Meet Danila Marini who believe it or not thinks sheep are smart and she is determined to prove it

Today’s guest post comes from Danila Marini one of the new breed of scientists with a talent for sharing her research in a language we all understand and appreciate

Many think I’m mad having gone on to do a PhD, some days I think I am too but thanks to the support from family, friends and my supervisors at CSIRO and UNE, I am so glad I have started this journey. So here’s to a future of research, helping the agricultural sector and helping animals!

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Originally I’m a city kid; I hadn’t gone near anything remotely like a farm until I was 9 when my Dad bought a small property and started a little hobby farm where he had chickens, cattle, sheep and goats. I had always loved animals but being on this little farm increased my love for livestock animals and sparked my interest in agriculture.

Me getting my sheep ready for measurements for the first experiment of my PhD

I decided working in agriculture was my calling, so I applied for Urrbrae Agricultural High school, even if it meant travelling 2 + hours a day just to study. I made use of the school’s farm and applied to study in as many agricultural subjects as I could and as a result I received the Urrbrae Agricultural high school “Majorie Bowes Prize”, which is awarded to the highest achieving female in agriculture, as well receiving the Animal Science certificate for participating in animal related subjects. Throughout the years I had a million ideas of what I could be when I finished high school, a livestock veterinarian, a jillaroo, a stud breeder, a farmer, the list was endless, everything sounded exciting.

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My year 12 Ag class that attended the South East Tour, where we learnt about different agricultural practices in the South East of South Australia

In year ten I went on an excursion to Adelaide University’s Agricultural campus, Roseworthy and to CSIROs Waite campus. I saw some amazing projects on animal nutrition, animal/plant production and animal/plant health. I was completely fascinated and from that point I decided I could do some interesting work in the agricultural field if I became a scientist. It was a hard choice between animal and agricultural science but in the end animals won and I went on to do a Bachelor of Animal Science at Adelaide University.

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My Dad, my Mum and I at my graduation day in 2012 for my first degree a Bachelor of Science (Animal Science)

Like most undergrads I still had no definite idea what I wanted to do when I finished my degree. When it was time to graduate, I thought “why not give research a go?” I mean research was one of the main reasons I decided to go to uni. So with that I went and did honours, for which I was awarded first class. During my honours year I learnt a lot about research, I had a lot of fun and I grew to love sheep.

I had always liked sheep, back on my dad’s hobby farm he would have the occasional lamb that we would have to hand raise, they were always so cute. Then during high school and Uni I had the opportunity to work with sheep more practically learning how to weigh, drench, tag and vaccinate them. We also had a miniature feedlot project in one of the subjects where we learnt the importance of nutrition, I really enjoyed that work. However during my honours year I got to work with sheep as a flock and as an individual, it was during this time that I learnt a lot about sheep behaviour and that in fact sheep can be pretty smart!

As my honours year began to wrap up I knew I wanted work with sheep. Sheep are very important to Australian agriculture, so I wanted to work with sheep but also help the industry. I thought that one way I could achieve my goal is by helping improve animal welfare.

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How can you not love those faces!

I thought that one of the best ways I could help improve animal welfare was through research so I went looking for PhD projects that had an animal welfare focus. Luckily enough I found a project with CSIRO and the University of New England on self-medication in sheep, which was a double whammy for me! There was a catch though, I had to move from little ol’ Adelaide to an even littler Armidale.

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Like farming research sometimes means early starts, late finishes and very long days but I’m not complaining!

The aim of my PhD project is to incorporate pain relief in food, so that sheep and cattle that undergo husbandry procedures that can be painful, such as castration and tail-docking, can eat this food and be relieved of pain. I will also try to train sheep to self-administer the drugs (non-addictive of course) in order to provide pain-relief, this will give us some interesting insight into pain states in animals. I think it will be the most interesting part of my research! In my first year I identified a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (this is what our panadol is) that works at relieving pain in sheep.

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My sheepie minions! Together we shall take over the world*!

(*With great animal welfare practices)

I have just started my second year and I am really enjoying my work, I currently have some interesting experiments planned for this year. They include adding the drugs to food and seeing if it helps to relieve pain in lambs that have been castrated and tail-docked and training sheep to self-medicate. As you can imagine I’m getting pretty excited about my work.

Many think I’m mad having gone on to do a PhD, some days I think I am too but thanks to the support from family, friends and my supervisors at CSIRO and UNE, I am so glad I have started this journey. So here’s to a future of research, helping the agricultural sector and helping animals!

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