Writtle College staff and students present at British Society of Animal Science conference

Writtle College academics and students have presented at the British Society of Animal Science’s annual conference.

The conference, on 29 and 30 April, put under the microscope the livestock production research and technological advances that could mitigate the impact of the booming world population amid diminishing resources and changing food demands.

The Writtle College contributors looked at the issue from a number of perspectives – from the attitude of diners towards broiler chicken welfare to the crossbreeding of rare and commercial breed pigs to enhance productivity.

There were 15 Writtle College delegates and 10 presentations, two Writtle staff chaired sessions and seven delegates were ex-Writtle students and staff.

Among the contributors from Writtle College were:

• Dr Jonathan Amory, Principal Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, who presented research on diners’ attitudes towards broiler chicken welfare – a study carried out by Elena Lazutkaite, an MSc Animal Welfare and Conservation student at Writtle College.

• PhD student Stephanie Collingbourne, who researched the commercial viability of crossbreeding modern and traditional pig breeds. The study, funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), looked at crossbreeding modern and traditional breeds to preserve the genetic valuable traits and improve the productive performance of both groups.

• PhD student Hannah Scott-Browne, who presented two papers. The first looked at how the problem of unfit animals being sent to slaughter – because they are, for example, too fat, lean or poorly conformed – could be tackled by farmers attending experiential learning days, aiding and advising them in the pre-slaughter assessment of live animals. The second evaluated what methods of pre-slaughter assessment UK beef farmers are currently using to determine whether their beef cattle are suitable for slaughter to understand why so many carcases are failing to meet the grade.

• PhD student Amanda Ward, who won the President’s Prize for the best short theatre presentation at last year’s conference. This year she presented a paper evaluating how lameness reduces the fertility of Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle. Amanda analysed how there is an increase in the number of days from calving to first service, and calving to conception, in lame dairy cows – and, therefore, how the impact could be reduced with additional supervision.

• Third year BSc Animal Science student Lawrence Maclaurin and Dr Nicola Blackie, who investigated the effect of lameness on the lying behaviour of Jersey cattle in straw yards.

• Eliot Bibby, who has just completed the MSc Livestock Production Science, and Dr Nicola Blackie, who researched the effect of supplementing piglet creep feed with the plant extracts Propyl Thiosulfinate (PTS) and Propyl Thiosulfinate Oxide (PTSO) – on piglet weaning weights and feed intake.

• Nieky van Veggel, whose research looks at how effective maths support tutorials were for Higher Education animal science students. This was in the context of a national issue which sees a lack of mathematics knowledge, skill or confidence preventing postgraduate bioscientists from becoming involved in interdisciplinary research.

CASE STUDY
Writtle College Principal Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare Dr Jonathan Amory and MSc Animal Welfare and Conservation student Elena Lazutkaite have researched whether people who consider animal welfare when shopping do the same when they are eating out.

The study looked specifically at broiler chickens as the European Commission has found that welfare issues in broiler production are one of the most serious in the modern livestock industry. Moreover, it determined that Europeans identify broiler chickens as a farm animal species that requires most protection and animal welfare improvements.

Dr Amory said: “Several reports show animal welfare is an important determinant while making shopping decisions and shoppers are ready to pay extra for it. Whilst every bigger supermarket chain offers its own higher welfare chicken label, the food service industry appears to be lagging behind.

“The study demonstrated that consumers held similar attitudes when eating out and when shopping. Inability to find food service places that source higher welfare chicken meat, poor public knowledge on farm animal welfare, perception of price and lack of local supply of higher welfare chicken meat for food service places were identified as the main challenges that need to be addressed for the development of food service places orientated on animal welfare.”

The research also investigated restaurateurs’ views on broiler chicken welfare and explored whether there is agreement between customers’ and restaurateurs’ attitudes.

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