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EASTBIO Exploring the role of nutrition in expression of positive and negative social behaviours to improve pig welfare

PHD Opportunities

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Dr S Turner , Dr J Houdijk , Dr A Wilson No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project aims to investigate the link between nutrition and social behaviour in pigs. Globally around 1 billion pigs are produced each year. Most experience harmful social interactions with other pigs, such as tail biting and fighting. These behaviours are becoming worse over time and are difficult to improve through cost-effective changes to the housing environment. Harmful social interactions greatly compromise welfare and both economic and environmental sustainability. The role of nutrition in expression of these behaviours has been poorly explored. Similarly, the effect of nutrition on positive social interactions, such as play, has been almost entirely ignored.

The project will partner with the Pig Improvement Company (PIC); the largest pig breeding company in the world. PIC has evidence that currently recommended nutritional standards do not fit modern pig genotypes and that enhanced nutritional management can improve behaviour. Thus, this studentship will specifically explore sensitivity of both negative and pro-social behaviours to selected amino acid levels, fibre to energy ratio and phase feeding in high genetic merit PIC pigs on commercial farms. Our rationale for focussing on these issues is that specific amino acids are precursors to neurotransmitters known to be involved in regulation of social behaviour, whilst varying the fibre to energy ratio may impact competition for feed. Revising advice on diet specification and phase feeding has the potential to alleviate entrenched welfare problems in a major livestock industry with benefits for the welfare of pigs across the world.

The student will be registered at the University of Edinburgh, based at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC; near Edinburgh, UK) and undertake two placements on PIC contracted farms (expected to be 3-6 months each; one in N. America, one in Europe). The student will become part of the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Team at SRUC; one of the largest groups of its kind with 15 academic staff and 17 PhD students. During the project, the student will also become part of an international research and development team of academically-trained staff within PIC. PIC is part of Genus plc, the world’s largest animal breeding company, offering unparalleled training opportunities in experimental and project management, business development, financial management and communication to academic and non-academic audiences.

The project is truly multidisciplinary, bringing together the fields of animal behaviour, welfare, nutrition and breeding. The supervisory team brings the necessary complementary expertise in each of these fields and will support the student in the development of academic skills within each discipline. The combination of academic training in breeding and nutrition applied to behaviour and welfare, coupled with gaining skills in behavioural and welfare assessment on-farm, and exposure to a world-leading company, is expected to be highly attractive to future employers. The project has true novelty in tackling the problem of harmful behaviour through the lens of nutrition and will make an important scientific and practical contribution to understanding and promoting expression of positive social interactions which is rapidly gaining interest in applied ethology and animal welfare science.
Applicants should download the required forms from and send the following documents to [Email Address Removed]:
a. EASTBIO Application Form
b. EASTBIO DTP Equality Form
c. CV
d. Academic transcripts (a minimum of an upper second class or first class honours degree or equivalent is required for PhD study
e. Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to [Email Address Removed].
f. If you are nominated by the supervisor(s) of the EASTBIO PhD project you wish to apply for, they will provide a Supervisor Support Statement

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (Please state if your institution will provide funding to cover the difference in fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.


Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to

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