For the course Animal environment, welfare and housing we went on a short trip to Jälla, an agricultural school just East of Uppsala. The aim of the excursion was to aquire on-site information about animal environments on a Swedish farm. As Jälla is an agricultural learning environment, many types of animal farming are represented. After a short introduction we were divided into groups and had received a list of questions we were supposed to answer by the end of the day. We received a small map of the grounds and were supposed to pass by eight ‘stations’ where we should be able to figure out the answers. Everybody seemed very excited and soon we had all spread out over the farm.
Inspecting the different ‘stations’ on a cold, sunny day in January.
The stations we visited were a traditional tie-stall barn, the manure handling system, a modern loose housing cow barn, the feed storage, roof structures, the horse stable and a sheep barn. Some questions were specific for the stables you were standing in, like ‘How do you regulate the temperature in this building?’. Others were more considering the farm as a whole system, for example we were supposed to figure out how feed distribution took place over the whole farm. As this course has a strong focus on housing and environment we had several questions regarding ventilation and heat regulation. And as Jälla has automized systems for both manure and feed handling and it was interesting to look at the pros and cons of such technical equipment.
Automatic feeding systems in the tie-stall barn (left) and the loose housing system (right).
What interested me most was comparing the tie-stall barn and the loose housing cow barn. I had never seen tie-stall barns in the Netherlands, but in Sweden it is not that uncommon. It used to be the standard many years ago, but nowadays it’s being faded out slowly – building new tie-stalls is not allowed any longer. Still, about 30% of the Swedish dairy herd is still housed in tie-stall barns. To me it just feels wrong to tie a cow up for practically most of her life, but this system has quite some advantages. You need less space, cows have always access to a free lying place, but most of all the hygiene is much better. Seeing the tie-stall barn in real life did however not change the way I feel about it. Some of the cows had some small lesions on the hind legs, probably due to reduced locomotion. And as we’ve bred for bigger and bigger cows, we had the impression that the old stalls had become a bit too short for the ‘modern cows’ to lay down comfortably.
Two types of automatic manure handling in the tie-stall (left) and loose housing barn (right).
In the week after we had a follow-up on the farm visit in which we discussed the questions. It was really interesting to hear what the different groups had noticed – together you see much more! It was definitely a positive experience and I am grateful that SLU gives us the opportunity to see what the theories we learn about look like in practice.
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