I have a long standing research interest into the interactions between mother and their offspring. This covers the period before birth when the fetus is developing, the complex and dynamic changes that occur at birth, how the mother and offspring develop a bond between one another, and the consequences of this for offspring survival and development. My work in this area has spanned basic science understanding of the neurobiological factors mediating differences in behaviour, to applied studies which seek to improve offspring survival on farm through improved management and genetic selection for key traits. My current work in this area considers the benefits of experiencing maternal care for the offspring that extend beyond just nutrition and encompass security, protection and stress-buffering. I also work in the area of animal welfare, particularly of extensively managed animals, and how welfare of animals in these challenging environments can be reliably monitored and assessed. In collaboration with scientists in Spain and Italy as part of the EU FP7 ‘AWIN’ project, and colleagues at SRUC, I have been involved in the development of a validated protocol to assess the welfare of sheep. In this context, my research is currently focused on the impact on sheep welfare of different management practices in farming systems, and how this relates to other public goods, such as measures of biodiversity and sustainability.
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