BGS Bursary Report

BGS Bursary Report

Friday, December 4, 2009

Travel Bursary Award - Report on ISAE annual conference

Gemma Charlton

Animal Science Research Centre, Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, TF10 8NB, UK and Agriculture Department, Reaseheath College, Cheshire, CW5 6DF, UK.

I was awarded £500 from BGS Travel-Bursary to attend the ISAE (International Society of Applied Ethology) annual conference, held in Cairns, Australia, 6-10 July 2009. 

I am currently studying for a PhD on 'The welfare implications of grazing high-yielding dairy cows'. Attending the conference was an opportunity for me to present some of the results from my first experiment 'preference of dairy cows: indoors vs. pasture' and to discuss my research with other applied ethologists. It also allowed me to network with researchers and students from around the world.

During the conference I made some very useful contacts. Dr. Drewe Ferguson and Dr. Caroline Lee from CSIRO Livestock Industries, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia are currently investigating the preference of beef cattle for indoors or pasture, which is similar to the work being conducted by ourselves. Therefore, after some very useful discussions we agreed to stay in touch, keep each other updated on the progress of the work and possibly share ideas, which will be useful for the progression of my PhD work.

During the conference there were several plenary presentations. One of these talks was a tribute to John Barnett who tragically died in the Australian bush fires earlier this year. John was interested in the consequences stress have on animal welfare. He contributed largely to farm animal welfare and methods of assessment, which are still widely used today.

There were approximately 100 presentations during the conference. Some of the talks I found particularly interesting as they were relevant to the work of my PhD:

  • Drewe Ferguson et al. - A novel system to automatically measure behavioural motivation for food in cattle (paper 117). The aim of the study was to develop a system which would measure feeding motivation in cattle using a natural operant response (walking). The feed reward was 30 and 45 g of a concentrate ration. The results showed that the maximum distance cows would walk for 30 g of food was 4.5km, whereas they would walk 13.2 km for 45 g. These findings suggest that cattle could detect the small difference in reward size. As my current research is examining the effects of providing TMR indoors and at pasture on the behaviour of dairy cattle and there preference to be indoors or on pasture, these findings of feeding motivation were particularly interesting.
  • Arnold and Matthews - Dairy cows will work for access to shelter from wind and rain (paper 205). The aim of the study was to measure the motivation of cows to gain access to shelter after 48 hours of artificial wind and intermittent heavy rain. The cows were trained to press a lever to gain access to the shelter. They were tested at 5 Fixed Ratio levels: 5, 10, 20, 40 and 60. The mean price observed was 20.27 lever presses. The results suggest that cows were moderately motivated to gain access to shelter compared with other resources such as rest. I was particularly interested in the lever use in this research, as I would like to incorporate a similar approach into future studies.

There were several other presentations I found interesting:

  • Borderas et al, Automated measurement of feeding behavior to detect illness in milk-fed calves (paper 202).
  • De Passille and Rushen, Can the weaning stress of dairy calves be reduced by weaning later? (paper 421).
  • Legrand et al, Voluntary use of showers: effects on behaviour and physiology of dairy cattle in summer (paper 423).
  • Schütz et al, Dairy cattle prefer shade over sprinklers in summer: effects on behaviour and physiology (paper 425).

The full abstracts to these papers can be found at:

On the final day of the conference I gave my presentation (paper 422) which attracted some interest and several questions. Presenting at the conference was beneficial for me personally, allowing me to present to an international audience and to answer questions about the research. It was also beneficial to inform others of the research we have carried out and our future plans, as the ideas and thoughts of others can help in the progression of future work.


Overall the conference was extremely beneficial and I learnt that research is important for continued improvement of animal welfare. I returned from the conference enthused and motivated to continue with my PhD studies.


My supervisory team Dr. S. Mark Rutter, Dr. Liam Sinclair and Martyn East. I also gratefully acknowledge BGS (British Grassland Society), BSAS (British Society of Animal Science) and ISAE (International Society of Applied Ethology) for providing me with funding to attend the conference.

 See more information on BGS Awards


BGS Members BGS is a membership organisation which acts as a communication forum, through events and publications, for the profitable and sustainable use of grass and forage.

Local Societies

BGS Members Use our Local Society directory to locate your nearest societies, information resources and experts on grassland farming and foraging.