Pembrokeshire vet joins Welsh university to research precision agriculture

Becca Roberts, PhD student at Aberystwyth University

Becca Roberts, PhD student at Aberystwyth University

26 April 2021

A Pembrokeshire vet has made a career change to undertake pioneering veterinary research that will help Welsh farms lead the way in animal health, beginning a PhD at Aberystwyth University as the University gears up to open Wales’ first vet school this September.

Becca Roberts who lives in Newport, Pembrokeshire, was brought up on a farm in the Vale of Glamorgan. After graduating from the University of Bristol Veterinary School, Becca started working at Priory Vets in Cardigan, before moving on to Fenton Vets in Haverfordwest.

Becca Roberts’ research at Aberystwyth University is funded through a Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol scholarship and supported by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) as part of its Research and Development Portfolio.

Through her PhD, Becca Roberts aims to maximise health, welfare and productivity of livestock through precision technologies.

Detecting diseases early is seen as crucial to providing the correct treatment as promptly as possible. However, doing so is challenging, and often significant production losses have occurred before clinical symptoms have been observed.

Precision livestock technologies, such as sensors, have the potential to improve the detection of diseases within the industry and are likely to change the way that farmers, scientists and veterinarians detect and treat diseases in livestock.

Becca Roberts commented: “It’s great to be joining Aberystwyth University at such an exciting time, with the opening of Wales’ first vet school this year. Precision technologies have the potential to measure livestock behaviours 24 hours a day.

“My research will build on previous studies at the department here in Aberystwyth and HCC’s research and development programme. It aims to evaluate precision technologies to uncover changes in sheep and cattle behaviour that are associated with significant changes in health.

“Data collected by precision technologies has the potential to identify disease before overt clinical signs are visible. We aim to assess the technology’s ability to detect diseases that affect animals at key stages in the production cycle, such as those that affect ewes around lambing time. Early detection and intervention will allow farmers to minimise losses and improve animal welfare on their farms.”

Dr Rhys Aled Jones, lecturer in Livestock Science at Institute of Biology, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, is the main supervisor of Becca Roberts’ project. He added: “We are delighted that this project will be led by Becca, an experienced local vet who has a strong passion for Welsh agriculture. The project will coincide with the arrival of the first cohort of veterinary students at Aberystwyth University’s School of Veterinary Science, which will be a focal point for veterinary education and research in Wales.”