Sarah Parsons

Ph.D. Candidate

I am currently a Ph.D. student studying Dairy Behaviour and Welfare under the supervision of Dr. Trevor DeVries. My interest in the dairy industry was sparked while completing my B.Sc. in Animal Biology and Nutrition here at the University of Guelph. I discovered my passion for dairy cattle through my summers working on dairy farms. In 2017, I worked as an Undergraduate Student Research Assistant for Dr. DeVries, which deepen my interest in cattle and led me to pursue research in this field.

My research focuses on determining the optimal gradual weaning program for dairy calves. Over the past decade, more producers are adopting intensified feeding programs by offering larger quantities of milk to their calves. This can improve performance, shown through growth rates, and allows calves to express more natural feeding behaviour. However, weaning calves off these large quantities of milk and onto solid feed may cause stress. It may also harm rumen development due to a decrease in length and frequency of solid feed meals because calves prefer to consume milk when it's available. My research is investigating the effect of two different weaning programs over the average 14-day weaning period that is common on dairy farms. I am comparing: 1) a continuous gradual weaning program, where the milk offered to calves is decreased in small, equal increments, with 2) a multi-step weaning program, where milk offered is decreased in larger, more noticeable drops. Through growth measurements, behavioural observations and concentrations of rumen development markers in the blood, differences between these weaning programs can be determined. My results can provide insight into the ideal way for farmers to wean calves to ensure optimal performance, and encourage rumen development.

During my free time, I enjoy hiking with my service dog in training and spending time with friends and family. I hope to continue to pursue research in the future and later work in the industry.