A spoonful of medicine makes Mary a very happy little lamb

Today’s guest blog is the second in a series the Young Farming Champions are penning for Ausagventures #YouthinAg series

Our first blog featured Dr (in waiting) Steph Fowler who is one of our  three Young Farming Champions who are currently daring to conduct very different and innovative research as part of their PhD thesis.

Today we bring you update from Dr (in waiting) Danila Marini’s research looking at drugs and sheep and whether it is possible to get sheep to take their own spoonful of medicine

Danila Marini

Danila Marini Photo ABC Rural

Danila thinks sheep are smart enough to self-medicate.

“It’s just like humans. As an individual they can have varying levels of intelligence.”

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Getting ready for the first day of my experiment

My PhD project is about developing a self-medication method for pain relief in sheep, which means I’m trying to teach sheep to take their own medicine. As part of common husbandry practices sheep undergo some painful procedures such as tail-docking and castration and just like us their post operative pain can last several days. Farmers currently have anaesthetics and analgesics that can relieve the pain during the time of the procedure but have yet to overcome the logistics issues to relieve the sheep’s pain  post operatively.

This is where my project comes in! If I can add a pain relief drug to feed and teach sheep to take it when they experience pain, it’ll make the farmer’s job a little easier and keep the sheep happy and healthy

So far I have completed my first experiment. This experiment involved using a lameness model for sheep and administering 3 different drugs as an oral solution. The aim of this experiment was to see if the drugs were effective at reliving the pain associated with the lameness when administered as an oral dose. Sure enough we were able to identify the drug that was most effective and we plan to continue using it throughout the rest of my PhD.

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Introducing my sheep to pellets

This year marks the start of my second year and a big year its turning out to be! So far I have two experiments planned. The first which I have actually just started is in two parts, one is looking at the palatability of feed containing our pain relief drug, that’s testing whether it may have a flavour that sheep don’t like. The second part is a pharmacokinetic study, this involves measuring the concentration of the drug in the sheep’s plasma and will tell us what the body does to the drug and if feed intake affects that. The second experiment, planned for later in the year will test how effective the feed contain the drug is at relieving the pain of castration and tail-docking.

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My new cohort of sheep for my palatability and pharmacokinetic study

A PhD is full of ups and downs and when you work with animals there is always the potential for something to go wrong (what’s that saying “never work with children or animals”). You can also often experience a lot of down and isolating periods (statistics and writing is great for this). During these times you just have to make sure you seek support, ask your supervisors, university and friends for help and of course always make time for yourself!

But doing a PhD isn’t all doom and gloom and constant experiments and writing. Last year I was accepted to attend a PhD course about animal pain in Denmark. It was quite the experience and I got to meet a lot of students with the same passion to improve animal welfare as me as well as see some of the beautiful country. This year I will be going to the ISAE conference in Spain to present the results of my last experiment, I can’t wait for that.

I always find if you ever feel lost about your work, then talk about it. Every time I have to explain my research, what I’m doing and why, it always makes me as excited as the first day I decided to do the project.

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to talk about my project with Lisa Herbert of ABC Rural radio on Bush Telegraph. This came about thanks to Lynne Strong from Art4Agriculture who was interested in my story and asked me if I could write a small piece about myself for the blog. This leads me on to my final point.

Make sure you take every opportunity; you never know who you will meet, where it will take you or what you will learn.

Doing a PhD gives you the potential to do so much and meet a lot of people with the same interests as you. A PhD can be a tough commitment but is worth it and so far for me it’s been an amazing experience!

Read the blog post that caught the eye of Radio National and Bush Telegraph here

Hear Danila on Bush Telegraph here

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