Year Colin Holme's Scholarship awarded: 2017, 2018, 2019
Project description: Dairy cows are most prone to disease during the three weeks before and after calving (‘transition period’) when the cow must adapt to increased physiological, metabolic and nutritional demands associated with end of gestation and onset of lactation. Early (subclinical) disease onset may be associated with subtle behavioural changes that cannot be detected through visual monitoring.
Precision technologies, such as accelerometers, enable behavioral states (lying, standing, moving) to be recorded continuously at low cost, making them an ideal tool for farmers to detect subtle behavioural changes that may be associated with significant events, such as calving, or onset of disease.
Stacey is examining the limitations of these technologies and then, using accelerometer data from a previous trial, she will compare the behaviour profiles of cows that were clinically healthy with those that were diagnosed with a disease event. This will determine if the technology can correctly identify animals at high risk of developing disease during the transition period.
Comments on the scholarship: The scholarship will be used to cover project costs associated with my PhD, including university fees, travel and conference costs, and publication costs. Opportunities to present my findings overseas and attend conferences as well as publishing my findings in international journals will allow the information I uncover to be disseminated to other researchers and farmers.
Future plans: My PhD is a stepping stone to further my research career in the dairy industry. In the future, I hope to be involved in the advancement of the welfare of grazing dairy cows and extension of precision technology in the dairy industry. This study is part of a process and therefore, there is potential to be involved in the application of this research at a farm level through the development of algorithms and decision-making resources based on the relationships explored between behaviour and disease from my study. Due to the increased consumer awareness and sensitivity to the treatment of animals, it is paramount that we optimally manage production animals in our care and minimise disease incidence on farm using whatever technology is available.