Young animal scientist develops new research technique

Published 04 August 2011

ffishpoolFiona Fishpool, a research student at the University of New England, has developed a reliable method of measuring an individual grazing animal’s intake of dietary supplements.

Fiona (pictured here) has shown that the oral worm drench Fenbendazole, when included in a lick block containing feed supplements, emerges in blood samples as a reliable marker of the amount of the block – and therefore of the supplements – that an animal has eaten.

“We can tell from the blood samples just how much of a block each animal has eaten,” she said. “This has been quite difficult to determine until now.”

“It gives us an opportunity to understand not only how much, but why animals eat supplements,” she continued. “Using this technique, I’ve found that sheep are more driven to look for feed supplements when they have a worm infection.”

Fiona explained that Fenbendazole had a number of advantages over other markers of supplement intake, which had proved difficult to work with: it is non-toxic, can be added to any supplement mixture, does not create aversion to the lick block, and does not degrade in the paddock.

“This is a new tool for researchers exploring feed supplements,” said the principal supervisor of Fiona’s PhD project, Associate Professor Lewis Kahn from UNE’s School of Environment and Rural Science. “It’s a technique – unlike others – that can be used over a long period.”

Fiona’s project has brought her success not only in the field but also in the academy: at a recent conference of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production at Invercargill, NZ, she won the Young Member Award for her paper titled “Fenbendazole as a possible marker of supplement intake in sheep”. With only six months to go before she completes her PhD thesis, she’s focusing on that while considering her options for a career in research – a career that’s already off to a promising start.