Budding pig researcher given a boost

Developing the next generation of pig researchers

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If the pig industry ever wanted a plan to support tertiary students into a pig research career, then Katelyn Tomas is surely an example of what that might look like.

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GOALS: Katelyn Tomas aims to positively influence better meat quality and higher welfare of pigs.

GOALS: Katelyn Tomas aims to positively influence better meat quality and higher welfare of pigs.

If the pig industry ever wanted a plan to support tertiary students into a pig research career, then Katelyn Tomas is surely an example of what that might look like.

Graduating at Adelaide University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science (Animal Science) degree, followed by Honours in Animal Science in 2019, Ms Tomas recently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Qld focusing on the influence of early life experiences on stress resilience throughout later life in pigs.

During her undergraduate studies at Roseworthy campus, Ms Tomas took on a range of opportunities to develop her interest in pig production.

She was a member of the students' Production Animal Special Interest Group - Pigs (aka the 'Pig Club'), gaining experience in handling pigs and the wider industry, including presenting pigs at the Royal Adelaide Show.

In 2017, Ms Tomas earned an Undergraduate Industry Placement Award and completed a period of placement at Myora Farm, Mount Gambier, under the mentorship of SA industry consultant Graeme Pope.

During her placement, she was introduced to Dr Alice Weaver, herself an Adelaide Uni graduate working at Myora Farm as a research officer.

Dr Weaver gave Ms Tomas a copy of her own PhD thesis 'for some light reading', and from that point on, she was determined to pursue her own career in pig research.

In her final undergraduate year, Ms Tomas was a member of the Adelaide Uni's team of students competing against 10 other Australian and five international teams at the annual Intercollegiate Meat Judging Competition held in Wagga Wagga, NSW.

In 2019, Ms Tomas re-enrolled at Adelaide Uni into an Honours in Animal Science program.

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She was awarded the Ronald J Lienert Memorial Scholarship at the SA Pig Industry Day in February, providing project funding and a personal bursary supported through Pork SA.

"I had always been interested in working with piglets and so my Honours project looking into how creatine when fed to sows around time of farrowing might improve piglet survival really attracted me to pig research," she said.

After completing her Honours year, Katelyn Tomas returned to Myora Farm in 2020 for several months, where she participated in an on-farm sow nutrition trial.

She also gained more experience in handling pigs within a research environment, sampling techniques, data collection and analysis.

In mid-2020, she was accepted into a PhD program offered by the University of Qld, in which she would work in collaboration with researchers and staff at the Animal Welfare Science Centre, the United States Department of Agriculture, the University of Melbourne, Rivalea, Sunpork, the Australian Research Council and APRIL.

"My research will focus on the influence positive handling early in a pig's life may have on developing greater stress resilience later in life, and improving pig productivity," Ms Tomas said.

"Being able to work with piglets, plus looking into some carcase quality characteristics was a research opportunity just made for me."

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