Got a fivefold to tenfold increase in milk?

College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources restores dairy research lab to improve feed, nutrition for growing dairy cattle industry

Antonio Faciola, large animal nutritionist and assistant professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, uses this dual-flow continuous culture system that simulates rumen digestion to conduct research on dairy cattle. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek.

3/9/2015 | By: Mike Wolterbeek  |

Antonio Faciola is a scientist, with shiny lab equipment and vials of gooey liquid and beakers bubbling on Bunsen burners. He also spends time getting mud on his boots on farms and ranches in northern Nevada working with dairy farmers, studying dairy cattle and touring grazing lands, and he is rebuilding a dairy research program and laboratory to support a growing industry.

Originally from Brazil, Assistant Professor Faciola came from Wisconsin to Nevada in June 2013 to continue his research and teach in the University of Nevada, Reno's new Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences Department.

"Nevada has a growing dairy industry and many challenges and opportunities," he said. "My work applies to the challenges ranchers face on a daily basis such as forages' nutritional value, diet fine-tuning, and optimizing new feed sources."

Dairy farming in Nevada is seeing a resurgence, and Faciola is working to help the industry be more efficient and profitable. His research explores new feed sources, nutritional value of plants, and the overall understanding of ruminant nutrition.

The dry climate of Nevada is quite different from his hometown of Belem in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Arid lands predominate in the American West as well as globally, making his research valuable not only to Nevadans but also to farmers and ranchers around the world.

"The research that we conduct here in Nevada and the knowledge that is produced from it can be used around the country and indeed the world to improve approaches to agriculture," Bill Payne, dean of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, said. "It is especially relevant to dry areas of the world. The excellent level of science occurring within CABNR and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station is exemplified by Antonio's work at the Main Station Field Lab; it will be key to informing and re-engaging with the dairy industry of Nevada."

There are 28 dairy farms in Nevada, including 22 in the Fallon area. Northern Nevada is expecting a fivefold to tenfold increase in milk production with the new milk plant in Fallon, and research can help the industry meet this demand and be competitive in the West. With 28,000 cows statewide producing 620 million pounds of milk per year, knowing best feeds and practices is important.

"The re-establishment of dairy research is an important step for the college," Payne said. "This is a critical component of ag production in Nevada and we must do what we can to support that industry."

Faciola's Animal Nutrition Research Laboratory is the newest and biggest lab in the Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Science Department, and he's proud of it. The old dairy cattle research lab closed 10 years ago, and Faciola dusted off the usable parts and brought in new equipment and processes to bring the lab up to date with the rest of the industry.

Faciola teaches fundamental and advanced animal nutrition and is one of a dozen new faculty hired since 2013 who will help boost agriculture in Nevada, and others include a soil scientists, a forage agronomist, a plant biochemist and an Ag science instructor.

He is building the dairy program quickly. In his first year as a faculty member he has established relationships throughout the state, written important research papers, delivered lectures at scientific meetings and recruited several graduate students. In addition to several undergraduate students, he has five visiting grad students - one from Iran and four from Brazil - working with him on several research projects. They are here as part of the Science Without Borders program, sponsored by the Brazilian government.

His lab colleagues include research associate Teshome Shenkoru, doctoral students Eduardo de Paula and Lorrayny Galoro, master's student Jamie Bunkers, and undergraduate students Imani Nicolis, Kate Preece, Hugo Monteiro, and Kayla Arenas. Faciola said that without a talented and hardworking group of people it would be impossible to conduct such work.

"We're also looking to recruit grad students from within our new undergraduate program and build workforce and internships," Faciola said. "Our lab has broad interests, working to enhance animal production and minimize environmental impact of livestock operations, by doing things such as fine-tuning diets for Nevada cattle for better nutrient utilization for conversion into milk and meat or even reducing methane emissions."

Since his arrival in June 2013, Faciola has secured more than $1.6 million in research grants as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator. In a project sponsored by the Canola Council of Canada, Faciola and his collaborators aim to assess whether canola meal has the potential to replace soybean meal as a protein source for lactating dairy cows. Other projects include identifying Nevada's forage nutritional value and working on alternative plants for ruminants.

The results of these studies will provide livestock producers and cooperative extension agents with scientifically sound information on the nutritional value of different ingredients and their potential as feedstuff for ruminants.

"I want to focus on the nutritional value of Nevada's forages," he said. "That information is very scarce in the literature, but research can help us understand better what cattle's requirements are, and that information can help producers save money on supplemental feed."

Using laboratory equipment such as the dual-flow continuous culture system that simulates rumen digestion, and working with cows at the Main Station Field lab, Faciola and his team can measure the chemical composition of different forages, feed ingredients, ruminal fermentation, microbial protein production and nutrient flow.

"Improving the nutritional components will give us healthier, more productive, and more profitable cows," Faciola said.

In the past year alone, Faciola has been an invited speaker at agricultural conferences in Brazil, Canada, United States and Turkmenistan. He is a reviewer for a half-dozen scientific journals and last year was awarded Outstanding Reviewer by the Elsevier Publishing Company, one of the largest scientific research publishing companies in the world. A scientific article of his own, published last summer in, the Journal of Dairy Science, was in the Editor's pick and top five most-read articles of the publication.

Faciola earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in animal sciences from the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil, and earned his doctorate in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He did post-doctoral work at Cornell University and the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center.

"As the dairy industry grows in northern Nevada, it's our mission as Nevada's land grant university to help ranchers and farmers; so we are taking some first steps to get back in the dairy production game," Payne said. "Antonio brings great experience, research and energy to the college and the department."


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