Dr Kym Patison was surprised when checking the cattle recently at CQUniversity's CQIRP research facility in North Rockhampton.
"They were all aligned by colour when they came to greet me," said the Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Precision Livestock Management group.
"There were two dark red animals, two lighter red animals and the remaining 10 all white Brahmans and that’s exactly how they presented to me, like a rainbow of cattle!
"The research so far says that cattle see in shades of grey, similar to dogs, but they seem to be telling us that they can see colour better than we give them credit for!"
Dr Patison has been in Rockhampton now for over five years, since relocating from Victoria, and UniNews took the opportunity to ask about her latest projects and interests:
What was the main finding of your cattle behaviour PhD from a few years ago?
My PhD investigated the effect of familiarity on social behaviour in small groups of cattle, with the aim of understanding cattle relationships. I found many similarities between humans and cattle – familiarity provides social support, especially in stressful situations, and the presence of an unfamiliar animal creates social stress, which can effect cattle behaviour and spatial proximity. With the help of my supervisors and a research group called MelNet at Melbourne University, I developed a statistical model to analyse and interpret time-stamped association data recorded from a PLM technology, proximity loggers. This proved that cattle in stable social groups exhibit regular encounter patterns, much the same as humans.
What’s the main goals of your current research?
We are currently working on developing a calving alert system for cattle producers. The motivation behind the project is to address the issue of calf loss in northern Australia, which can be up to 20% in some herds. These losses can occur from a range of different causes, from abortion to disease to predation, but due to the extensive environment it is unknown exactly what portion is attributed to each cause. The calving alert system provides a way of identifying when and where a calf is born to determine if a pregnancy results in a successful birth using a remote animal tracking technology called Taggle. The longer term goal is to understand the events that occur around calving to improve not only farm profitability but also animal welfare practices.
Are you still involved in any bison behaviour data analysis or any other projects beyond beef cattle?
The work we did on bison is currently under review with a journal, so that will be exciting to finally see it published. I have been involved in a human social study since completing my PhD, which focused on climate change and the community's response to natural disasters. My research has focused primarily on cattle since then but I would like to combine my background work on human social studies with the cattle industry to understand more about the farming community and their perceptions on a range of issues, such as calf loss, use of technology and animal welfare.
Is your current research still involving UHF proximity loggers or are you using other technology these days?
Yes, we have many ongoing projects using proximity loggers but we are also using a range of other technologies to monitor individual animal performance and reproduction parameters, such as identifying when oestrus occurs and assigning maternal parentage. We are using Taggle locating systems, walk over weighing, acoustic devices and accelerometers. While some of these technologies are primarily research tools at this stage, like proximity loggers, other technologies, such as walk over weighing, are already being used by industry and presents a way for our results to be more practical and relevant to producers.
Do you miss working with dairy cows or are you now a convert to beef?
I will always have a strong connection to the dairy industry – my parents still run a dairy farm in South West Victoria, but I love all kinds of cows no matter what the breed so I wouldn’t say that I’m converted to either, but my research has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the beef industry, the different breeds of cattle and the extensive environment in which they operate.
Outside work and research, are you involved with any community groups or hobby activities?
I am a member of the CQUni animal ethics committee. I really enjoy seeing all the wonderful research on animals that is done within the University, and also ensuring that their welfare is considered at the highest possible standards. I am also involved with a pet rescue organisation called Four Paws Adoption and Education based on the Capricorn coast, who have a focus to re-home pets into forever homes and educate the community on responsible pet ownership.
Are you also juggling family life alongside your work?
I am a proud mum to a beautiful two-year-old daughter and my husband and I are expecting our second daughter in early July. I learn something from my daughter every day, she is an amazing little person. While I’ve had to juggle my time between motherhood and work, I feel that being a mum has made be a more focused and better researcher because both things are important to me and I strive to be the best I can at both.