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Understanding, predicting and preventing the welfare costs of inappropriate body condition in suckler cows

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  Dr S Turner  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Around 6% of beef calves die early in life. Calf morbidity and mortality represent significant welfare, economic, environmental and reputational costs. Calving difficulty and poor calf vigour are key determinants of a failure-to-thrive. Both of these could be affected by the mother’s body condition (fat reserves) during gestation and at birth. This project aims to understand the effect of poor body condition on cow hunger, calving ease and calf vigour. It will also test a method to predict which cows will lose too much condition and a method to prevent the worst effects of poor condition.

It is currently recommended that spring calving beef cows lose body condition during pregnancy to minimise winter feed costs, but 30% of cows lose more condition than recommended. SRUC data from 40 UK farms showed that cow body condition affects the size of the calf at birth and its subsequent growth, suggesting that condition may affect calf vigour. Economic analysis shows that the financial benefits of mitigating poor body condition outweigh the associated feed costs. The project will survey Scottish and Irish farmer uptake of condition scoring (Objective 1). It will quantify the biological effects of absolute body condition, or changes in condition over time, on cow hunger (feeding motivation) (Objective 2) and subsequent calving ease and calf vigour (Objective 3). It will also test the efficacy of predicting condition loss using easily implemented measures of temperament previously linked to growth (Objective 4). Lastly, reactive treatment of calves with poor vigour occurs too late to prevent impacts on immunity and development. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) administered following calving can improve cow welfare and calf weight gain in early life. Objective 5 will test the effectiveness of targeting NSAIDs towards cows (and/or calves) whose condition profile puts their calf at risk of poor vigour.

The project will provide basic biological understanding of the effects of inappropriate body condition and better prediction and treatment of these effects to improve animal welfare, production efficiency and the large climate impact of beef production. The studentship is a collaboration between SRUC, the University of Edinburgh and Teagasc in the Republic of Ireland. The project will be based at SRUC near Edinburgh and include short periods of data collection in Ireland. The student will gain first-hand experience of two farm-based and academic teams. They will be mentored in engaging with industry and will play an active part in knowledge exchange.


Application instructions can be found on the SRUC website- PhD opportunities | SRUC

  1. Download and complete the Equal opportunities survey and note the completion reference
  2. Download and complete the SRUC Application form
  3. Download the Academic Reference Request and send to two referees requesting they submit to [Email Address Removed] by the closing date.

Send your application including the following to [Email Address Removed]:

  • Completed Application form quoting REF SRUC/ST
  • Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please ensure your application is complete by Thursday 5th January 2023.

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year PhD studentship is open to UK and international students, providing funding to cover UKRI level stipend and UK level tuition fees.

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