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So far, welfare assessment in farm animals, including dairy cows, largely focuses on measuring parameters of negative welfare, such as abnormal behaviours, the occurrence of health problems, or biological signs of stress. Moreover, existing onfarm welfare assessment protocols are time-consuming, which makes them less suitable for frequent application. The current project aims to identify non-invasive biomarkers of both 'negative' (such as pain and stress) and 'positive' welfare states (such as pleasure or positive emotion) in dairy cows. The underlying assumptions come from recent findings in humans and primates showing that differential emotional states - varying from positive to negative - are associated with variation in specific biomarkers, such as components of the neuroendocrine and immune systems in blood or saliva, or physiological parameters of heart rate and heart rate variability. At the same time there is considerable scientific progress in the development of behavioural paradigms to measure emotional state in (farm) animals, e.g. based on the concept of cognitive bias. In this project, experimental groups of cows will be subjected to contrasting environmental conditions expected to create profound differences in emotional state. Presumed differences in emotional state will be substantiated by the outcome of behavioural tests utilizing a cognitive approach. Potential biomarkers will be recorded in blood as well as other body fluids, such as saliva and milk, and with the use of sensors. Similar biomarkers will also be obtained on categories of dairy farms in practice, selected on the basis of differences in herd welfare status derived from on-farm health and welfare assessments. Demonstrating systematic covariation between potential biomarkers and emotional state - within as well as between groups of cows - will help to identify practically useful diagnostic tools. This project will provide fundamental insight into biological correlates and indicators of animal emotion and welfare.
We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with a Master's degree in animal sciences, biology, veterinary science or a comparable scientific field. The candidate should have a multidisciplinary interest in animal ethology, physiology, and immunology, and demonstrated skills to conduct behavioural research. We expect the candidate to be interested in data handling and statistical analysis, and to be able to effectively collaborate with various co-workers. We expect the PhD student to have experience with animal experiments (article 9 certificate) and, preferably, some laboratory work.
The candidate should be creative, independent and have innovative ideas. The candidate should enjoy working both independently and as part of a multidisciplinary team, and have excellent organisational (time management) and communication skills (spoken and written English, networking with academic scientists of various disciplines as well as representatives from industrial stakeholders).
Conditions of employment
The PhD students will work in a team together with technicians and scientists from the Animal Production Systems group, Wageningen Livestock Research and GD Animal Health. Experiments will be conducted at experimental facilities of Wageningen University & Research, and at dairy farms in practice. A fulltime employment (38 hours a week) as PhD researcher within the Animal Production Systems group is foreseen for 48 months, on condition of a positive evaluation after 18 months. The gross salary will increase from € 2191,= in the first year up to € 2801,= per month in the fourth year (based on fulltime employment).
Contract type: Temporary, Onbekend
This PhD project is a collaboration between the Animal Production Systems group, Wageningen Livestock Research and the Dutch Animal Health Service (GD Animal Health), and is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and ZuivelNL. Research of the Animal Production Systems group (www.aps.wur.nl) uses a systems approach to understand complex livestock systems in order to explore and design a sustainable future. We help to solve complex sustainability problems (e.g. global food security, climate change, water scarcity, depletion of fossil resources, and achieving respectful animal production) we are facing today. Wageningen Livestock Research (www.livestockresearch.wur.nl) aims to translate fundamental and applied scientific knowledge into practical solutions in the area of livestock farming systems, nutrition, genetics, animal welfare, and the impact of domestic animals on the environment. GD Animal Health (www.gdanimalhealth.com) is a leading organisation in animal health and animal production, providing animal health programmes and laboratory diagnostic services. By improving animal health, GD Animal Health contributes to sustainable farming and the safety and healthiness of food.
Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from Dr. Kees van Reenen, firstname.lastname@example.org (tel +31 (0)317 480620) or Prof. Dr. Imke de Boer, email@example.com (tel +31 (0)317 484589). Please upload your curriculum vitae, motivation letter and contact details of at least two references (phone number and email address). You can apply until the 22nd of March 2017.