Our new hens

3 10 2017

The second 48 of Misha‘s grand total of 96 hens arrived yesterday (Batch One of his final enrichment experiment being done with and adopted out in August). Young-looking pullets still, they were a bit nervous after their trip (though if they’re like the last lot they’ll settle down in just a few days).

And they weren’t the only ones who were a bit nervous: yesterday at 430 pm I got a panicky phonecall from the suppliers saying the birds were all packed up and ready for pick-up, and and who was coming?  Since Misha was away, this had me imagining sad, crowded birds waiting miserably in crates on some loading dock, and wondering if I could get to St. Jacob’s by 5 and whether they could all fit in the Prius. Luckily they had actually been picked up hours ago by the trusty Bishwo so all was well, but this definitely knocked a few hours off the end of my life.


And it’s Cone Time …

2 10 2017

Time to collect Fall’s special mouse enrichment: cones make excellent chewable, smelly, ladder-like structures for our enriched cages.



Surreal email of the week

14 09 2017

“I suggest you devise a new shaving plan”

(from me to Aimee, who accidentally got unblinded to the marking scheme for enriched versus non-enriched mice)

Sad email of the week

14 09 2017

From Emma (aka “Little Emma”), on her home-made T maze:

Screenshot 2017-09-13 21.52.29

The Hen Whisperer

10 08 2017

Summer student Anna Garland has done a great job these last couple of months training 12 hens (half from control environments, half from enriched) to learn that a white lidded dish meant mealworms (so, they should flip it for a treat), but a black-lidded dish would, if touched, trigger a nasty airpuff.  The hens were trained in a box, and monitored by video, with the dishes being slid in via a slot, all designed to avoid Clever Hans effects. Most hens reached criterion in under 5 days (with around 20 trials a day), making our previous failures with mice and mink look even more pathetic. Some also developed fascinating superstitious responses to the black dish, retreating to a corner, facing away from it or even freezing stock still, as if to avoid being even tempted to touch it.

Once trained, the real aim of the work could start: to present them with intermediate dishes — Shades of Grey (couldn’t resist it) — to see whether they’d be “optimistic” and flip them or “pessimistic” (avoiding them), and in turn whether this judgement bias would be affected by housing. Because we already know our enriched hens are in positive states thanks to the resources they have, a housing effect in the expected direction would validate this novel judgment bias task for poultry (Misha’s Bristol attempts being another noble failure).

Though a bit too early to peek, as Misha another 12 hens to go, Anna had a to make a poster for her summer research course, which forced us to analyse the data. And so far there is a trend, with enriched birds tending to positive-skewed biases….

1Garland Final Presentation

A cornucopia for mice

26 07 2017

20170723_124406This is what Lindsey and Kelsy have been feeding mice this past week:

thyme, turmeric, parsley, anise, marjoram, clove, cumin, ginger, coriander, mint, oregano, sage, onion, garlic, nutmeg, basil, mustard, cocoa, cinnamon, and rosemary.

But why? Sensory enrichment? Nope: to create some mice who regularly smell of novel food which is then made available to their cagemates (who then eat it, helped by social learning), and other mice who merely smell of novel food (but no-one else gets a taste).

Lindsey’s doing this to try and find out whether the former mice, the ‘reliable demonstrators’, end up being preferred because they become associated with treats. If yes, then social learning might be helping to create social relationships within mouse colonies.

Kinder Scientific? Blunder Scientific.

24 07 2017

This error message should have been my first warning, when I emailed Kinder Scientific for help at the end of March. It was the truth: support is not really to be found at this company.

Screenshot 2017-07-24 11.38.55


When I finally tracked down someone to talk to, I should have heeded the second warning: twice we failed to connect by phone because she did not understand time zones.

But I already had startle equipment purchased a long time ago from Kinder, and wanted to upgrade it for Emma (and then I needed it mending, too, as it started to malfunction). I was *trapped*.

Over the next few months (during which Emma’s mice aged and lost their hearing: the very thing we had wanted to assess), Kinder would take 4 weeks to answer my original question about retrofitting an airpuff facility to my tone-only boxes (and send the answer to the wrong person at UoG, so I didn’t see it for another month); send us the wrong dimension copper tubes for the new airpuff facility; resend us new tubes but accidentally have Fedex pick up the wrong parcel, so that the pipes took yet more days to arrive; argue with us when these tubes didn’t work either (they leaked at the connectors); and send us air regulators that didn’t function properly.


We were only saved from insanity and despair by a great plumber from local company Jim L, who was a whizz with solder, and also spotted and corrected the misassembled air regulators.

It wasn’t all bad. Kinder didn’t charge us for the repair, and they did send us this mug (which made Emma and I weep bitter tears of laughter; ah yes, if only we could actually use their equipment to GET data). Technical expert Kolby Severns was also a great help to Emma, always willing to Skype.

But would I buy equipment from them again? Never, ever in a million years.