Sophia Hepple  -  Evaluation of calf management practices in early life which can impact on long term survival and productivity


After graduating from Bristol University with a vet degree and three young children, I started work locally in large animal practice and then mixed practice before returning to Bristol as the first Matthew Eyton scholar in preventive medicine and welfare. I completed a PhD in pig nutrition and immunology, popping a few more children out along the way, followed by a lectureship in veterinary parasitology. I then joined the State Veterinary Service (SVS) mid-way through the lectureship, juggling two jobs (and had another child). I switched full time to the SVS, principally to follow my passion for farm animal welfare. Instead I was put in charge of poultry health and had to start learning all over again! Within a few years I was charged with animal welfare responsibilities across Dorset and Somerset and became a veterinary adviser for farmed animal welfare in the public sector. I carried on studying in my spare time getting an RCVS certificate & diploma and am now an RCVS Specialist in animal welfare science, ethics and law. Since 2008 I have been recognized as a national expert in animal welfare for the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) instrument managed by the Directorate-General Enlargement of the European Commission. I have trained vets in pig and calf welfare in both Romania and Serbia, as well as delivering training to all Member states on broiler welfare.

I support Plymouth Argyle Football club and secondarily (through marriage) The Black Cats (Sunderland). I live in North Somerset with my husband, Richard, and my cross-bred herd of unruly children.

  • Project Details


The project will look at all methods of calf rearing, recording farmer and calf experiences with different methods and where possible gaining baseline survival / mortality / production data at both farm and national herd levels (including “big data").This will include management activities that impact on perinatal events including breeding policies (for example age at first calving& genetics) and calving management practices including interventions and subsequent management actions relating to calf management after “high risk” births e.g. dystocia in calves reared for the beef sector.

Advice & knowledge extension packages on calf-rearing are varied. My project will engage with farming / industry / academia / government in different countries to understand how they have achieved successful knowledge transfer. It will evaluate how and why they have been successful or not so successful in conveying key messages and converting these messages into on-farm practice. From the farmer perspective I want to try and understand whether what the industry / government / academics think they are doing is translating into actual practice and when it has, how the farmer has been influenced – is it the private vet / relevant industry sector organisation / local farmer experience / individual drive (of the person with principal responsibility for calf rearing) and if they have made changes to calf rearing practices what was the principal driver?