Reproductive research yields unique opportunity for Western student

Danielle Webster

A new scholarship from the Australian Wool Education Trust (AWET) has given a Western Sydney University student an opportunity to contribute to important agricultural research that is improving our understanding of how stress can impact an animal’s ability to reproduce.

Danielle Webster, an undergraduate Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security student, has been awarded a $7,000 scholarship from AWET and will be joining the research team base within the 'Stress Lab' at the University's Hawkesbury campus.

Dr Edward Narayan from the University’s School of Health and Science is the lead researcher and founder of the Stress Lab. The facility uses non-invasive techniques to measure physiological stress and reproductive hormone profiles in wildlife and production animals.

“Our current research looks at ‘reproductive wastage’ – which is a term that refers to the early loss of embryos in pregnant female sheep or high mortality rates in newborn lambs,” says Dr Narayan.

“We will use non-invasively collected samples, such as faeces and wool, to measure reproductive and stress hormones in sheep at various stages of pregnancy – and work to determine if any significant change in hormones is related to reproductive wastage.”

“The physiological data can determine critical periods when stress hormones are too high, and use this data to intervene, lower the animal’s stress levels, and hopefully lead to more successful pregnancies.”

Dr Narayan is the principal supervisor for Western Sydney University postgraduate researcher Gregory Sawyer. Gregory – who is also a farmer himself – says the research is very important in the agricultural sector, as reproductive wastage has a significant impact on the productivity and profitability of sheep producers.

“The ability to maintain/increase a sustainable fertile ewe population is regarded as a long-standing challenge to the Australian merino sheep industry,” says Gregory.

Edward Narayan and Danielle Webster

Funds from the $7,000 AWET scholarship will allow equipment to be purchased for the project, and will help cover Danielle’s travel costs to and from Gregory’s farm in the Southern Tablelands, where sampling and monitoring will be carried out on 100 Merino ewes .

Danielle is a former Arndell Anglican College student, keen dressage rider and stable hand at Hobartville Stud. She has previously worked as a meat inspector for ANZCO, as well as within the Ministry for Primary Industries, and believes her industry experience will allow her to make worthwhile contributions to the research.

“Through my work experience I have always had a keen interest in reducing waste and maximising potential yields within the food production sector. Having the opportunity to study, while also receiving training and hands-on experience within a leading research project, is really exciting,” says Danielle.

“There is a lot of work to be done in the reproduction, animal welfare and disease area and this work will only become more important as the demand for sustainable animal products grows alongside the projected population boom."

“This has only given me more motivation to become involved in a waste minimisation project in order to get to the depth of these issues facing farmers, and improve the situation for both producers and consumers,” she said.

The project will be completed at the end of 2019 and is anticipated to provide insights into the effects of environment stresses on ewe reproductive success, and production traits such as wool and meat quality in offspring.”


19 January 2018

Photos: Hugo Munoz

Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer.