Monday, November 09, 2009


Careers get my curiosity going, ordinary careers, extraordinary careers, it doesn’t matter all that much. I simply never quite get over my amazement at how little we know about the work that others do. But this was an especially good weekend, because one of my on-going career questions got answered. I found out whether judges get mad when their decisions are overturned.
You hear it on the news all the time: Case was appealed. Lawyers will try to prove that the judge did not properly instruct the jury. Yes, I know, judges have tenure. Their salaries don’t go up or down with the rise and fall of appeals. So it really shouldn’t bother them—well, maybe.
I owe a vote of thanks to Anne and Mike who inadvertently helped me find the answer to this question by including me at a dinner party with a judge. I couldn’t help but notice the silence that fell when he said he was a judge. It was a bit like the silence that falls when you say you are a hope lady. Nobody is quite sure what to say next. I noticed how we all changed the subject. But the evening was a happy one, so eventually we got back to my question.
There are so many interesting careers around. Last summer we met a cow psychologist—yes, a cow psychologist. It’s not my description, it’s his. I’ve been noticing the silence that falls whenever we tell people we know a cow psychologist. They have no idea what to ask. Pictures of cows unburdening their souls on leather couches flash through their heads. But the University of Guelph recently published an article that explains it all. I guesss reporter Teresa Pitman was as curious as the rest of us.

For the Benefit of Bossy

New OVC prof glad to be back at Guelph, where there’s a ‘critical mass’ of researchers studying farm animal behaviour and animal welfare

Derek Haley
Prof. Derek Haley has had a fascination with cows since he was a child and is now dedicated to enhancing the welfare of cattle and other farm animals. PHOTO

When Prof. Derek Haley, Population Medicine, was 10, all his friends were asking for a puppy, but he wanted a cow — several cows, in fact. Because his family
lived on a hobby farm near Cornwall, his father went along with the request and made Haley responsible for the animals’ care.
“I remember him saying: ‘You wanted these cows, so you have to get out there and do the chores, even if it is winter,’” says Haley. Despite his occasional
reluctance to lug feed and shovel manure, “I loved watching the cows and wondering why they did what they did.”
Studying animal science at university might have been a natural next step, but Haley’s interest in sports and performance psychology led him instead to
the applied kinesiology program at the University of Windsor. Once he’d completed his degree, however, he knew that wasn’t going to be the foundation for
his career.
“I couldn’t get away from my interest in animals. When I discovered that people actually study the behaviour of farm animals, I knew that was what I wanted
to do, so I came to Guelph and did a master’s degree in applied ethology with Prof. Ian Duncan.”
When he graduated, Haley wasn’t looking to do a PhD, but after a number of contract research jobs with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “I realized that’s
what it would take to keep me in the field I’m passionate about.”
So he headed to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. It was an ideal place to do his research, he says, because
“Saskatchewan has cows galore.”
After completing his PhD, Haley worked for Alberta Agriculture as a livestock welfare specialist and section head before joining the University of Alberta
as its first professor of applied ethology and animal welfare. Two years later, he applied for an opening at the Ontario Veterinary College and arrived
back on campus this summer.
“I love it here,” he says. “This is a place where we grapple with tough questions and figure out a way forward.”
Throughout his career, Haley’s goal has been to ask questions about animal behaviour, particularly cattle, and look for answers that will not only enhance
life for the animals but also keep farming profitable.
He has looked, for example, at how to make living quarters more comfortable for dairy cows. While working with Ag Canada, he studied different types of
floor design for stalls.
“Some floor coverings cause abrasions to the cow’s hocks and can eventually lead to open sores,” he says. “Softer floors encourage the cows to lie down
and rest more — about 1½ hours more a day. That allows them to put more energy into making milk. Being able to quantify that helps farmers make decisions
about what flooring is best when designing or renovating a barn.”
Haley also looked at the stress experienced by beef calves when they’re separated from their mother during weaning. That stress is probably a major reason
why there’s such a high level of illness in the calves, he says. The separation also distresses the cows.
To determine whether the calves’ stress was due to losing the milk or losing their mother, he fitted calves with a plastic nose flap that prevented them
from suckling but did not disrupt their interaction with their mother. He found that the calves showed little distress when the flaps were in place.
“So we thought: ‘Aha, their distress at weaning must be due to being separated from their mother,’” says Haley.
Part two of the experiment involved removing the flaps after four or five days and separating the mothers and their babies. Surprisingly, this did not
distress calves much either.
“If you think about a natural weaning, the mothers and babies are still together as milk intake is gradually reduced,” Haley says, explaining why this
two-step process works so well.
“So when the calf is stopped from nursing but still has its mother there, this mimics natural weaning more closely. Then the calf is more ready for the
He adds that this concept has been adopted in the cattle industry.
“About 265,000 of the nose flaps have been sold. They’re reusable, so farmers can use them year after year. It’s great because it improves the quality
of life for both the cows and the calves.”
Haley notes that this was a basic science question he was researching, not something he expected to have a commercial application, “but it has really borne
fruit. I think this demonstrates the importance of continuing to do basic curiosity-driven research and not just what we think will help us make more money,
because we don’t know which piece of research might lead us somewhere important.”
He is currently studying this two- step weaning approach with horses and is also looking at the different equine social bonds and attachments. He recently
received funding to study the behaviour of horses being raised for food and kept in feedlots.
His deep interest in animal welfare has led him to take on the role of faculty adviser to both the OVC Animal Welfare Club and the OVC student chapter
of the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour.
For Haley, joining the faculty of U of G is like coming home.
“We have a critical mass here studying farm animal behaviour and animal welfare. We brainstorm and share ideas. At the University of Alberta, I was the
only one. It’s just a different environment here, and I’m very glad to be part of it.”

I complimented Derek on the article, and he was pleased, though he said he wished it had said one more thing. “I must admit the writer did capture the essence
of the story about how I have ended-up as a cow psychologist. The only part I might add that was missed, would be the early influence of my experiences
helping my grandfather look after his cows. I must have been 6 or 7 when I was struck by the responsibility around the fact that, the quality of life of
those animals depended almost entirely on the care we provided them.”

All this goes to show how important our careers can be, how they weave our lives together. I learned that it doesn’t seem to matter that judges have job security. They have pride, ”big pride,” said my new friend. ”They get mad when their decisions are overturned.”
Now we know.

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