Category Archives: Studies

Combs, Claws and Feathers

Last week we collected the last data for the preference tests. Meaning our project is slowly coming to an end. But before handing the chickens to their new private owners, we wanted to get some more information from them. During the project we’ve executed home pen observations, location & behavioural observations in the preference pens and the eggs produced were registered per pen. Now it was time to get a better picture of the status of the hens.

“As an indicator for the amount of aggression in the pens, we scored the damage of feathers, combs and claws.”

Therefore we’ve done some ‘integument scoring’: Rating the condition of the feathers. As an indicator for the amount of aggression in the pens, we scored the damage of feathers, combs and claws. Additionally we weighed all the hens, curious to further differences between the light treatments. It was quite an interesting experience to have a closer look at the birds. Most of them were very calm while we handled them, counting scratches and spreading their feathers. One or two birds seemed to disagree with our ideas and decided to peck at us! It seemed that there were very few birds completely intact, but there were very few birds with severe damage either.

Here some photos for you to get an idea of the differences we’ve encountered:

      Intact comb
     Slightly damaged comb     Damaged comb

We were very happy to see that most birds appeared to be in great condition. It will be very interesting to see if there are differences between the light treatments. Coming weeks I will work on the data analysis, so we’ll know soon!

Any questions? Please leave them in a reply below.

Rosan

Catching Chickens & Collecting Data

After considering the study design, pilot studies and necessary preparations, we’ve been running our preference test for a couples of weeks now. This means that a few groups of our chickens are moved from their home pen to the test pen, where they will be observed closely for a couple of days. Observations run through a live camera system and are executed multiple times a day. The results are our so called ‘data’ and play the lead role for my degree project. Analysing these data will keep me busy for probably the rest of summer!


A sneak peek into our ‘research kitchen’ – Keeping an eye out on both halves of all test pens

The idea sounds not too difficult, but it took some time to get the hang of a smooth practical execution. Because after each round of observations the chickens need to be moved back to their home pens, lights will need to be swapped and the pens cleaned before moving in the new groups. And also, how are you going to catch and handle the chickens, without causing them a lot of stress? Turning of the lights in the stables completely, turned out to be a magic spell to be able to catch and lift the chickens in a calm manner and move them into their moving boxes. Though it’s quite fun to do, it’s physically demanding, on one day you might have to catch and move almost a hundred chickens!

Any questions? Feel free to ask them below.

Rosan

Saws, Drills and Hammers

Wait, what did I study again? Yes, you are still on the blog representing the master programme of animal science, haha. You may have read that I have been busy with preparing a preference test for chickens. Well, this is a big part of the preparations – the practical part – so to say. As the two sections of our testing pen should be as identical as possible, I am constructing smaller perches of which two should fit into one pen, instead of one large perch. After measuring, drawing and calculating, I’ve been spending many hours at the research facility sawing, drilling and hammering. Who would have thought this would be included in your masters degree? Not me! But I enjoy these kind of things a lot, and it’s a welcome change to sitting in class. Hopefully the chicken will be content with my handicrafts!

 
On the left part of my messy work desk, on the right chickens testing my first prototype perch.

Any questions? Suggestions? Want to volunteer building perches? You’re always welcome to leave a reply.

Rosan

Preparing a Preference Test

Since a few months I have been doing behavioural observations of the chickens as part of my degree project. However, soon I will start with the second part of this research project as well; the preference test. The idea is not to difficult to understand. A certain space is divided into two or multiple areas with one same variable that is different for each section. Then the animals are put in the space with the ability to roam around freely, and their locations and behaviours are scored. In the end you can see if the animals seem to prefer one section over another or whether their behaviour is different in one of the sections. To not have any bias of the results, the different sections should be as identical as possible.

In our case the variable is the wavelength of light. The test pen will be divided into two zones with different types of lighting, which are separated from each other by black plastic. The animals involved in the preference tests are the same chickens from the behavioural observations. I will be the observer of the behaviour and location of the chickens. So far it sounds pretty straight forward, right? Now have a look at the model I made of our pen:


Simplified model of the current chicken pens made using Google SketchUp Make, on scale.

(Sorry, this post is currently still under construction)

Exams & Evaluation

Last week our housing course came to and end. Our final exam was an essay type home-exam. I’ve written before about the variety of examination types here at SLU. I still found it a bit hard to prepare for such an exam, as it’s not a method I am used to. However, I think the exam touched upon all aspects of the course and must have given a good overview of our obtained skills. The housing course included a lot of physics and engineering, therefore I think that this type of exam was perhaps more useful than a traditional exam. The calculations were rather challenging, but let’s hope for the best.

“SLU puts a lot of emphasis on course evaluations, as they are of use to improve the quality of education.”

Now it’s time for the course evaluation. After each course there is usually a moment of evaluation both in class, as well as online. SLU puts a lot of emphasis on these evaluations, as they are of use to improve the quality of education. This time I have volunteered to be the course representative, which will be my first time. The course representative plays an important role in the course evaluation. As a representative you are supposed to discuss with your classmates about possible improvements, but also to scan through the evaluations and highlight the most important suggestions. The final summary will be discussed with the course leader and hopefully lead to future improvements. The grade out of the scoring by the students will become available on the SLU studentweb. When you are looking into which courses to pick for the next semester, you can find these scores of the courses from previous years, which may be helpful to make a decision.

Do you have any more questions about the examination or course evaluation? You’re always welcome to comment or leave a question in a reply below.

Rosan

Excursion to an organic dairy farm

Waiting in front of the barn, opposite the summer pastures, now covered in snow

There is one more excursion from the animal housing course I’d like to tell you more about. The same day as visiting the active horse stable, we went to see an organic dairy farm. As we had already been looking at a couple of dairy stables, such as the modern loose housing and the traditional tie stalls at Jälla an the very large facility at Lövsta, we could make some comparisons. Plus, this was the first organic system we were going to see since the course had started. The farm is operated according to the standards of KRAV, which I explained something about in the previous post about our project work.

After we had changed into our protective wear we were warmly welcomed by the dairy farmer. He explained a bit about his farm before giving us a guided tour over his premises. He showed us his milking robot, the main herd, young stock, calves and pregnant cows. We had a closer look at his manure management and the types of flooring he used. There were generally large differences between the buildings but all of them were naturally ventilated. Which I think was quite fascinating seen the cold Scandinavian climate, but his Swedish red cows seemed to cope well with it. After the tour we had the possibility to go and look around a bit more for ourselves.

The indoor housing of organic and conventional dairy cows is not that different. I’d say that the biggest differences concern the feed and pasture management, though in Sweden grazing is obligatory for conventional dairy as well. We were lucky to see a calf that had just been born, being licked dry by her mother. We asked the farmer for how long calves are required to be with their mothers, and he explained that it should be at least for 24 hours. He also told us that it used to be longer, but that KRAV has changed this quite recently in their standard. He expressed how pleased he is with this, since in his experience it is less stressful for the mother and calf to be separated after 24 hours than after three days. This information resulted spontaneously in a very interesting discussion about the different rules and experiences concerning calf weaning between the students from our class. It’s a hot topic in many countries at the moment and the opinions on it vary strongly.


Mother cow licking her newborn calf dry in an open, naturally ventilated deep litter stable

Before we went back to the bus we continued to talk for a little while with the farmer. I was curious about what he’d like to improve most and he told me that he’d like to change the housing for the calves. Right now part of the calves are housed in what used to be a tie-stall stable and the ventilation is not optimal. He had noted that the calves in this building perform less well than his calves in the outdoor iglos. A direct example of the interaction between animal and environment.

“Should we build for less durability?”

Our course leader, Stefan Gunnarsson, was wondering what the farmer would like to see from us in our future career as ‘potential farm designers and advisors’. He answered: “Beautiful buildings, easy to work in and should be good for the animals too. Simple.” However, he took me by surprise when he continued about durability. He wondered if we were making buildings maybe too durable? He explained that the materials we use now, result in farm buildings that can live for up to perhaps a hundred years. But after about twenty years a building is maybe not ‘so modern anymore’, and might not fulfil the latest requirements. This results in empty farm buildings – a waste according to the farmer. Should we build for less durability? Some food for thought.

Any thoughts on this topic, or some quiestions? Feel free to reply below.

Rosan

Project-work: Planning & design

With the final exam coming up this Monday the housing course is soon coming to an end. It’s feels like it was yesterday when we started! Last week was fully dedicated to our project-work and the presentations of it. We have been working for several weeks in small groups on the task to plan and design a farm building. As each group had been given a different animal species to work with, the results were very diverse. This made it quite exciting to see all the presentations, since everybody had been facing different challenges. The project-work was focused on following the Swedish guidelines, but paid attention to the international perspective as well.

“For laying hens the differences between KRAV and EU organic are not as big as for example in pig production.”

Our group had the task to design a housing facility for laying hens. We were given the choice between conventional farming or organic, and we chose the latter. In Sweden most of the organic farming is according to the standards of KRAV, which often has additional requirements concerning animal welfare and environment than the EU organic standard. As we were curious to these differences we chose to plan our farm as if it were going to be KRAV certified. Surprisingly, we found that for laying hens the differences between KRAV and EU organic are not as big as for example in pig production.

“The project faced a wide range of aspects to consider, such as biosecurity, ventilation, heat balance, manure management and fire protection.”

The project faced a wide range of aspects to consider, such as biosecurity, ventilation, heat balance, manure management and fire protection. I liked it that we were asked to give scientific support behind our decisions, but it also made the project very time consuming. It was absolutely useful that we had been on so many excursions(to Jällaskolan, Lövsta and Marma Torp) looking at these details, but also the experience from the workshop we had earlier in the course, helped a lot to be able to do the necessary calculations for our project. All together I think we all learned a great deal during the project, but are happy that it’s finished now so we can focus fully on preparing for the exam 🙂

Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask.

Rosan

The ideal horse-housing system?

What is a horse, really? I don’t mean to find an answer to a description of what a horse looks like, I mean, we all know that it has four legs, a head, mane and tail. But think again. What makes a horse, a horse? What does a horse do? Let’s look at a horse in a natural environment: Were you aware that a horse is a grazing animal, spending roughly about 16 hours a day browsing for food? Or did you know that horses are highly social animals, living their whole life in dynamic herds? Have you thought about the amount of time a wild horse spends moving around?

“What do individual boxes offer? Social isolation, no space to roam around and limited feed supply.”

Keep those thoughts in mind. Now let’s imagine the average horse stable. What do you see? Most likely, individual boxes. What do they offer? Social isolation, no space to roam around and limited feed supply. Now tell me, how come that modern horse owners still believe this is a good solution? Yes, I believe horse owners have the best intentions at heart, spending hours a week to muck out stables, cleaning water buckets and spending large amounts of money on the latest concentrates. However, I do not think that this way of horse keeping is ideal in terms of horse health and welfare or human labour and ergonomics.

Luckily, I am not alone in this. Innovative designs for more natural ways of horse keeping are increasing in popularity throughout Europe. Last week the housing course arranged an excursion to one of these stables making use of a design that is adapted specifically towards the horse’s needs. This one was a so called ‘active stable’. I must admit, I have seen and experienced many different horse stables in my life, but never was I as much impressed as with this one.


The double feed station

Marma Torp is a small scale horse facility that houses Icelandic horses exclusively. Their philosophy is that loose-housing of horses fulfils both the physical and psychological needs in a better way compared to stabled housing. Besides, they are convinced that a modern active stable is not advantageous for the horses only, the people benefit as well. For example this way of horse keeping demands relatively little labour and seems not more expensive than traditional housing in the long run.

  
The chip on the neck collar and the access door to the feed

All the horses wear a collar which includes a chip that gives them access to the feed stations. In this way, the horse chooses itself when it would like to eat, and how often. Although the total amount is managed by the people through a computer system. When the horse enters the feeding station the doors behind the horse close, so that no other horse can enter at the same time. When the doors are closed the feed will become available, as the partial door towards the feed is lowered. After a set time the door towards the feed rises again, meaning feeding time is finished. The horse leaves the feeding station and can come back at a later time. In this way the horse is able to eat small portions of roughage throughout the day, without any human labour involved. The bales of hay are moved into the feed station mechanically.


Unlimited straw provision and the walk-in stable in the back

The area where the horses walk around freely consists of a gravel paddock, a small forestry area and grassland. Besides the feed station, a heatable water tub, a wind shelter, unlimited straw provision and a spacious group stable are provided. The whole area is divided into two, to provide a separate mare and gelding herd. The current facility is able to house up to 14 Icelandic horses. We had a critical look at the body condition of the horses. Icelandic horses have a reputation to put on weight easily, but these were all in excellent condition. Impressive, but not surprising, if you consider their smart management. The hay quality is analysed, individual eating time per horse measured and those data together provide the formula for how many hours a day each horse may spend in the feed station.


One of the Icelandic mares coming to greet us

It was really inspiring to listen to and talk with the owners of the place. They are very enthusiastic about the system, even though they had to make several changes from the start. Is it perfect? Almost, if you ask me. For example you could see that some cheeky horses managed to steal from another’s hay. Also, I do think there are still some challenges left when looking at sustainability aspects. Could the manure be collected from the forest area to prevent from phosphorus leaking and be of use elsewhere? What is the energy source behind the feed stations, could solar panels be placed on the roof?

These days Sweden counts about thirty active stables. I don’t want to say that this system will be the solution for everyone, but I think it is a beautiful example of alternative horse housing. It would already be a great step forward to rethink the way we choose to house our horses. Why not look at the opportunities for small changes in our current housing systems towards a more horse-friendly environment as a start. To me, in ‘horseworld’ many things seem to happen because ‘it has alwas been done like this’. Let’s be innovative instead and learn more from each other’s experiences.

Any questions? Comments? Opinions perhaps? Feel free to reply below.
Rosan

 

Workshop mechanical ventilation

It’s already almost the end of February. Crazy how the time seems to fly by. Also, it means that we’re more than halfway with the housing course. I’ve told you about a couple of excursions(to Jälla and Lövsta) we’ve done for this course so far, but this time I’d like to give you some insight into another aspect of the course. No cute pictures of piglets any longer! Last week we had a so-called workshop in mechanical ventilation. Torsten Hörndahl came over all the way from SLU Alnarp (close to Lund) to learn us the ins and outs of ventilation of farm buildings. A serious afternoon of hard work.

“Ventilation plays an important role in keeping temperature and humidity within the limits of both good animal welfare and good human comfort.”

We started with a lecture on mechanical ventilation. First of all we discussed why do we ventilate? Besides guaranteeing fresh air to every animal, ventilation plays an important role in keeping temperature and humidity within the limits of both good animal welfare and good human comfort. Not in all cases ventilation has to be mechanical, depending on the type of building and amount of animals, natural ventilation may be sufficient. When using mechanical ventilation, it’s important to realize whether you’ll design a system with or without a pressure difference between inside and outside the building. Both have their pros and cons regarding efficiency, safety and costs.

After listening for a couple of hours the workshop took place. We were divided into groups and given several documents we were going to work with. Not only was our understanding of the theory tested, we were challenged to make calculations as well. I must admit it was a long day and the tasks were not easy. However in the end I think we did get the hang of it and i’d say we learned a lot more by doing the actual calculations and answering questions rather than just listening. Guaranteed that next time when walking into a stable, you’ll look at all those air out- and inlets in a different way!

Any questions? Feel free to ask.
Rosan

Visit to Lövsta: The Swedish Livestock Research Centre

Included in the course Animal environment, welfare and housing are several excursions. This week we spent a day at the pig and cattle facilities of SLU’s main research centre: Lövsta. There is a lot of information about Lövsta available on the SLU webpage, please have a look if you’re interested. The nice thing about Lövsta is that everything is modern, there are lots of opportunities to researchers and all different types of livestock are located in close approximation to each other. The downside of Lövsta is that it’s very costly to the University and the location is very hard to reach for those without a car. Luckily this excursion was well organized and transportation was included.


The map of the cattle facilities is displayed on the windows on the top floor,
from where visitors have a good overview on the different housing types.

The day started with an introductory lecture at the research centre. Though it was not the first time for me to visit Lövsta, it was an interesting lecture in which I heard a lot of new things. It was explained how the several parts of the stables function and what problems are faced. And it was fascinating to hear all about the ongoing research. For example right now they are experimenting with different types of floor scrapers for the dairy cattle. Which one is disturbing the cows the least? Another experiment looked at the importance of the neck rail and whether it could be moved or removed to increase cow comfort.

 
Upper left: A cow stepping over a floor scraper. Upper right: This flooring reduces slippery, but what about hygiene? Below: The Swedish red cow breed has a reputation of being more robust and fertile compared to Holstein-Frisians.

Half of the day was spent with the cattle, the other half was spent with the pigs. It’s not that I don’t like cows, but I just… adore pigs. Big time. They are such curious, social and smart creatures. At the pig stables we used most time to compare the different housing systems, the building constructions, space availability, ventilation, manure system, etc. In Sweden pig welfare is by far more protected by law compared to other EU countries. For example the provision of straw is obligatory and tail docking is not a standard procedure. Another large difference is the housing system of lactating sows – crating is not permitted. Therefore the sow can have much more interaction with her piglets, which is a beautiful sight to watch. Still, it’s not perfect, but in terms of welfare the standards of conventional pig production in Sweden are impressive.

 
Upper left: Deep litter bedding for dry sows. Upper right: Intact tails of growers. Below: Interactiong between the lactating sow and her offspring.

Crating or not crating of sows is a much debated topic, on which I could elaborate for many pages. I think Swedish pig production deserves a post of it’s own, perhaps I can do that next week. If you have questions already or some comments, you’re welcome to reply below.

Rosan

ps. Just one more pig photo, I mean, aren’t they adorable?