Growing up on a farm, I was always interested in the emotional lives of animals. This drove me to pursue an education in animal welfare science. I completed a BSc. in Animal Biology and MSc. in Behaviour and Welfare, both at Guelph. This ultimately landed me a PhD position in Georgia Mason’s lab, where I am completing a project on chicken welfare. I am a bit of an anomaly: my lab mates tend to focus on zoo, lab and fur species, but the Mason lab provides expertise in welfare indicators (behavioural and physiological indicators of animals’ emotional states) that generalizes across species.
My main research focus is to determine if environmental enrichments (preferred resources that are not required for biological functioning) make laying hens more resilient to aversive practices like handling or sudden, startling events. In the first phase of my research, I measured hens’ resource preferences to inform the design of high welfare housing. I then housed groups of adult hens in either preferred (enriched) or non-preferred environments. To investigate resilience, I am determining if enriched hens appraise situations more positively and are better able to cope with stressful events. I am looking at a variety of behavioural and physiological measures, including: judgement biases (“optimistic” and “pessimistic” responses to ambiguous stimuli); startle reflexes (involuntary muscle contractions that occur in response to intense and abrupt stimuli); physiological responses to acute stressors; and immune responses to antigen challenge. I am still in the early stages of data analysis, but have some interesting results which I look forward to publishing soon.