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New faculty profile: Sarah Adcock specializes in animal welfare

Sarah Adcock joined the UW–Madison faculty in July 2020 as an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Chelsea, Quebec, a rural town located in Canada’s National Capital Region.

What is your educational/professional background?
I received my Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the University of California-Davis. I previously earned my bachelor’s degree in Biology from McGill University and my master’s in Cognitive and Behavioral Ecology from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

How did you get into your field of research?
I have always been fascinated by animal behavior and knew early on I wanted to pursue research in this area. As a undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant on an interdisciplinary environmental ethics project and developed a passion for animal welfare. From there, I discovered the field of animal welfare science, and learned I could apply principles of animal behavior to improve animal lives.

What are the main goals of your current research program?
My interests focus on (1) evaluating how farm practices affect animal behavior, physiology and productivity, and developing strategies to optimize these outcomes; and (2) understanding the interconnections between animal welfare, socio-economic, and environmental challenges on a local and global scale. My hope is that this research contributes towards achieving a sustainable, socially responsible food system that benefits humans and animals alike.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?
UW-Madison has an outstanding reputation for its collaborative spirit and I’m looking forward to discovering the many interdisciplinary communities across campus. Also, Madison boasts the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, and I plan to be there every week once it reopens!

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit was for my job interview in September 2019. I was impressed by the animal facilities I toured and how lovely the campus looked.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope students will come away with an appreciation for the scientific process and its role in improving animal welfare, as well as the critical thinking skills and curiosity needed to become lifelong learners.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Definitely. Animal welfare is an important sustainability issue for animal agriculture. My hope is that my research will inform best practices for animal husbandry and management that will help support Wisconsin farmers. I also look forward to learning from their knowledge and experiences to better serve the agricultural community.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Animal welfare scientists can “ask” animals what they want by giving the animal a choice between two or more options and seeing which one they prefer. This method can tell us about animal’s preferences for different resources such as flooring, temperature, and social companions, and can even provide insights into their psychological state. For example, mice in standard cages are more likely to choose water medicated with an anxiolytic drug over non-medicated water compared to mice living in enriched housing, suggesting standard housing may induce anxiety.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I love exploring the outdoors by hiking, camping, kayaking, and road tripping. I also enjoy playing the harp.