10th UFAW Student Animal Welfare Conference

April 2015

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

Two Writtle College students picked up awards at the 10th annual Universities Federation of Animal Welfare (UFAW)conference.

The conference involved students from Moulton College, Hartpury College and Brooksby Melton College, who presented their research findings.

Writtle College BSc (Hons) Equine Science (Behaviour and Welfare) students Aline Bouquet and Charlotte Maru finished first and second, respectively, for their research oral presentations at the conference.

Aline’s dissertation was an investigation into the effect of different drying procedures on the free (extractable) condensed tannin concentration in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), a commonly used horse feed. Her research was supported by Dengie Crops Ltd and UNITÁN, Argentina.

Alfalfa is a perennial legume, known as the ‘Queen of forages’, for livestock and horses due to its high energy and quality protein content. Tannins are plant polyphenols that are a protective mechanism against pathogens, disease and ingestion by herbivores. The nutritional effect of tannins varies, while they can be very beneficial to animals– preventing the bloating that is common when ruminants graze on alfalfa and being antiparasitic, as well as increasing milk production, fertility and weight - if tannin concentrations exceed optimal levels they can have detrimental welfare effects.

Aline, 22, from Switzerland, conducted her research to determine the optimal analytical method for extracting these tannins, making it possible to quantify the concentrations found in alfalfa that has been subjected to different drying procedures (which are commonly used within the animal feed industry to preserve this forage). This could then be used to further analyse the nutritional effect of tannins in future studies.

Charlotte’s dissertation was an investigation into the relationship between dominance rank and intelligence in a herd of young horses at Lordships Stud.

She measured the dominance hierarchy in the herd of young stock at the College during a feeding test. She then used positive reinforcement with a food reward and a ‘touch the target’ training device to rank their intelligence to see if there was any evidence of social cognition and strategic decision making in the horses.

The 20-year-old, from Chingford, found that in this domestic herd there was no correlation between intelligence and dominance rank; dominant horses were not more intelligent than those lower down in the pecking order. However, she did find that age was a significant factor for being a dominant herd member in horses aged below five years. Potentially, intelligence may have a stronger correlation with dominance in mature horses as they rely less on physiological characteristics and perhaps develop more strategic methods of attaining dominance.

There were 11 oral presentations and 25 posters presented at the event, held on 27 March at Moulton College.

Final year students on the BSc (Hons) Equine and Animal courses, as well as Masters students on the Animal courses at Writtle College, attended the conference.

Writtle College’s Elizabeth Moss, BSc (Hons) Animal, also gave an oral presentation of her comparative study of small exotic felids and domestic cats, while PhD student Holly Hodges presented her research into the impact of lameness on dairy cow behaviour, monitored using local positioning technology. Six students also exhibited posters.