Erin Ross

M.Sc. (Thesis) student

Beginning my post-secondary career in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) program at McMaster University, I initially aspired to a career in medicine. As a member of the Emergency First Response Team and Field Therapist for the McMaster Varsity Wrestling Team, I gained several years of experience working with patients and providing treatment for acute and chronic injuries and medical conditions. Over the course of my degree, my passion for anatomy and physiology expanded beyond their applications to human health and I began to develop interests in animal physiology and biology more broadly. I undertook an undergraduate thesis with Dr. Grant McClelland evaluating thermoregulatory capacity of deer mouse pups from high and low altitude populations, which sparked my interest in research and animal bioscience. Eventually connecting my lifelong love of animals and concern for their welfare with my passion for physiology and research, I discovered the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.

It is with great excitement that I now undertake an M.Sc. by thesis under the supervision of Dr. Tina Widowski focusing on the role of the rearing environment in determining musculoskeletal outcomes for laying hens. With the current transition from conventional battery cages to alternative housing systems shaping the landscape of egg production in Canada, it is critical that the selection and management of these alternative systems is strategic and evidence-based. Given the importance of early life experience during rearing (first ~17 weeks of life) on the successful adaptation of laying hens to complex alternative adult housing environments, an understanding of how bird development differs between commercially available rearing systems is imperative. My project will compare three different styles of commercial rearing aviaries, investigating differences in bone and muscle quality and characteristics between the styles in two laying hen hybrids (one brown strain, one white). We seek to identify rearing environment characteristics that yield superior musculoskeletal traits, as stronger bones and muscles contribute to improved health and welfare outcomes for adult hens living in laying aviaries. We will assess not only the physical characteristics of the bones and muscles, but also their functionality through tests of ramp-climbing, balance, and other movements.

I will be working alongside Ph.D. candidate Ana Rentsch, who will be investigating the behavioural, cognitive, and space use aspects of the study. Ultimately, the goal of our work is to contribute scientific evidence to support the ongoing transition to alternative housing systems, improving the lives of laying hens in Canada and around the world.