This month on Oct. 9th-12th, 2022, our PhD student Jasmine Muszik had the opportunity to attend Merck’s "Advancing Animal Welfare Together" Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. This event brought together animal welfare scientists, leaders from the food animal industry, and sustainability experts, to discuss problems and potential solutions within the food value chain. Participants had the chance to hear a variety of talks, including what is currently being done to bridge the gap between what producers are capable of implementing vs. what consumers place value on; how we can increase transparency in our research and animal-related practices; and how each of us can become ‘disruptors’ in our daily lives (i.e., using our innate creativity to challenge current views and operations). There were also five key presentations by graduate students, ranging from a qualitative study highlighting the need for further education on animal welfare for agriculture and animal science students, to mitigating heat stress in calves housed in hutches. Jasmine also had a poster on display which discussed the implications of frequency of outdoor access on the reactivity of dairy cows, aiming to educate participants about the importance of implementing outdoor access on the emotional welfare of these animals.
During the end of day 1, everyone was assigned to a brainstorming group where the task was to discuss three main challenges associated with sustainability and animal welfare. Each group was given a markable table cover where they could draw or scribble their ideas while coming up with three main issues that still need to be addressed in the food animal industry. They were told to think ‘outside of the box’ to find solutions to each problem. This was a hands-on opportunity to hear from different perspectives and to work together towards finding innovative ways to tackle problems. Following this, everyone made their way to dinner at Jasper Winery with music from Nebraska’s “The Hayseed Cowboys”.
Another highlight from the symposium was visiting Couser Cattle Company’s beef cattle finishing operation in Nevada, Iowa. Participants were given a tour of the 6,000 head facility that also featured thousands of acres of corn, soybean, and alfalfa. The Couser family and company gave a look into the daily life of a beef producer and highlighted how their operation and management decisions helped them to become members of Iowa’s Cattlemen’s Hall of Fame.
Although this symposium was only a few days long, it had impactful presentations and events that brought people from different disciplines, backgrounds, and interests together, to collaborate on finding practical solutions for issues related to animal welfare and sustainability. Next year’s symposium is set to take place in Calgary, Alberta, and we can’t wait to see what Merck has in store for us!