Daiana de Oliveira.
Early life environment has a profound impact on an individual´s experience over their life trajectory. The conditions, stimuli and stressors under which an animal develops can affect their anatomy, physiology and behaviour over time, with potentially lasting effects on future offspring. This phenomenon is referred to as developmental programming.
In this lecture, I will invite you to join me in a fascinating journey in which I will share a little of my personal and professional experience with young animals. From goats to pigs, from sheep to cattle, different species but many similarities when comes to how susceptible all of them are in the environment that we provide. My interest in early life has always triggered my curiosity to ask difficult and fundamental questions, which has led me through the research path I am inserted now. The “Development question” from Tinbergen- “How the behaviour/trait develops in an individual?” has been the overarching theme, focusing on the environmental aspects of ontogeny. Tied to this question, lies other aspects of an individual´s life such as health, growth, behavioural plasticity, personality and their emotional life. On top of this, the production system that the individual is inserted into sets the framework/context. Over the lecture, I will show you how I have tackled all these components to develop a translational research area. Aiming to tie basic science to practical outcomes at the farm that ultimately can affect the quality of animals´ lives.
Having the opportunity to express natural behaviours has been repeated over the years in the scientific community as one of the crucial aspects when we discuss animal welfare. My question is: to how much extent animals are affected by the possibility (or not) to experience what is natural for them- in the short and long term? An example is an early socialization. To which extent animals might be affected by having (or not) access to social experiences or the presence of their primary caretaker (dam) during sensitive periods in life? And how does this inter-relate to other aspects of Animal Welfare Science, such as their biological function and their affective state? Are young animals given the optimal conditions for them to thrive? Can we optimize their environmental life aiming for a win-win scenario, in which the “quality of life” bar is not so low to just attend to basic maintenance physical needs and at the same time contribute to sustainable farming? Many open questions might gear important future approaches to livestock production systems. My extended invitation to a joint reflection on the importance to look at the “process” rather than just the “final product”. If we aim to raise healthy, happy, intelligent and resilient animals we might want to ask how.