The university has expertise in farm animal behaviour and welfare, particularly for dairy cattle. An ongoing research theme is the investigation of factors that influence dairy cow preference for pasture. This includes assessing what features of pasture dairy cows value the most, and how these can be incorporated into novel housing designs based on the needs of the cows to experience outdoor access at pasture and shelter indoors. The results of our research show that pasture preference is complex, and cows prefer to be indoors under certain conditions. Our research has also determined what cows prefer in terms of lying areas in indoor housing.
Harper Adams research has already helped ensure that Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) animal sensor technology can be used to improve animal health and production efficiency, but future work will increasingly look at the role of PLF sensor technology in the on-farm assessment of animal welfare. Current on-farm welfare assessment relies on periodic farm audits that are time-consuming and rely more on resource-based rather than animal-based measures. Future research aims to integrate real-time sensor data to provide ‘welfare alerts’ to farmers. Historic sensor data could be used as part of dynamic welfare labelling to allow consumers to help identify products that align more with their own welfare priorities and preferences.
Research in PLF to date has focussed on dairy cattle. In future, research will look at the opportunities of using PLF in more extensive livestock systems. This will need a different approach if such technologies are to be adopted at farm level, as it will be more difficult to demonstrate a return on investment for ‘wearable’ sensors in these systems. Working with colleagues from university’s Engineering department, future research aims, for example, to investigate the role of drones in monitoring and controlling animal movements and to develop systems that integrate animal management, health, welfare and production goals with ecosystem services and carbon sequestration at farm level.
The Companion Animal House (CAH) accommodates a range of small mammals and exotic species including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, snakes, geckos, tortoises, salamanders and a skink. The CAH primarily functions to demonstrate handling and husbandry techniques related to small animal species, and also acts as a research centre for animal welfare and behaviour studies by students which contribute toward the associated animal degree programmes. These studies typically focus on measures to improve the husbandry of companion species, particularly investigating environmental enrichment measures or refining nutritional provision.
Also associated with the CAH are the equine facilities, consisting of outdoor paddocks and stabling for the university’s resident horses and ponies. These equines are used for teaching handling and husbandry to a range of animals-related degree courses, particularly the veterinary physiotherapy, veterinary nursing and veterinary medicine students. Student research projects involving the horses are non-invasive and include studies to quantify effects and refine techniques for veterinary physiotherapy. This results in a valuable evidence base which can be used by students and practitioners to drive effective animal rehabilitation internationally.
The Veterinary Services Centre (VSC) is a purpose-built facility available primarily for veterinary physiotherapy teaching and research purposes. The facility consists of consulting rooms and a hydrotherapy suite. The eight individual consulting treatment rooms are used by veterinary physiotherapy, veterinary nursing and animal behaviour students. The hydrotherapy suite is a state-of-the-art room with the benefit of both a hydrotherapy pool and a canine underwater treadmill. The treadmill has glass sides to allow viewing from all angles, enabling students to observe underwater movement patterns that would otherwise not be visible. The suite is open to referral cases from veterinary practices in the local area. State-of-the-art gait analysis includes force mats, surface electromyography and high-speed cameras to capture data about animal movement to aid teaching and research.