Quick update & preview of results

This is a very short update to inform that my Master’s studies in Applied Ethoogy and Animal Biology of Linköping University have now been completed! After a few schedule arrangements in the next couple of weeks regarding work and further research, I will do my best to return with frequent (aim: one article per week) updates to the blog, with articles related to cows, farm animal welfare, ethology and veterinary medicine from incidents I encounter at work.

Feel free to take a look at the poster of my thesis as well as a summary of the project at the university-hosted website for the Master’s theses: https://www.ifm.liu.se/edu/biology/master_projects/2017/maria-malidaki/downloads-references/ Don’t forget to also check the exceptional projects of the other participating students!

Presentation for IVSA Thessaloniki & current news

While it has been quiet for some time in the blog, several things have been going on outside the digital world.

I recently had the honor to make a presentation about farm animal welfare (with extra focus in dairy cows – as expected) to the veterinary students of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where I graduated from as a veterinarian too. It was a delightful evening for several reasons: amidst the difficult financial, organizational and social situations in Greece, it is always hopeful to see young bright minds gather and organize useful events that will enhance their knowledge, skills and future opportunities. The meeting room was full – if my judgment doesn’t fail me, at least 40-50 students showed up for the event. They posed intelligent questions and allowed for interesting conversations regarding farm animal welfare in Greece and abroad. But the event wasn’t only about farm animal welfare – part two targeted welfare in laboratory animals, where scientists Anastasia Tsingotjidou and Rosa Lagoudaki made an excellent introduction to the principles of laboratory animal welfare and underlined the importance of good welfare both for the animals and the experiment results with well-chosen examples.

I have to say that it felt positively strange to present for the first time to an audience of students, at the same place where only a few years ago I sat as a student and listened to my professors sharing their knowledge. It gave me a sense of happiness to be able to share what I have discovered through the courses in applied animal behavior from the Master’s program I am currently attending in Linköping University, as well as from my own work experience. It also gave me a sense of responsibility to search for facts and check them thoroughly before I share information, and to answer with an honest “I don’t know” if I really am uncertain or lack information about something.

While it is everyone’s individual responsibility to fact-check information, people will more or less trust what they hear from someone with a certified amount of knowledge on a subject (and by certification I mean a degree or a worthy amount of work experience – standard credentials that someone has spent time to learn something). Thus, I think it is of great importance for anyone who bears the title of being “knowledgeable” at something to be as factual and accurate as possible, to admit it when one does not know something and to always remind the audience to fact-check whenever possible.

( The presentation I made is available in Greek, English and Swedish through a small “thank you” note I wrote to all participants. Keep in mind that the presentation is custom-made for a veterinary student audience.)

Back to Sweden and the master’s thesis – the results section is on its way to completion and I must say that there are some quite interesting aspects to discuss. However, I cannot reveal anything before May 2017 so stay tuned. : ) I am considering dedicating a small series of posts here at the blog about my R coding experiences and understanding (or lack thereof?), with some examples on how to conduct different basic statistical tests in plain and grouped data. Mind you that I am a very beginner and still learning, but perhaps my code (and the code I was provided with from StackOverflow) might be helpful to other struggling incubating scientists as well. *makes a note in the list of topics I would like to briefly write about here at the blog (all in due time…)*

Finally, even further back in beautiful Vasen Gård in Småland (where I did my data collection during summer), Johanna recently sent me a photo where they are experimenting with providing water and pellets in newborn calves. So far, the calves housed indoors (which is the majority) only had access to milk and hay, but water and pellets (grains) from the very first days of life is very important for the development of a healthy and functional rumen (check page 6 of PennState College of Agricultural Sciences guide Feeding the newborn dairy calf for an excellent image comparison of rumen development depending on newborn calf diet). Here’s the photo with one of the sweet newborns!

Newborn calf with experimental bowls of water and concentrate
Newborn calf with experimental bowls of water and concentrate

Upcoming topics at the blog

While my focus is currently on performing statistical analysis on my data and writing the draft for my thesis, during free time I’ll be reading and writing on a few topics that I had in mind while I was at the farm and that I’ve also come up with now that I’m home. Provided I find the time for it, here is a preview of what I’m planning to discuss in the next few months:

  • Manure solids as bedding for dairy cows: does it work and under which conditions?
  • Dipping versus spraying after milking. Which is best?
  • Handling cattle: possible effects on their health, productivity and behavior. This will be part of a small presentation I’ve been invited to do for IVSA Thessaloniki in Greece, most likely this November.
  • Environmental enrichment in cattle. What has been tried so far?
  • Anesthesia and NSAIDs when dehorning calves.
  • Rumen acidosis in newborn and young calves – treatment and prevention.
  • Use of NSAIDs in dairy cattle – a small overview from scientific literature.
  • Quick cow tips: diarrhea in newborn calves pt2, and a check leaflet for calf routines.

Aside topics dealing with cattle, I’m also considering writing a couple of topics about companion animals. One idea is to describe my experiences with having a mouse as a pet, and what I’ve learned from it so far; perhaps share some ideas with other fellow owners. Another idea is to make a short series of “is this pet right for you?” content, discussing cats, dogs, mice and other potential pets, with regard to their requirements and whether they fit with specific owners, e.g. people with kids or people who spend a lot of time away from home. I’m intending to do this by giving out a questionnaire to a few biologist/veterinarian friends through social media and sharing the information they can provide for their pets – including my own information.

Well, now all I need to do is find time for all this! 🙂 Feel free to contact me for other interesting ideas that you’d like to read at the blog.

Statistical analysis is underway

Since my return from data collection and veterinary practice at the farm, I have been taking some time to settle at home and start working on analyzing my data. I recently had an appointment with my supervisor where we checked the data and discussed possible analysis methods. So,after writing a draft on the materials and methods I used for data collection, I’m taking a stab at the statistical analysis.

For the analysis, I chose to use R programming, aside some basic calculations and formatting that I do in excel sheets. I’m a very beginner in R, but since I had worked with coding in the past, it comes naturally to use such a program instead of PSPP or SPSS. Like PSPP, R is an open source, freely accessible program. We got introduced to it during a course in Behavior Genetics, even though things went to fast then to actually have the time and use the program for “easier” work like creating functions, manipulating data sets and running some basic statistical tests like chi-square or the binomial test. This time, I had the time to use 2-3 days and learn the basics of programming in R.

With the help of users (particularly alexis_laz – thank you!) in Stack Overflow, a brilliant forum for programmers, who refined my beginner code and answered my questions, I managed to run my first binomial test for all my calves in two seconds – timed with a stopwatch. The power of this program is fantastic if one has the patience to harness it. My program takes in my data, decides a hypothesis for each calf depending on the times they showed a preference for a specific teat, runs the binomial test and decides if the result was significant or not. It then saves the results for all my calves to a data frame and exports it to a folder of my choice. This takes 25 lines of code, and, like I mentioned, 2 seconds to execute it. The taste binomial tests will be performed with the same logic, and it is as simple to develop a program that runs a Wilcoxon signed-rank test, a chi-square test and a Mann-Whitney U test.

Being initially surprised and skeptical by the easiness and quickness of calculations in R, I triple-checked the results of the program by randomly selecting a few calves and running their binomial tests both in PSPP and manually. I was very happy to see that the results were indeed flawless.

The benefits of spending three days trying to write a program for all this is that, in the end:

  1. The program executes calculations for all the individuals, without the necessity of manually splitting my data into 51 instances, copy-pasting results or counting things by myself (risking mistakes). Manual work, like in SPSS/PSPP or excel sheets is pretty manageable now that I have 51 individuals, but what will one do when they have one thousand individuals in their study? Gotta consider the future, too!
  2. It is reusable for several data sets, and for future use for similar tasks and calculations. One can also build on it or transform it to suit other types of analysis.
  3. It is extremely flexible, in the sense that one can alter data sets, fix parameters or change the way decisions are made in the program just by adjusting a few details in the code.
  4. I cannot stress this enough: once you have the code down, calculations are insanely quick, and finely exported to your folder for further editing in excel.

So, bottom line, a few days of learning and programming work that will save me a lot of time both for my current calculations, and for future statistics – totally worth it.



My calves

Here are all the adorable newborn calves that collaborated with me for the experiment. I present to you…The Taste ‘n’ Odor Calves! Click on the photo to see each and every one of them clearly – it’s worth it!

My calves


My two months in Vasen

The past two months were very motivational for me, and it would probably take pages to explain the magnitude of the positive impact I got from being at the farm and working with animals and great people – but I’ll try to stick to the basics. Important changes and realizations regarding my interests in science, work prospects and life preferences took place while I was there, conducting my study on calf behavior.

When it comes to science, it was an incredible experience to actually conduct a proper scientific experiment for the first time. I was amazed at how much one has to and can learn for the experimental process. Every moment is useful: frustrating moments where you consider giving up, or when you think of improved sampling solutions midway through your data collection and wish you’d have thought of that in the beginning. Good moments where your results respond to your expectations, and great moments where you get new ideas for more experiments while sampling. Indescribable moments when the animals you collaborate with seem to enjoy your presence and your interactions with them.

I also came to realize that, if possible, science is what I wish to do in my life. I feel that I am made for the scientific process: tinkering my mind for ideas, reading through tons of literature to learn about all the interesting findings of other researchers, designing an experiment, going through a period of time dedicated to focused data collection, then sitting down and trying to make sense of all the data that was gathered. Perhaps discover something that could be of use to the world. Perhaps not, but then trying another route. Discussing with brilliant colleagues and getting even more new ideas. Yep, I’m up for that kind of job!

One very important aspect that I verified is that I want to work with farm animal welfare and behavior. Cattle, if possible, as I am in love with these animals. At Vasen, I was also given the opportunity to do some voluntary veterinary work, and deepen my knowledge on cattle medicine and behavior. It is a fact now that I want to work with animals, in the sense of, at least partly, actually do hands-on work with them. Thus, being at the farm and doing this experiment helped me at least set some broad limits to what I’d like to research and/or work with after completing the Master’s program. It is a sort of relief knowing where and what to focus on when this critical time arrives.

Aside from figuring out work and science-related questions that I had in mind, I also established that a) working with animals makes me feel balanced and happy, b) working with different farms is a very rewarding experience, both in matters of job satisfaction and of learning and c) living in a small town near nature is definitely better for me, compared to a city. I also realized that being happy with what I do in life has a very positive impact on how I feel as a person and how I interact with the people closest to me. So, feeling good at work is apparently very important for my well-being.

Of course, during all of this thought-provoking, self-realizing period of time, I had some excellent support and collaboration with Vasen’s wonderful people, my supervisor, and my family and friends. So I want to make a proper mention of a rather long list of people who contributed to my advancing one step further towards my life goals:

  • THANK YOU Vasen! Kjell and Ingrid, for having me at the farm, for treating me like family and for letting me learn through diagnosing your animals! Johanna, for being my connection to everything at the farm, a huge assistance to me when learning about cattle, a source of inspiration and a fantastic company! Thank you to all the incredible staff at Vasen for making me feel more than welcomed and assisting me every time I needed help: Armen, Benjamin, Berith & Per, Ceci 1 and Ceci 2, Johanna, Lawrence & Mia, Niklas, Nver, Viktor – and everyone else whose name I cannot recall because I am terrible at learning names (please do message me and let me know so I can add you to the list)! And thank you to veterinarian Susanne Lundin for discussing veterinary incidents at the farm with me and broadening my knowledge on a number of subjects!
  • Thank you so very much to veterinarian Johanna Habbe for connecting me to Vasen, for supporting and inspiring me to be an even better veterinarian!
  • A huge thank you to my supervisor, Matthias, for all his support, precious advice and guidance throughout this project! Also, for the excellent management during all the times I was stressed over the limit.
  • My most loving thanks to my partner, Henrik, for supporting me and listening to my endless enthusiastic cattle talk every single day, for cheering for me, helping me move to and from the farm and for visiting me. The same loving thanks to my parents who have believed in me since day 1 and have done all in their power to help me achieve my dreams. Also, for constructing the awesome experimenting apparatus Matthias designed – thanks dad! 😀
  • A very big thank you to all my classmates from the Master’s for helping me out in whatever way they could when I was looking for a farm, and for being supportive and kind at all times. Same goes for those outside the Master’s who have been there and listened to me or offered their encouragement and help! 🙂
  • A very special thank you to my former workmate Marie for doing all she could to help me look for farms in Östergötland in the beginning of the project! This also goes to all of Fröstorp’s staff and veterinarian Ole Martin Hegrestad, who helped me learn a great deal about cattle and have always been helpful and encouraging. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t spend one year rich in experiences at the farm. Special mention to Peter and Sławek, having been the closest to me together with Marie, assisting me through my road to understanding and handling cows.

Well, to sum up: Working with animals is fantastic. Doing science is incredibly rewarding. The best choice in my life so far was to become a veterinarian and do a Master’s in animal behavior. The people that surround me (more or less familiar) are responsible for a great deal of my happiness, and for making my work choices and efforts worth even more.

Ah, what an unbelievable two months that was. Now, on to the next phase of the adventure! 🙂

Today’s vet farm news

Our coliform mastitis cow is stabilized, but still in quite a bit of pain. She has finished treatment with trimethoprim-sulfadoxine and was now prescribed treatment with penicillin, which I suspect was suggested due to a rising A. pyogenes infection (which I just now saw changed name again to Trueperella pyogenes). She was also given calcium intravenously when the farm’s veterinarian visited yesterday. Today she received one more injection of meloxicam to combat pain, and has been up and eating, even though she had some difficulty standing up. At least she has no fever today (38,1°C – slightly hypothermic, when I checked her).

One cow with placenta retention has been having high fever for a couple of days, ranging between 40 and 41°C. Yesterday she was given oxytocin and ketoprofen, and today she began treatment with penicillin and one more injection of ketoprofen.

One of my testing calves, very active and loving 999 was very ill with diarrhea yesterday morning. She had slight fever (39,5°C) and was promptly given an electrolyte mix with an esophageal tube, as well as an injection of meloxicam. Later when I checked her, I saw that she also had respiratory disease, having affected the lower respiratory system as well. I recommended treatment with penicillin for the little calf, seeing as how her condition was not good enough to battle two problems at the same time. Right now, most of the calves are going through a viral upper respiratory disease with cough and some clear or purulent nasal discharge. The good news is that this morning she was up and happy again, with good suckling reflex, already better respiratory rate and not as profound diarrhea! Here she is, suckling on my finger 🙂

Little 999 feeling better

Today’s observations – Data collection complete

1000 completed her data set today, and with this sampling day, data collection is now complete! The calf preferred the odorized and the tasty teat in today’s testing.

This was an incredible two months (plus one week) of data collection: working with newborn calves, getting to familiarize with them, following their preferences in my tests and loving them incredibly much in the process. 🙂 One of the best experiences in my life!

A general summary of the data, as well as a more descriptive text on my experiences here will be posted sometime in the next week. Again: big thank you to Vasen Dairy Farm and to Johanna Habbe for making this happen!