PhD student Thomas Ede in the calf barn at UBC Dairy. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Transparency, dialogue key to UBC Dairy’s open house

The annual Agassiz event invites the public to come learn about dairy farming and research around it

On Saturday, July 20, UBC Dairy will be throwing open its barn doors to entice the public to learn more about farming, dairy and the research that goes on there.

Coinciding with the Cycle Farm Tour that takes place throughout Agassiz, Harrison and Harrison Mills each year, UBC Dairy’s open house is meant to bring the activities of a working farm to the public.

“It’s part of an effort to have some transparency with the public,” 26-year-old PhD student Thomas Ede said. “It’s part of the industry responsibility, having this dialogue with the public.”

Ede has been doing research at the centre since 2016, coming to the centre as an intern in the summer of 2016.

“When I first came here as an intern, I had totally no experience of farming at all,” Ede said. He had been studying agronomy in France, and had “visited a couple of farms,” but never really understood what farming was like.

“It’s pretty intimidating at first, but then it gets pretty fun, when you start to get comfortable with it,” he said about coming to the centre.

That sense of fun is also apparent to the people who attend the open house, Ede said.

“Every time it goes pretty well,” he said. “The kids … seem to like it, especially the calves.”

RELATED: UBC Dairy Research Centre open house (from 2018)

The calf barn is where Ede has spent most of his time, doing research into the inner lives of calves and their welfare. In particular, Ede has done studies on whether calves will give up a drink of milk to avoid getting a shot or to avoid getting de-horned.

“The big effort we’ve been doing here is … trying to find ways to ask the calves (about) those subjective experiences,” he explained. How much do calves hate getting shots? How much will they give up to avoid it? And importantly, what can farmers do to make those experiences as calming as possible?

“Personally, it felt like one of the priorities of the research that should be going on in (animal welfare), is how do you make the animal’s lives better?” Ede said.

On July 20, Ede will be at the UBC open house, doing his part to tell people about the welfare-related research that goes on at the university farm. Others will be in different parts of the farm, ready to explain about their research in reproduction, lameness, weaning and the engineering process of turning manure into fertilizer.

RELATED: UBC students’ research connects cattle’s physical activity with fertility

“Of course, we understand that a lot of people are not here really for the science aspect,” he added. For “some people, it’s just discovering what a farm is, and that’s fine. There’s no need to be intimidated.”

For those folks, manager Nelson Dinn has made sure to note that chocolate milk will be on hand, so everyone can enjoy a taste of the dairy farm while they learn about how it works.

The UBC Dairy open house will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 20. Admission is free, and both participants from the Agassiz Cycle Farm Tour and those in cars are welcome.

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