A Symposium for All: 7th Annual Animal Welfare Research Symposium

Posted on Monday, June 9th, 2014

Written by Carleigh Johnston, OAC Communications Intern

What once started as meeting for faculty and graduate students to share research results, techniques, and ideas, has now grown into a public symposium for anyone interested in advancements in animal welfare. On May 14th, the 7th Annual Animal Welfare Research Symposium took place at the University of Guelph.

The Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW) hosts this daylong event to connect with industry, inform the public and, most importantly, benefit animals. This year’s symposium included four sessions of research presentations and an opportunity to view student research posters during lunch.

This unique event offers insight into welfare research being conducted on a variety of species including poultry, captive felids, mink, dairy cattle and domestic cats. The presenters ranged from undergraduate students to seasoned faculty. 

Emily Zakrajsek, an undergraduate student from the University of Guelph (U of G) working with Professor Katrina Merkies of U of G’s Kemptville Campus, gave an impressive presentation on the response of light horse breeds to humans in differing physical and mental states. She asked human participants to rate themselves on their level of fear associated with horses and then placed the same participants, blindfolded, in an arena with a loose horse. During the encounters, both the horse and human participants’ heart rates were monitored. One fascinating finding of Emily’s research was that humans with a self-identified intense fear of horses experienced a lower heart rate when being touched by the animal they are so afraid of. This finding is important as it could offer useful information to those who run therapeutic riding programs.

Emily felt privileged to have the opportunity to present and network at the symposium. “The symposium opened my eyes to how much I love research,” Emily explains, and she plans to attend the International Equine Conference in Denmark with Prof. Merkies this August.

Emily’s presentation was the favourite of Biomedical Science student, Alaina Macdonald. Alaina recommends this event to others that are generally interested in animal welfare issues or are considering pursuing research or veterinary medicine as a career. “It is important to consider animal welfare,” shares Alaina who attended the event as one of the event options included in the Summer Leadership & Research Program (SLRP) run by the Ontario Veterinary College.

A presentation by Catalina Medrano-Galarza, a student from Columbia, showcased her research on welfare issues on Columbian dairy farms. Catalina’s presentation was unique to other discussions as it offered an opportunity for local producers and researchers to observe welfare concerns from a global perspective. Different environments and regions of the world offer different problems and welfare issues and sharing this information opens the door to exchanging methods of managing welfare concerns and finding solutions to benefit animals around the world.

Another presentation on dairy cattle welfare by Santiago Palacio, a PhD candidate at U of G, looked at the effect of portable shade in pastures on the behavior and physiological factors of dairy cows. Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this study was the potential for water conservation. The researchers observed that dairy cows will drink 6.4 times less water when offered shade, which may be due to less need to cool off while grazing. This information could aid in reducing the large water consumption footprint of the dairy industry.

Santiago Palacio presents to the audience through a slideshow his research on dairy cattle.
Santiago Palacio presents on his portable shade in pastures research.

 “The Symposium offers opportunities to improve welfare and for creating industries that do not currently exist. Through events like this we can be conduits back to industry,” explains Al Dam, a provincial poultry specialist at OMAF-MRA, in attendance at the symposium. Al’s participation, along with other industry professionals, is crucial to applying current research findings to industry.

Another way the symposium reached industry was through a new an online webinar option of this year’s symposium. Interested parties and presenters outside of the Guelph area could participate via the webinar, further extending the reach of this informative event. The webinar helped to meet a main goal of the event: enabling the engagement of more public and industry in the research and adoption of animal welfare practices.

Graduate students discuss and explain their research posters
Graduate students discuss their research during the poster presentation session.

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