Respect all animals, and try to do something every day that makes someone else’s day better. Words to live by, passed down to veterinary scientist Christy Goldhawk from her father, a butcher in Ontario.
Christy lives these words every day, as she works towards a Ph.D. in veterinary research at the University of Calgary, studying humane cattle production practices. The ability to practice important scientific research, while working with animals, was immensely appealing to Christy.
“I saw that I might be able to combine my skills in science and technology with a love for animals and industry,” shares Christy.
One of her most memorable experiences happened during a sunny spring day in 2013, on a ranch in Southern Alberta. Christy was teaching a co-op student about animal behaviour, and had an opportunity to demonstrate proper cattle handling techniques.
“There was a pen full of yearling Black Angus heifers – young lady cows. The ranch manager said I was welcome to try working with them, but that the heifers were ‘pretty high strung’, and he wasn’t sure how it would go,” remembers Christy. “It was both intimidating and nerve-wracking.”
As her student looked on, Christy entered the pen, with the uncertain black eyes of 15 large heifers following her every move. After a deep breath, Christy got the group of cattle to slowly move past her one by one, stop, turn around, and to sort themselves – all without saying a word or moving more than one step.
“It is really lovely how calmly cattle and humans can interact when you have respect for how the animals see, behave, and where their comfort zones are,” says Christy.
Most amazingly, after discussing a few finer details, Christy’s co-op student – who had never before attempted to work with cattle – was able to replicate the process, and move the herd without any assistance.
“I remember being so proud of her,” says Christy. “It meant the world to me when I was able to demonstrate how to be a good handler by understanding and respecting the cattle, and watch another person incorporate that lesson into her actions.”
Christy’s work is contributing to both scientific research, and practices for raising cattle, while changing misconceptions. “There is a big stereotype in research that there are ‘book smarts’ and ‘reality smarts’. That impromptu lesson [on cattle handling] improved my confidence that I could be a good researcher and still have real life skills in animal handling and teaching,” she says.
Christy continues to put her dad’s words into practice during her research, and as a mentor in the Cybermentor program.
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