OVC Graduate Student Passionate About Milk Quality Research


September 27, 2021

Graduate students at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) are exploring, studying and advancing knowledge in One Health, veterinary and human health-related sciences.

Across OVC’s four academic departments, these students are exploring translational and comparative research in fields including cancer, cardiovascular disease and neuroscience, infectious diseases and immunology, epidemiology and public health, animal health management and welfare, antimicrobial resistance and stewardship, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and reproductive biology.

As we begin a new academic year, we’re highlighting graduate student work at OVC. Read on to learn more.

Hannah Woodhouse. PhD student, OVC Department of Population Medicine

How did you find out about OVC Population Medicine graduate programs and what made you want to complete your MSc and begin your PhD at OVC?

I was first introduced to research in OVC’s Population Medicine department in 2018 while completing a summer research assistantship position as a University of Guelph President’s Scholar. My interest in dairy led me to approach Dr. David Kelton, my current advisor, for a research position, and I was assigned to the free fatty acids (FFAs) in milk project. I continued this work in the summer of 2019 and completed an undergraduate research course with the FFAs in milk project that fall. I was eager to continue researching FFAs and enjoyed working in that department, so in 2020 I decided to enter the MSc program and am now in my PhD.

What are free fatty acids (FFAs) in milk and why are they important in the dairy industry?

FFAs are natural, but minor milk components. Elevated FFAs are products of excessive milk fat breakdown caused by damage to the milk fat globule membrane that can occur during milk handling. Elevated FFAs are concerning to the dairy industry because they can contribute to undesirable milk properties such as the non-foaming of milk, cheese coagulation issues, reduced shelf life and milk rancidity. This could lead to reduced milk quality and consumer dissatisfaction of dairy products.

What is the main focus of your research?

My research focuses on milk quality by identifying what factors may contribute to elevated FFAs in milk. My research is performed at the farm level, and we are travelling to farms across Canada. The goal of our findings is to help dairy producers and the industry implement standard practices that will prevent elevated FFAs on farms.

Why are you passionate about this field of study?

I grew up on a dairy farm and as an elite endurance runner, I am an avid dairy consumer! As a proud member of the industry, I enjoy educating others about Canadian milk quality and the benefits of dairy consumption. I am optimistic that my research efforts can help to support Canadian milk quality standards to increase milk markets.

Why is there a need for this research?

We understand that elevated FFAs impair milk quality, but not enough is known about the specific factors that result in these increased levels. Recently, elevated FFAs has been raising concerns with the issue of non-frothing milk in coffee shop lattes. The Canadian dairy industry sets very high milk quality standards and wants to ensure that consumers continue to be satisfied with their dairy products.

How would you describe the benefits of your research?

My research on milk FFAs has the potential to benefit many. By identifying the major on-farm factors associated with elevated FFAs, dairy producers will have tools to maintain low FFA levels, dairy processors will receive improved milk products, and consumers will be more satisfied. The goal of this research is to enhance Canadian milk quality and therefore, consumer satisfaction of dairy products to increase milk markets.

Who is your advisor(s) and who else is affiliated with your research?

My primary advisor is Dr. David Kelton, OVC Department of Population Medicine, and my advisory committee includes Drs. Stephen LeBlanc, Trevor Devries and Karen Hand. A portion of the research is being carried out in collaboration with the British Columbia Dairy Association (BCDA), with the help of Erin Cuthbert (Dairy Technologist for the BC Ministry of Agriculture).

Who are your current funders for this research?

The research is currently funded by Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Dairy Farmers of Canada. The OVC and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) are also generously supporting my graduate program through stipend support through an OVC PhD Scholarship and through the Highly Qualified Personnel program jointly funded by Food from Thought and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

Where can we read more about this work?

Elevated Free Fatty Acids (FFAs) in Bulk Tank Milk

After visiting more farms this past summer, we expect to release new results shortly.

You can also read more about the research at:

Research at U of G Helping Ensure Frothy Lattes

The secret to frothy latte starts with how milk is handled on the farm


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