Tag Archives: animal production systems

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

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?

Excursion to Jällaskolan

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.
Any questions? Comments? Leave a reply below.

Rosan

 

GAP21: Organic pigs in Australia

GAP21 stands for Global Animal Production in the 21 Century. No animal production system is perfect. Each culture has their own traditions regarding animal husbandry. Every country faces their own challenges. Let me show you what I have seen and learned thus far: One photo at a time.

Certified organic farms require their animals to spend a lot of their
lifetime outdoors. In the outback of Australia it can be hard for pigs
to cope with the tropical hot summers. Pigs enjoy taking baths in
the mud, which helps them to cool down. The dried cover of mud
forms an ideal protection against sunburn and insects. This farmer
realised the importance of bathing for his pigs but struggled with
the consistent drought. Therefore he kept experimenting until he
finally found a design that was pig-proof, low cost and easy to make.
As you can see his efforts were highly appreciated!

Rosan

Animal environment, welfare and housing

“The design of the environment plays a large role for the quality of life of the animal.”

Last week I started a new course named ‘Animal environment, welfare and housing’. I have been looking much forward to this course for a long time – for more than a year, to be precise! How come? Well, animal production systems is one of my biggest passions within animal science. The design of the environment plays a large role for the quality of life of the animal. Therefore I want to learn every little detail there is to know about how to create the best housing for animals. However, last year this course turned out to be… in Swedish. And as you might have read, my Swedish skills are not that impressive (yet!). So I was utterly disappointed about not being able to take the course of my favourite interest. Until I heard the amazing news that the course would be reconstructed and given in English for the first time spring 2017! It was a long wait, but now it is finally happening: Animal environment, welfare and housing has begun.


How badly designed stalls impact wellbeing, health and antibiotics
usage in dairy cows. Image from the presentation of Stefan Gunnarsson.

The first lecture was an introduction to the course. Besides hearing about the structure, objectives and planning it is also quite common at SLU that the course participants introduce themselves briefly. Soon we found out that many of us are international and that we have people with all sorts of backgrounds attending, such as veterinarians and agricultural engineers. Which also gives an idea of the interdisciplinarity of this course; to me it seems to be about the relations between building function, animal health and animal welfare. A good example of this was presented during one of the lectures this week. Cows have the need to lay down and ruminate. If the stalls are badly designed this will affect the behaviour, welfare, health and production of the cow (see the diagram above). This is not bad for the cow only, but also leads to reduced farm income and ultimately to increased resistance to antibiotics in society. It may sound obvious, but you would be surprised to see how many systems exist that are not optimal for cows to lay down.

In the coming weeks I will keep you posted about the highlights of the course. With several excursions and projects ahead I am sure there will be many to come! If you would like to have more information about the course, please have a look at the SLU course page. Still have questions? Feel free to ask them below 🙂

Rosan