PhD Studentship: Managing Social Dynamics to Improve Dairy Cow Health and Welfare

University of Cambridge

Supervisor: Dr Gareth Pearce (University of Cambridge)

Co-Supervisors: Ian McCrone (University of Cambridge); Jose Chitty (Cambridge Animal Technologies)

Group living in modern dairy cattle can be a source of significant social stress. Modern production systems involve frequent regrouping of cows based on lactation stage, milk yield and parity. Increasing the stability of cow social groups reduces aggression but factors that promote social stability in cattle groups are poorly understood. Social Network Analysis allows the structure and patterns of groups to be quantified to define the place and role of individuals within group structures to explain how group dynamics operate and are influenced by factors linked to individual attributes. Preliminary studies have shown that a small number of ‘key cows’ are particularly influential in the organisation of group social structure and have a disproportionate influence in maintaining group stability. Such ‘keystone individuals’ in other species can be characterised by various individual attributes. More precise definition of characteristics and roles of keystone individuals occupying network positions that maintain stability is critically important to the dairy industry in order to manage the significant negative effects of dynamic grouping on cattle welfare and productivity. This project will help to achieve this by quantifying cow-cow interactions, social preferences and network positions using neck-mounted accelerometer sensors validated by behavioural recording. Manipulation of group composition based on network roles and individual attributes will allow management optimisation to promote group stability thereby minimising the stress factors known to detrimentally influence dairy cow health, welfare and productivity.

In addition to training in applied animal behavioural science, the student will gain an understanding of the use of remote and distributed sensing technologies and associated data to provide decision making insight relevant to the use of biosensor technology to improve animal health and welfare. The combination of academic and industrial environments will provide a high level of transferable skills to enable the student to pursue a scientific career in either the academic or commercial sector. The industrial partner is a leading developer of animal monitoring and behavioural analytics sensor platforms designed to optimise cattle management efficiency, productivity, health and welfare in order to improve economic returns for farmers. The project collaboration offers an important opportunity to enable the translation of research into industrial application to benefit end-users.

Candidates should have or be expected to obtain a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree and/or postgraduate qualification in animal, veterinary or applied biological sciences. Applicants with experience of animal behaviour science and handling of large data sets / statistical modelling would be particularly welcomed.

Funding: UK and EEA students who meet the UK residency requirements will be eligible for a full 4 year BBSRC studentship. This will cover a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£14,553 per annum for science graduates and £22,456 per annum for veterinary graduates in 2017/18), research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate, to start 1st October 2018.

How to apply: Initially, please send your CV, transcripts, names of 2 referees and a cover letter outlining your research experience why you think you would be a good fit for this project to Dr Gareth Pearce at by 5pm on 31st January 2018.  Full application to University of Cambridge will be required at later stage.

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