Published: 22 August 2017

Vet student’s research could improve welfare of dairy cows

Cherry Bedford vet student

Cherry Bedford, a vet student who is going into her third year, is currently undertaking a research project at Leahurst that considers the welfare of dairy cows.

We recently caught up with Cherry and found out how her project, which Cherry describes as “fascinating, challenging and motivating”, is going.

Where are you from?

“I’m from Devon originally, but I now live in Chester.”

Can you tell us a little about your project?

“I’m looking into welfare indicators in dairy cows using data recorded by Tesco dairy farmers.

“We also have information on antibiotic usage and management systems, so we are looking at where associations might lie between the various factors. This research will help Tesco to see where its farmers are in terms of welfare and could lead to policy changes to aid higher welfare.”

How are you conducting your research?

“I am analysing data from over 700 farms. The farmers record data quarterly and I have data going back seven quarters from some farms. I am using R, a statistic programme, to test associations and plot the data.”

Once the project is complete, what will happen with the research?

“The research is being passed back to Tesco, not only to the policy makers but also to the farmers to help show the power of their data and hopefully to provide them with an extra incentive to record the data accurately.”

Have you had any surprises along the way?

“I’ve been surprised about how involved others have been about the project. Other researchers have wanted to see parts of the data that relate to their projects and people in the dairy industry have wanted to see what we have found from the data.”

What would you like to do after graduation?

“I’m not quite sure. I went to vet school thinking I would like to work as a farm vet, but I’m really enjoying the research side of veterinary and I can see myself working within that area.”

Your project is funded by the Animal Welfare Foundation. How did you secure the funding?

“I submitted a grant proposal last autumn after I had approached the Epidemiology Department for potential projects. It was very useful to have the experience of writing a grant proposal.

“I was delighted when I found out I had secured the funding. I was on a lambing placement at the time and it gave me a boost to get through the next night shift!”

Have you undertaken similar work in the past?

“I did a summer studentship last year working on data from a survey on the equine disease Strangles, which Redwings undertook in conjunction with the University, so I knew the basics of handling data and using R.”

What’s your advice to students who are interested in undertaking a studentship like yours?

“I think the summer studentships make a nice change from term-time university. You’re more independent and are treated like a fellow professional by the others in the department.

“The range of projects is quite wide, so there’s something to interest most people and you get the experience of working in research without the pressure of the project being marked.”

Funding for vet students

If you’re a vet student and you are interested in undertaking a research project during your holidays, there are a number of funding opportunities available via the Wellcome Trust, the University of Liverpool Veterinary Institute and the BBSRC stars scheme, as well as several animal charities.

You can find out more about the funding opportunities via our Research Opportunities webpage.

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