I qualified as a veterinary surgeon from the Royal Dick Veterinary School, Edinburgh University in 1980. Following 24 years as a mixed, mainly farm animal veterinary surgeon and while still in practice I gained, by distance learning, a Masters in Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Monitoring from the University of Ulster in 2004. Following this I spent the next seven years as a part time self funded PhD in the School of Biology at Newcastle University under the supervision of Richard Bevan and Ian Singleton. Concurrently between 2009 and 2011, I taught courses in veterinary nursing and wild life rehabilitation at the University of Cumbria. I gained my doctorate in 2010 on using avian urate spheres to biomonitor environmental pollution and stress in birds. In 2010 I set up a collaborative study into the effect of housing on beef cattle welfare, between Simpson & Allinson Ltd of Barnard Castle, Newcastle University and the University of Cumbria. Currently I am continuing research into measuring chronic stress in fattening beef cattle with the collaboration of Simpson & Allinson Ltd and under the guidance of Sandra Edwards (AFRD) and Melissa Bateson (ION).
1980: BVM&S MRCVS (Royal Dick Veterinary School, Edinburgh University)
2004: MSc dist (University of Ulster) 2010: PhD (Newcastle University)2011: Cert. Teaching in the Life Long Learning Sector
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour SETAC
In conjunction with my work on Roundhouse cattle welfare I have collected saliva samples from cattle using the novel technique of a hand held vacuum gun. The analysis of saliva samples by LC-MS/MS has given interesting insights into cattle stress responses to handling. Although such a technique would be classed as non-invasive it does cause some distress initially, however because saliva stress hormone levels lag some 15 minutes behind the stressor, saliva hormones are still valuable in quantifying cattle stress.
Blood lactic acid levels in beef cattle at slaughter.
My recent research into beef welfare and meat quality facilitated by Dovecote Park has turned up some interesting results on blood lactate levels at slaughter. Using a small hand held lactate plus meter, which only requires a drop of blood for speedy analysis, multiple tests were carried out on beef cattle at slaughter. Blood lactate is elevated under stress in cattle and so post slaughter levels reflected pre-slaughter welfare.
Heart Rate Variability an objective measure of farm animal welfare.
Farm animal welfare has been dogged by the difficulty of quantifying what good or bad welfare is. Even using the five freedoms we are tripped up by the word 'normal'; what level of being thirsty, hungry, uncomfortable etc. is acceptable to an animal? Furthermore a sick animal will commonly not show outward signs of illness because they would be capitalised on by conspecifics, driven by the ever present group pecking order. What is needed to resolve the issue of quantifying animal welfare is an objective and reliable measure of an animal’s internal milieu, involving the integration of all body systems (physiological, biochemical, neurological and psychological).
My interest in measuring the heart rate responses in cattle to being captured in a crush led me on to measuring heart rate variability (HRV) using the PolarEquine heart monitor. Although measuring HRV can be highly complicated, one of the simplest and most robust measures quantifies vagal activity in an animal. Vagal activity could be defined as the 'good side' of the autonomic nervous system, its antithesis being the sympathetic or fight and flight responses. The hypothesis is that welfare as a measure of an animal’s internal milieu equates to the autonomic balance of an animal. By using HRV to measure the vagal component this balance can be quantified.
Currently I am measuring HRV in cattle of all ages, as a measure of their welfare status, in different housing and management systems. The autonomic nervous system is common to all vertebrates; consequently it is hoped other farm and domestic animals, even chickens, could have their welfare status quantified.
Assisting in Year 2 Biochemistry (BIO2005) and Parasitology (ACE2031) Practicals.
Occational Lectures Year 1 and 2 Animal Science/Health (Equine Health & Disease, Lameness).
Research Summer School in welfare monitoring of dairy calves.