Dr Alastair MacRae

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies/The Roslin Institute

Research Interests

Ruminant Nutrition, and links to production diseases in cattle and sheep

Nutrition in both late pregnancy and during lactation can have major influences on the susceptibility of animals to disease, productivity and fertility – especially in high yielding dairy cows, pregnant cattle and sheep. My research is aimed at monitoring ruminant nutrition, in order to try and prevent disease occurring, as well as reduce the economic losses that occur as a result of subclinical disease. As well as publications in this area, my work in this field has resulted in a number of successful collaborations with commercial feed companies such as Davidsons Animal Feeds and Bioparametrics.

Monitoring of farm animal health and welfare

In the past 20 years, most farming operations in developed countries such as the UK have increased their animal numbers and reduced staff, resulting in more animals per unit of labour. This has resulted in an increased requirement for remote monitoring of livestock health and productivity using prevision farming technologies and data analysis. Funding with ITI Techmedia and EASTBio BBSRC iCASE PhD studentship have developed sensor technology for the monitoring of dairy cow health. Collaborative work with SRUC has looked at the effect of difficult calvings on cow and calf health, as well as the effects of potentially stressful management practices such as overcrowding cows during late pregnancy.

Infectious disease control in farm animals

Although Notifiable Diseases such as bovine tuberculosis and Foot and Mouth Disease attract the majority of headlines, more common diseases such as mastitis, lameness and other infectious diseases cost the UK livestock industry much more money on an ongoing annual basis due to their reduction in animal productivity. Protozoal infections such as Neospora in cattle and Toxoplasma in sheep result in loss of pregnancy, and collaborative work with the Moredun Research Institute and Zoetis is looking to develop techniques for the diagnosis of such protozoal infections in ruminants.

Knowledge Transfer to farmers and the agricultural industry

Although new research work is key to our understanding of diseases and their pathogenesis, major improvements could be made by the application of existing knowledge and “best practice” on farms to reduce the impact of common diseases such as mastitis and lameness in dairy cows, as well as infectious diseases such as Johne’s Disease. I am therefore heavily involved in Knowledge Exchange with dairy, beef and sheep farmers throughout the UK to implement change on UK farms. For example I have been part of Scottish national KT projects such as the Paraban and Paraban Reloaded projects (2011-2015), which were collaborative projects with SRUC, University of Glasgow and James Hutton Institute based on Knowledge Exchange of information on paratuberculosis (Johnes disease) control in Scottish dairy and beef herds.

Selected Publications

  • A C Barrier, C Mason, C M Dwyer, M J Haskell, A I Macrae. 2013. Stillbirth in dairy calves is influenced independently by dystocia and body shape. Veterinary Journal Vol: 197 Pages: 220-223. More»
  • A. C. Barrier, M. J. Haskell, S. Birch, A. Bagnall, D. J. Bell, J. Dickinson, A. I. Macrae, C. M. Dwyer. 2013. The impact of dystocia on dairy calf health, welfare, performance and survival. Veterinary Journal Vol: 195 Pages: 86-90. More»
  • H.M. Miedema, M.S. Cockram, C.M. Dwyer, A.I. Macrae. 2011. Changes in the behaviour of dairy cows during the 24 h before normal calving compared with behaviour during late pregnancy. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol: 131 Pages: 8-14. More»
  • H.M. Miedema, M.S. Cockram, C.M. Dwyer, A.I. Macrae. 2011. Behavioural predictors of the start of normal and dystocic calving in dairy cows and heifers. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol: 132 Pages: 14-19. More»