Symposium Becomes a Tradition in Animal Welfare Research

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Written by Maggie McCormick

At times researchers can become so involved in their own research projects that they don't get a chance to see what their fellow experts are up to. On May 15, the 6th Annual Animal Welfare Symposium at the University of Guelph provided that opportunity for animal welfare researchers.

The goal of this day-long symposium is to provide a chance for faculty and graduate students to present completed, on-going or new research projects that cover a range of animal species and welfare topics. "We started this as an opportunity to see what others are doing in the area of welfare science," says Prof. Tina Widowski, director of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare that hosted the Symposium.

Members of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science and the Ontario Veterinary College made presentations to an audience onsite and to an audience abroad that could stream the day’s events online. The Symposium was organized into sessions on different species, ranging from companion animals to dairy and meat animals, as well to mink and mice.

Young woman looks at research poster competition
Research posters displayed at the Symposium were part of a competition determined by the audience.

Topics discussed included animal housing, early warning signs for injury and disease, and assessing and improving behaviour issues. One interesting presentation from the day was on the behaviour issue of boredom. In animal welfare research it has been difficult to define boredom in animals considering you cannot ask them how they feeling. But as Prof. Georgia Mason, a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Animal Welfare, says, “We’re fairly sure barren environments can cause a range of negative psychological states.” Mason presented research she and graduate student Rebecca Meagher did on determining if boredom can be reduced for captive mink by providing enriched housing, or “palaces of fun,” as Mason put it.

The keynote speaker for this year’s symposium was Dr. Janice Siegford from Michigan State University. She presented on the range of layer hen housing options and discussed how she and her students are overcoming the complications of monitoring hens’ behaviour in these various systems. To combat these issues, Siegford and her students have installed cameras in the poultry barns where they conduct their research. They then spend hours reviewing and studying the footage, but “even with 300 cameras running you can’t capture everything going on inside the barns,” Siegford says. She also explained another way the research team monitors the hens’ behaviour. The team installs small tracking device sensors on Chihuahua dog collars, which are then placed on individual hens. These sensors give the researchers a better idea of what the hens are up to in the barn.

Dr. Janice Siegford presents on laying hen housing
Dr. Janice Siegford of Michigan State University presents at the 6th Annual Animal Welfare Symposium.

Thanks in part to the support of Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), in total 25 researchers presented their current projects and findings. At the end of the day the audience and researchers voted on the best presentation and best research poster at the Symposium. Hillary Dalton, a PhD student with Animal and Poultry Science, was awarded best poster for "Injurious pecking in domestic turkeys: development causes and potential solutions". This year the honour of best presentation went to Gosia Zobel, a visiting PhD candidate from the University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program. Zobel spoke about her research on Ontario dairy goat farms and working towards earlier identification of pregnancy toxemia in dairy goats during the last stages of pregnancy. Pregnancy toxemia, or ketosis, occurs when a goat pregnant with multiple foetuses is unable to obtain enough nutrients to support her unborn kids and her own energy needs, and often results in death for the goat. Zobel is working with farmers to identify and treat the problem more quickly.

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