Writtle students awarded by British Society of Animal Science

Two Writtle College students are celebrating after gaining top awards for their presentations at the British Society of Animal Science’s annual conference. Amanda Ward won the President’s Prize for the best short theatre presentation while Laura Exley was highly commended in the highlights category following the conference in Nottingham last month.

Amanda, 28, originally from Alberta, Canada, and now living in Witham, presented her paper about the methods used to determine if a cow is ready to reproduce while Laura, 22, from Hutton, spoke about her research into whether an instrument used in the brewing industry can assess effectively the quality of colostrum fed to Jersey calves.

Amanda, who has presented at the BSAS annual conference once before, said: “Presenting my research is a truly rewarding experience, and to have that acknowledged is very admirable. I am ecstatic, and honoured to receive the President’s Prize.”

Laura, who presented at BSAS for the first time, added: “I was so happy that my research was even accepted for presentation at the conference, but to be highly commended as well is a great honour and I can’t wait to go back next year!”

Dr Nicola Blackie, their research supervisor, said: “We have never had so many students present at BSAS before and I am delighted for Amanda and Laura – this is a fantastic achievement! The conference is an excellent way for our students to get their research out there and to add a publication to their CV. The fact that two of our students were given honours this year – including a win – shows that Writtle College is at the forefront of Animal Science research and that students have been given the skills they need to present effectively at a high level.”

Oestrus detection in dairy cows – which determines whether a cow is ready to reproduce – is a major issue for farmers. As bulls are now rarely used for mating, farmers need to determine whether a cow is ready to reproduce. Amanda carried out a survey of farmers from across the world, with the help of social media, to determine which oestrus detection systems they use. She gathered 192 responses from farmers in the UK, European countries, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Africa. She asked them whether they used different methods to detect oestrus if the cow was lame.

Amanda, who graduated with a first class honours degree in Animal Science in 2011 from Writtle College and is in her second year of a PhD, found that lame cows require more inseminations to get pregnant, and that oestrus expression, and therefore detection methods, are slightly different depending on what housing the cows are in – free stall, tie stall, or outside. However, she found that visual observation is the most common oestrus detection method used among all housing types. This may be used in conjunction with other aids such as mount detectors, whereas more technical methods such as pedometers are less common.

Amanda’s research also determined that most farmers use the same detection method for lame and non-lame cattle even though there is reduced oestrus expression in lame cows. Her PhD now looks at whether there is a particular method that is better for lame cows. This could make a big difference to animal welfare and to the farmers as cows will not be culled prematurely and they will be able to serve the animals at the right time, saving the number of insemination attempts.

Laura, who is in her second year of a BSc (Hons) Animal Science (Companion and Zoo Animals), had only two minutes to present the findings of her BBSRC-funded research carried out over 10 weeks last summer, which was part of a Research Experience Placement.

This concerned colostrum quality, which is an important issue for farmers. Calves are born with no immunity so they receive their immunity from the colostrum they receive in the first 24 – but ideally six – hours. Farmers need to know how good the quality of colostrum is to ensure the calves do not have a lowered immunity. They can do this using a colostrometer but this is an onerous task as it uses specific gravity to estimate the colostrum quality, requiring two litres of milk and a set temperature. Another method is the use of radial immunodiffusion for which results take 24 hours, by which time the time period for the highest absorption of colostrum may have passed. The alternative is a Brix refractometer, which is used by the brewing industry to measure the sugar in alcohol. The benefit is that it only needs a drop of milk, takes seconds and is digital. This has been used effectively in Holstein cattle and now, thanks to Laura’s research, it can be used on Jersey cows’ colostrum too.

For more information visit the Writtle College website