Matheus Santos

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.Sc.

Project: Applying Wearable Sensors & Machine Learning to Improve Dairy Cow Health & Production

Department: Department of Animal Biosciences (OAC)

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

Growing up on a small dairy and beef farm has led me to pursue my professional career in the agri-food sector, focusing on livestock. As a veterinary student, I also experienced different opportunities related to the dairy and beef industry, working directly with animals, farmers, veterinarians, and researchers. Throughout these years, the health challenges faced by dairy cows around parturition and its short- and long-term consequences greatly influenced me to become a master’s student searching for alternatives to improve their health, welfare, and production.

What about your research area excites you? 

My research focuses on one of the most challenging periods (transition period) for the health of dairy cows, in which they are more susceptible to developing diseases. In my current project, I use two hot topics (automatic behaviour sensors and machine learning) to find alternatives that help overcome the consequences of this period for animals and producers. Thus, I enjoy working directly with dairy cows and better understanding their metabolic, physiological, and behavioural changes during the periparturient period, associated with a part of artificial intelligence to analyze this data. It is fascinating to think that the results of this project may offer essential contributions to the dairy industry.

What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them? 

Although data collection has been one of the main challenges, I believe each phase of the research development has its requirements. For instance, my previous experiences are related mainly to animal health and production, and I do not have a strong background in data analysis, so this part might also be a challenge for me. To overcome these challenges, I try to be as resilient as possible. I try to look at the situation from the outside and recognize the available resources I have to solve the issues. Additionally, I have the help of a brilliant group of students and mentors who are fundamental in overcoming any challenges that arise over time.

How would you describe your research and the implications of your project? 

The parturient period in dairy cows is one of the main threats to the sustainability of the dairy industry due to the high incidence of diseases, poor animal welfare, and economic losses. In my current research project, we aim to use machine learning algorithms and computational statistics to analyze prepartum data, ultimately rumination time, activity, and blood biomarkers to predict postpartum health and production outcomes. Our main objective is to separate cows between low and high risks of developing postpartum diseases on the day of calving. This would allow producers to minimize problems due to earlier decisions regarding preventive measures and interventions. Thus, we expect to enhance dairy sustainability with the development of this project by increasing dairy cows’ health, welfare, and performance.

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

During my free time, I really enjoy cooking, spending time with friends, and travelling.

What is one important thing you have learned from the pandemic?

Have faith and hope for better days. Take care of your mental and physical health, as they are our greatest treasure.