Meet Dr. Michelle Hunniford, our National Animal Care SpecialistAnimal Welfare
My name is Michelle Hunniford and I am a chicken scientist! I have a PhD in Poultry Behaviour and Welfare from the University of Guelph, graduating in 2017, working with Dr. Tina Widowski . During my six years at UofG, our lab was investigating the behaviour of laying hens housed in furnished cages. I focused on nesting behaviour – what it looks like in furnished cages and how we can improve nest design to better suit a chicken's behavioural needs. After finishing a postdoc at Guelph, I accepted a position at Burnbrae Farms as their National Animal Care Specialist.
I didn’t grow up on a farm but my grandparents had a small farm outside London, Ontario with a few beef cows and some chickens. Other than seeing them in the barnyard when I was six, I didn't come face to face with chickens again until I started grad school in 2011.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with animals. I read all of James Herriot's books and imagined myself a country veterinarian, going on adventures and helping save animals in rural England. I have always loved animals, so naturally when people found that out they always said "Oh, so you're going to be a vet then?" At the time, I didn't know there were any other career options involving animals, so I always replied with an enthusiastic "yes"!
Fast forward to my final year of undergrad at Queen's University. I was on the path to becoming a veterinarian when, in fourth year, I learned about the field of animal welfare science. It was the perfect mix of arts and science, combining biology with ethics, politics, history.
I ended up in the Animal Behaviour and Welfare program at the University of Guelph, and that was where I really hit my stride. I learned how to design experiments, use technology to assess behaviour, and keep asking questions. I was able to travel the world, talk about my work at conferences, conduct research in a different country, meet many amazing people, and take pride in being a scientist. And I developed my passion for chickens.
I took on the role of National Animal Care Specialist at Burnbrae Farms in October 2017. I am responsible for ensuring the birds on all our farms across Canada receive the same high standard of care. Some days that means going into a barn and scoring a flock for different attributes; training new employees; or updating our policies to reflect current scientific research. The day-to-day nature of this position is as varied and exciting (and also challenging) as the birds that we care for. I cannot think of a better use of my skills and training.
Be the chicken
Imagine this: you feel really motivated to do something, sit down let's say. You have this overwhelming urge to do it. It's necessary, you need to do it. But there's no place to sit nearby. You try anyways, you have to. There's a crowded bench but when you try to sit you get kicked off. The motivation doesn't go away so maybe you try to do something else to take your mind off of sitting. You get something to eat or drink, but the urge is still there. You are getting frustrated, so you might try to grab someone's chair. Finally, when you haven't been able to find a seat for long enough and your motivation reaches a tipping point, you settle and just find any old spot on the ground to sit.