Nicole Keohane leading fundamental research for the dairy industry
Working on your PhD degree, milking on a dairy farm and a part time job as researcher for AHV. It sounds impossible to fit all these activities into your daily life. But not for Nicole Keohane (23) who is combining these projects and fully enjoys it: “In everything I do, I look at it from a researcher’s, consumer’s and farmer’s point of view.”
Nicole lives in County Cork (Ireland) and works on a dairy farm with her grandparents John and Anne. They milk just under one hundred cows on a grass-based system. “It is an unusual dynamic”, says Nicole with a smile on her face. “The dairy farm has skipped a generation. Nowadays, I only milk during the weekends, but I will never leave the farm, it is a very important connection for me to have with my field of work, and most importantly, my family.”
Introduction to the world of bacteria
The rest of the week, Nicole carries out research for her PhD degree, which is performed in cooperation with AHV Ireland, where she also works on smaller trials and data analysis projects.
Her current occupation was initiated when Nicole came across AHV during the final year of her bachelor’s degree early in 2020:
“While studying Agricultural Science at the Waterford Institute of Technology, I was interested in a thesis subject regarding cows and milk quality. One of my lecturers mentioned AHV and quorum sensing, I was immediately intrigued and dove deeper into the science behind the products, then I decided to go further with it.”
Nicole’s thesis focused on improving udder health using the AHV Extra Tablet. She achieved great results, which convinced her grandparents to start using it on their own dairy farm. “They were sceptical at first,” says Nicole smilingly. “But they saw the results and my enthusiasm, we now use the AHV Extra Tablet, AHV Aspi Liquid, AHV Booster Tablet and Drench Powder, it has made a big difference for us. We are now looking into optimizing calf health as the next step in the coming year or two.”
Taking the next step
The results were promising to such an extent, that Nicole and her lecturer decided to extend the research to a larger scale. “I was introduced to Adam Robinson, Managing Director for AHV UK & Ireland, he was enthusiastic and saw the importance of the project.” Before applying and starting her PhD, Nicole worked as an AHV Advisor in County Cork, in the south of Ireland. “This was a valuable experience, and it gave me a better understanding of the products on-farm.”
The PhD course started in September and will be a four-year long project, under the supervision of Prof. Johanna Fink-Gremmels at Utrecht University among others, with the goal of showing a significant result in the effectiveness of the AHV approach for udder health. “We will go through every lactation with our sample group using the same protocol and hopefully get results in terms of longevity. In the end, we will have three years’ worth of data”, Nicole explains.
Research recognition by the IRC
While she was working as an AHV Advisor back in 2020, Nicole discovered about research funding offered by the Irish Research Council (IRC). The IRC is regarded as the most prestigious funding agency in Ireland and Nicole decided to apply for it in consultation with AHV founder and DVM Gertjan Streefland.
“We submitted the application in November, and in April we found out I got the scholarship. I was beyond excited, it is rare to get funding on your first application, and it is even rarer to get it before you have commenced the project. It was quite an achievement, the application is reviewed by various academics and fully independent, it showed that there is plenty of interest in my research topic.”
Nicole’s unique story and research was not only recognized by the Irish Research Council, but also by the National Dairy Council, where she is a spokesperson in a nationwide dairy campaign featuring different farmers from all over Ireland.
Opportunities for the future
“As for my ambitions at AHV, I wish to stay with the company after getting my PhD. It is exciting to see the company’s growth and potential, I have been with AHV Ireland almost since its establishment in March 2020 and I fully believe in our concept. There are plenty of opportunities for the future, doing further research, looking for improvements and meeting new people. Hopefully, my PhD will be an initiative and benchmark for future research projects at AHV.”
“AHV has truly changed my own mindset and perspective on animal health. It has changed how I farm at home and how I look at the cow’s needs in general. AHV’s approach is unique and innovative, it is not just selling at the door, but truly building a relationship with the farmer. One of my favourite things about the job is helping the farmers with advice and collaborate with them to find the right solution. The long-term vision of AHV also translates to the Irish dairy industry, I can see that farmers are willing to change, and there has been a big shift in the last 5 years in the right direction towards optimal animal health. I cannot wait to see what the future will bring.”