Photo:

Laura Dixon

very sad that I got evicted :(

Favourite Thing: Oh this is a hard one! There’s so many great things – from the day to day working with the animals, to getting a paper published, to going to conferences and presenting your experiments, to discovering something new! I can’t pick just one!

My CV

School:

I’m from Canada so you won’t have heard of them! Riverview Rural High School 1995-1998

University:

NSAC 1999-2002; University of Guelph 2002-2008

Work History:

University of Lincoln on an RSPCA funded project – I won’t bore you with all the details of the small/contract jobs over the years!

Employer:

Scottish Agricultural College

Current Job:

Animal Welfare Research Scientist

Me and my work

I study what motivates animals to perform various behaviour patterns, including both normal and abnormal behaviours.

Traditionally, the needs of animals have not been taken into account when designing housing for them. We either want to maximize the numbers of animals we can keep (production animals) or we attempt to provide good lives for them but make the mistake of using our human values and judgements to determine what the animals want (pets).

My work focuses on what animals want or want to be able to do (i.e. what the animal is motivated to do). Including these things in the animal’s environment will help improve the animals’ lives and will result in a more ‘welfare-friendly’ and humane product.

I’ve worked with chickens (both laying hens and meat birds), rabbits, pigs, dairy and beef cattle, dogs, cats, mink, sheep and horses and have found ways of improving their environments. For example, chickens really like to forage (peck and scratch at the ground) so providing chickens with sand, wood shavings or dirt to dig in improves their lives.
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The study of animal behaviour and welfare is a growing field and is invovled in government policies as well – like the upcoming ban on battery cages (small wire cages) for laying hens. It can also involve working with scientists in other fields, like reproduction or nutrition, with veterinarians and animal rescue agencies and with farmers and animal producers. Education of both animal users and the public is very important because alot of people don’t actually know how their food is produced or they are not aware of what the animals actually need – and this includes our pets as well.

It is very rewarding to know that your work will help a large number of animals and help people to understand animals better.

My Typical Day

Get to work, do chicken-y things, go home! lol

If I have a trial going on, the first thing I do is feed and check on my chickens. Then I’ll spend some time getting things ready for the trial – weighing feed for the birds (they’re on controlled portions), getting things set up, building pens, and so on. Then I head back to the office to cath up on e-mails, paperwork (all our trials have to be approved by an ethics committee), writting protocols and papers about my research. At some point I’ll grab a large tea and some lunch, then head back to check on the chickens – they make a terrible mess of the drinkers so I need to clean them a few times a day! There may be a meeting or two somewhere in there – discussing ideas with colleagues, helping students with projects, etc. Then I head home to feed and walk the dogs and get myself some food. A few hours of tv/internet and its bedtime! If I don’t have chickens on trial, I’ll still be doing the paperwork and writting but also may get to travel for meetings or conferences or visit other Universities to see what research they’re doing. Oh and occasionally I take a holiday! lol
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What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to go to more conferences so I can present my work to others and discuss ideas for more research.

Some of my work has been funded by animal charities – so they don’t have alot of money to spare to send me to conferences. Conferences are a great way to let other scientists know about your work and for you to catch up on other research that’s going on. They are great places to discuss new ideas and to find people to work with on new research. If I won this money, I would use it to go to conferences. For example, the last job I had involved working with pet rabbits. It would be great to be able to go to rabbit related conferences (like the 10th World Rabbit Congress) so others could learn about my research and I could hopefully find other scientists interested in continuing work to improve rabbits’ housing environments.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

enthusiastic, friendly, motivated!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

NIN or Green Day

What is the most fun thing you've done?

This is a hard question! Camping with friends, dogs, food and drinks…I’m easy to please!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) for more wishes obviously..lol, 2) for an infinite amount of money, 3) become a world famous animal welfare scientist

What did you want to be after you left school?

Originally, I wanted to be a vet but now I’m glad I’m doing what I am now!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

no – I was a nerd!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Raised public awareness about the way animals are kept – both for production and as pets – and how there is a need to improve this.

Tell us a joke.

Why did the dinosaur cross the road? Because chickens hadn’t evolved yet! Yes, it’s lame but it made me giggle!