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.
ps. Just one more pig photo, I mean, aren’t they adorable?
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!
Friendly, helpful, very polite and always in time. Although she just dyed her blonde hair dark brown, to me Amanda couldn’t be more Swedish. I got to know Amanda during the course pig production last spring and we met again during the horse course. Amanda is a student in the agronomy programme, which is very similar to animal sciences. Besides her being a genuine and lovely person, I’ve always been inspired by her passion for Swedish agriculture – which she recently started vlogging about. Time for a chat!
Amanda grew up on the countryside of Dalsland, about an hour North of Gothenburg. Not on a farm, but she grew very fond of animals either way. “I was very interested in animals, mainly horses. I have been riding since I was eleven.” I wonder why she chose to study the agronomy-animal science programme. “In high school I chose for natural sciences, which I really enjoyed. I was looking for a programme that would continue this and include animals.” I ask her if it was her first choice, or did she consider veterinary science? “Yes of course!” she laughs before she continues, “I think everyone does that, as they don’t know the agronomy and animal science programme exist. But if you like animals, and want to study at university in Sweden you will always check SLU.” I wonder if she is happy now with studying agronomy-animal science instead. There’s no doubt about it as she answers joyfully. “I am really happy! I think this was the best for me.”
“SLU is small, there are not too many students in each course – it’s personal.”
Her opinion on the university is clear, she really likes SLU: “I think the whole education is good.” When I ask her if there are things she would like to see improved she remains quiet. Curious whether this is a form of Swedish politeness I ask her if she thinks SLU is perfect? “No, I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s hard to point at something, I just don’t know.” I turn the question around and wonder what she considers best about SLU. She has to think for a little while but seems assured when she speaks again. “It’s small, there are not too many students in each course – it’s personal.” And what about Uppsala? She totally loves Uppsala. “Uppsala is the 4th greatest town of Sweden. That’s like… lagom!” We both laugh. Lagom is perhaps the most Swedish word you can think of and expresses something that is ‘just right’, not too much, not too little. “It’s not too big but I have everything I need. I would love to stay but I don’t think I will, because of work.”
Work. As last year’s students this becomes such a loaded topic. Of course we all have dreams but nobody knows what the future will bring. At least Amanda knows she’d rather work in the meat industry than in dairy. “I really, really like pigs” she informs me with a smile. I totally understand her feeling, but of course I want to know why. It’s hard to put a finger to it, but she tries to explain: “Before I moved here I didn’t know anything about pigs. Anything! But in my first summer holidays I worked with pigs so I learned a lot about them. I really liked that. I worked with them again my second holidays.”
“I think we have great animal welfare in Sweden in all parts of the production and that includes the slaughter process.”
When I ask her what sort of work she would be doing in a perfect world, her answer takes me by surprise. “I would like to work for a slaughter house, or in that industry.” I didn’t see that coming and ask her why. “It’s an important part of the animal production. I think it’s interesting and it’s a large industry.” Ideally she’d be involved with the farms that deliver to the slaughterhouse. “Someone needs to talk to them about the farm and their animals, for example how many animals they will send to the slaughter house… I would like to be that person. Who sort of connects it all.” I wonder if she is not concerned whether it might be emotionally too heavy. Is she in peace with the slaughter process? Her reply is calm and confident. “Yeah, I really am. I think we have great animal welfare in Sweden in all parts of the production and that includes the slaughter process.”
Finally I am curious about her vlogs. She explains that she had a blog and wanted to try something else, not only writing. “I think it’s fun to try. I like to do new things, develop myself.” She aims to reach a different audience with her videos, which are not as complex as the blogs she writes. One of the vlogs I had seen was about labels you find on Swedish products in the supermarket. “‘Kött fran Sverige’ labeled meat products means the animal has to be born, raised and slaughtered in Sweden. Also processing and packaging has to take place in Sweden.” Sweden has laws that are more strict when it comes to animal production. Besides guaranteeing the Swedish standards, the consumer also knows immediately where the meat is from. “It’s very popular, it’s on so many products. It makes it really easy to find Swedish meat.” Although, other producers started to imitate the label. In her vlog she explains the differences and shows a piece of bacon with a Swedish flag printed on the package. “It was Swedish meat in it, but it was processed and packed in – I think it was the Netherlands.” There are moments that I am proud to be Dutch, this is definitely not one of them.
“You can always ask a farmer if they need help.”
As a last question I wonder if she has anything left she’d like to say, maybe some advice for future students? “I think its really, really good to work on a farm. Especially If you don’t have experience from before, like if you haven’t lived on a farm.” She adds that she thinks it’s not too hard to get some experience. “You can always ask a farmer if they need help. Because they are happy to teach you everything you need.” Her enthusiasm is contagious, though I couldn’t agree more myself anyway. She concludes: “Thats a very important thing I think.”
I’d like to thank Amanda for her time and contribution. This interview was the second of a new series I named ‘Inspired by’, in which I’d like to introduce you to other people and their perspectives. If you have any ideas, questions or comments please write them below.