of cattle averaging 50-130kg and 61-90cm respectively.
Vechur is the smallest breed of cattle averaging 50-130kg and 61-90cm respectively. Photo credit: Supplied

The research is expected to open up new ways of assessing heat stress tolerance and breeding for sustainable livestock production especially under changing climate.

The paper, 'Size does matter: Parallel evolution of adaptive thermal tolerance and body size facilitates adaptation to climate change in domestic cattle' was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution. 

The research formed part of Dr Elayadeth-Meethal's PhD studies and was supported by Crawford Funding Australia, and Rothamsted International Fellowship.

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