Oct. 13, 2020

Meet Dr. Michelle Hunniford, our National Animal Care Specialist

Animal 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.