Dr. Jennifer Brown

Base

Full name

Dr. Jennifer Brown

Summary

Designing the swine farms of the future

Type of researcher

Professor

Introduce yourself, your experience and your credentials

My name is Jennifer Brown and I’m a research scientist here at the Prairie Swine Center in ethology or animal behavior and welfare. I’m also an adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan and this is my friend hunter the office cat.

Describe your research

For my research here at the Prairie Swine Center I am looking at the understanding  of pig behavior and then using this information to improve the management practices we have on commercial farms at all stages of the pig’s life. I really like animal behavior – the study of animal behavior – because it’s how animals adapt to their environment.

We can study their growth, or their their reproduction, or their physiology. One of the first things that you see when you’re changing the environment is a change in behavior. That’s how pigs immediately adapt to their environment. The other changes will come later on. So it’s a really a first indicator of what’s going on with the pig.

My research includes studies to improve pain management in pigs. This is during procedures like tail docking or castration which are commercial practices. Analgesics can be used to treat pain before and after these procedures. Analgesics can  also be used to treat lameness or other painful conditions so my colleagues and I are developing new methods and tools to reliably assess pain in pigs and then we can better evaluate these different treatment methodologies.

I also do a lot of research on group housing in sows and certainly stall housing of gestating animals has been a real focus for the animal rights groups and criticisms of pork production. I would say that certainly group housing has the potential to improve sow welfare but most people don’t really appreciate the complexity of these systems  and the challenges associated with managing sows in group housing.

I think everyone recognizes that sows are are very intelligent and highly social animals. In the wild they exist usually in what  we call sounders so that would be a small group of very familiar and usually related sows in their offspring. When we take sows out of stalls certainly, that’s going to involve grouping and mixing of different animals so we study the social hierarchy of these animals.

In this situation certainly there’s winners and losers when you have a social hierarchy. So how do we manage that so that the subordinate animals are not disadvantaged in these systems and then how do we provide feed at an even levels to all those animals.

I also study environmental enrichment for pigs so the goal when we’re enriching animals is to change that environment so that we improve the biology of the pig. For example, providing some material that the animals can root in or consume and that really satisfies that motivation to forage in the environment.

We know that this can reduce any problem behaviors and results in more natural behaviors in pigs.

Explain its significance

My research really addresses the sustainability of livestock production. It looks at developing basically the farm of the future. It’s a process of continuous improvement, so identifying what are the key issues and what are real solutions to those issues and understanding the pig’s behavior and the nature of the pig.

We can integrate that information with new technologies, certainly using infrared cameras and more and more technologies that can help management and will improve the animal’s welfare and then also hopefully improve worker satisfaction in the workers environment in these farms.

Pork production is a very efficient and pork is definitely the most widely eaten meat on the planet. It’s a great source of protein so my research is very relevant to improving that food production and sustainability for the future.

Institution

Institution name

University of Saskatchewan

Type of institution

University

Industry

Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting

Animal production and aquaculture