Monthly Archives: January 2017

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!


Global Animal Production in the 21st Century

Hej allihop,

I decided to introduce another category: Global Animal Production in the 21st Century. Which I’ll abbreviate down to GAP21. The purpose? Show what animal production looks like in the current era, Worldwide. An important part of the study of animal sciences consists of farm visits, both on a national and an international level. Theory might be the foundation of the academic education, excursions to learn how animal production takes place in real form an important component as well. I’ve done a lot of these excursions, talked to many farmers and… I have taken heaps of photos. Between my bachelor and master programme I’ve done several farming jobs while travelling in Oceania.  What do these farming systems have in common, and what is totally different?

“Let me show you what I have seen and learned thus far: One photo at a time.”

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.

Questions? Comments? Other ideas? Let me know by leaving a reply.



Last friday I went ‘piloting’ for my degree project. No, I do not mean to say I am considering a different career path 😉 I went to try out the protocol I had designed earlier this week for scoring behavioural observations. Which is usually referred to as ‘a pilot study’ or sometimes bended into the verb ‘piloting’. As I mentioned in a previous post, for many of us the degree project is the first time in our studies that we are actually taking part in an experiment. Luckily I followed the course Ethological Methods and Experimental Design last year. In this course we did several experiments trying out the different observational methods to analyse animal behaviour. This is really helping me now to figure out what type of scoring would be most useful and practical.

I met the chicks for the first time! They are about five weeks old now and very curious 🙂

You might have brilliant ideas, but it has to be feasible. Last friday I learned that doing instantaneous scan sample observations – in which you try to note down what type of activity each individual is doing in an instant – works for 10 chickens, but not for 32. Perhaps if you are well trained you might improve slightly, but each time I checked my paper afterwards I had somehow missed about.. well… a third of the birds. Ahum. So yes, it’s really great to do pilot studies and find out what works – and what doesn’t. This obviously was a bit too ambitious. However, I know that for my true observations the amount of birds will be split in half, which will make life easier. In the meantime the search for the perfect scoring protocol continues…

In one of my next posts I will explain more about the topic of my research project. Stay tuned! And of course, like always, please feel free to ask questions.


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 🙂



The struggle of learning Swedish

Once upon a time I moved to Sweden to study. As I would spend the coming two years in this new country, of course I would learn the language. There are quite some similarities between Swedish and my mother-tongue Dutch, so how hard could it be…? Dream on. One and a half years has past, and my speaking skills reach about as far as saying ‘hej, hur mår du?’ (= hello, how are you?) and ‘tack’ (thanks). Which is pretty much the same as I spoke the first week. Yes, I do feel bad about this. Am I just a terrible person who didn’t put any effort into this? No. Actually, many of my international friends are in the same position. I think there are three main reasons for this.

  1. Swedes speak English too well.
    Young or old, it doesn’t matter, almost everybody is capable of speaking perfectly clear English. Meaning to say that even if you try to speak Swedish, when the friendly Swede notices you are foreign, she/she will switch to English for you. Even though this is extremely kind, it also never challenges your language skills. The Swedish language skills, I mean to say.
    Ranking of 2016. In the past five years, Sweden was placed as either #1 or #3 of best English speaking countries in the World. Source: EF EPI
  2. SFI is not efficient.
    Sweden offers free language courses for everyone staying long term, named ‘Svenska För Ivandrar’ (= Swedish For Immigrants = SFI). As a master student staying for a full time programme you are allowed to join this free education. Yeay! You don’t even have to purchase any course materials. I remember how delighted I was when I had my intake. However, motivation faded awfully quickly. After a full day of university it takes quite some discipline to jump on your bike once more to spend another two hours in a classroom. As the learning method is extremely slow and the classes are not progressive – you ‘level up’ once in a while – this doesn’t really increase motivation. Almost all of my friends started SFI, but one by one we’ve all dropped out…
  3. Swedes are perfectionists in melody.
    Swedish is a beautiful language to listen to, it’s very melodic. I can read Swedish quite well, I can write it to some extend, but no, I wouldn’t say I speak it. I’ve tried, I promise. But when you initiate a conversation with a Swede, they will interrupt you because you didn’t use the right melody for the word. You thought you were getting somewhere when you finally got the hang of the Swedish ‘vokaler’, but guess what, it’s not enough. I’ve repeated a word twenty times in front of my room mate before he thought I had the melody right. The problem is I didn’t hear any difference myself when I finally pronounced it correctly. Swedish melody is very – very subtle. As I have several friends with similar experiences, I find my international friends practising their Swedish with one another, but not daring to speak in front of a Swede any more.

Admitted, that’s a bit of a depressing list. Don’t lose hope yet! In spite of realising everything I’ve written above, it’s one of my new year’s resolutions to increase my Swedish skills. Therefore I’d like to present you another list: My best advices for those who don’t want to give up 🙂

  1. Use a language app and/or website.
    Whether you pick Duolingo or Babbel, I don’t care. But install the app on your phone or insert the website as your homepage. These programs are not perfect, but they are easy, fun and make you familiar with the language in multiple ways. Babbel is a paid service but includes the valuable training of your speech. Convince your friends to join Duolingo as well so you can compete with them in weekly rankings!

    According to Duolingo, I am 25% fluent, hooray!

  2. Listen to Swedish music and watch Swedish television.
    If you enjoy going out you’ll soon find there are a couple of catchy Swedish songs that will be played frequently towards the end of the night. All the drunk Swedes are singing to it, while you are awkwardly trying to continue dancing. However the next morning on your bike the melody keeps repeating in your head but you still don’t know the words… Youtube is your best friend! Go and find those lyric videos and sing along. Not your cup of tea? Turn on that Swedish radio, put up a Swedish playlist on Spotify or find a series you like on SVT. They come with Swedish subtitles!

    Double lyric video of ‘Vart jag mig i världen vänder’ by ‘Den Svenska Björnstammen’

  3. SPEAK.
    This is the hardest part. Even though your room mate might intimate you slightly with his perfectionism, after all he is only trying to help. Start with small things, try to talk Swedish with the cashier or keep it Swedish when ordering a pizza. I haven’t tried it myself, but have heard great experiences of so called language cafes, which are organised weekly in Uppsala. In the ideal situation you might find a Swede who is interesting in learning your native language, so you both benefit from helping each other out. Still nervous? Inform your Swedish friends of your attempt to learn the language and ask them for a little help.

    Image from

What do you think, do you agree with me or not? Or do you have more tips and tricks? Please share below.

Ha det så bra,

Amanda Andersson – From Sweden with Love

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!

Photo from

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.”

Photo from

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.



Around Uppsala: Fjällnora

“Tracks are plowed on the ice, turning lake Trehörningen into an ice-skating valhalla.”

It’s a little bit further away compared to the other places I’ve described thus far, but I think Fjällnora deserves a page on this blog. Surrounded by lakes and hidden between forest-covered hills, this recreation area is appreciated at all times of year. During summer people go swimming, hiking or kayaking, whilst at winter it’s the ultimate place to go cross country skiing or ice-skating. If it gets cold enough, tracks are plowed on the ice, turning lake Trehörningen into an ice-skating valhalla.

Lake Trehörningen, February 2016.

Fjällnora lays about 25 km east of Uppsala, and is luckily accessible by bus. Take bus 809, but be aware that you’ll have to walk the last 3 km. Make sure to go early, so you’ll have enough time left to spend to enjoy the nature. It might sound a little challenging, but you’ll be glad you went there. Once you arrive you’ll find a campsite, fika place and some other facilities. The atmosphere is really friendly and people are all very helpful. You’ll be able to rent gear for seasonal activities all year round.

My friends skating ahead over lake Trehörningen, photo was taken last winter.

Last year I went with some friends on an ice-skating trip and it was a wonderful experience. After enjoying some hours on the ice we brought back our gear and ordered some hot drinks in the cafe. A lady overheard us talking about which bus to take and what time to leave for the hike to the bus stop, and spontaneously offered the four of us to join her in her car back to Uppsala. We were delighted! Not only was it convenient to us, we also had some nice conversations on our way back. I can’t wait to go there again this year 🙂

For more information take a look at the website of Destination Uppsala (in English) and Uppsala Kommun (in Swedish). Or ask your questions in a reply below.


Kristi Ernst – MSc student from the Netherlands

A few days ago I met with my Dutch friend Kristi while being in the Netherlands. Kristi and I met during her Erasmus exchange in Uppsala and we’ve been in touch ever since. I pick her up from the train station, and though she has been travelling for hours, she is as cheerful and energetic as usual. Kristi continued studying animal sciences for het masters degree at Wageningen University and feels most passionate about animal breeding and genetics. Let’s hear what she has to say about her time at SLU and what she’d like to reach within the field of animal science.

Kristi during a study visit. Photo by study association ‘De Veetelers’.

When asking Kristi why she chose to study in Sweden she tells me she just really wanted to go abroad somewhere. “I wanted to develop myself as a person, become more independent and  I wanted to prove that I am actually capable of doing something like this.” Everyone had told her she wouldn’t be able to do it, studying abroad. The result? She started looking in which country she’d like to apply. SLU offered courses of interest to her and the website was easy to understand. In the end she followed some different courses than originally intended, but enjoyed them a lot either way. “I had made a long list of courses that were appealing to me, these weren’t number one and two, but still they were extremely interesting”.

“I’d rather focus on production animals as I think there is more left to improve for them compared to companion animals.”

While in Uppsala Kristi took the courses Applied Animal Behaviour, Ethological Methods & Experimental Design, Dog & Cat Nutrition and Dogs & Cats Genetic Health and Reproduction.  The courses were a bit easier then expected but she enjoyed the topics a lot. “In the Netherlands there are less possibilities to follow courses on dogs & cats as the focus is more towards production animals, not pets.” I ask her if she considers the possibility of working with pets in the future, but her answer is clear. “Advising pet owners is really difficult because of the huge amount of emotion involved. Besides, I’d rather focus on production animals as I think there is more left to improve for them compared to companion animals.”

“I found life very beautiful in Sweden.”

I am curious how she experienced her time in Uppsala. She tells me how she really liked the Swedish culture. “In the Netherlands everybody seems always busy, stressed and focused on result.” She explains how she feels that Swedes are more living in the moment. It’s not that people were lazy, but the society felt simply nice. “I found life very beautiful in Sweden.” She absolutely loved the social life in Uppsala and is very excited when speaking about the Nations. “Amazing parties and a wide range of night life, there is really something for everybody.” When I asked her if she did much else besides studying and partying we both burst into laughter – we’ve partied quite a lot together. But giving it a second thought she tells me she went hiking frequently with one of her friends. “We’d mainly hike in the forests around Flogsta, I miss that a lot.” She thinks for a second or two and adds: “I will go back one day. That’s for sure.”

Kristi feeding a reindeer during a trip to Northern Sweden last year.
Photo: Tim Steeghs

We’re not finished yet as I am curious to what keeps her busy now. She started the master programme of animal sciences at Wageningen University last semester and will specialize in animal breeding & genetics and adaptation physiology. She has already started working on a degree project focused on pigs. I wonder if she found it difficult to make a choice regarding specialization. “Not at all. When I had to choose studies my first choice was veterinary sciences. When I didn’t get a spot in that programme animal science was the obvious second choice. But from the start I have known I wanted to specialize in breeding and genetics – I’ve been passionate about the topic since high school.” She added adaptation physiology as she enjoys the practical side of this field of science.

“Doubting whether you should study abroad or not? Just do it!”

Finally I want to know about her dreams – in a perfect world, what would she like to do? Does it involve genetics? It’s not an easy question to answer and it takes a little while before her smile widens and she speaks again. “I love pigs and goats. The de-horning of goats is a huge issue in the Dutch goat production.” She explains how there are some existing breeds which don’t grow horns at all. Unfortunately these breeds produce barely any milk. “Maybe we could cross these goats somehow and work with hybrids. To breed a naturally hornless, but productive dairy goat.” Her ideas and enthusiasm are heart-warming. As a last question I ask her if there is anything left she’d like to add. “Yes!”, her eyes sparkle, “Go for it!”. It takes me a few second to realise what she is talking about. She clarifies; in the Netherlands we have a saying that in case of doubt, you should not do it. Kristi convinces me that the case of studying abroad is the exception to this rule. “Doubting whether you should study abroad or not? Just do it!”

I’d like to thank Kristi for her time and contribution. This interview was the first 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.



Gott nytt år!

Gott nytt år! = Happy new year!

All the best wishes for 2017, may we all be as happy as these two little fellas. I saw this cheerful video passing by on my facebook wall and seeing farm animals playing around like that inspires me to work the best I can – hoping to contribute to improved welfare of animals in intensive farming. I’d like to see that expressing such natural behaviour would be possible for all farm animals one day. Not just the ones in sanctuaries!

Movie credits: The Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary

If you are considering to sign up for a programme at SLU this autumn, remember that the deadline to register is already the 16th of January. Don’t be late and start your application now at the official website of University Admissions. It can be quite time consuming as you will have to gather all different kind of documents to show you’re fulfilling the requirements. To apply for the master programme in Animal Sciences specifically, follow this link. Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the reply section below.


Course: Tropical Livestock Production

Another course I’d like to talk about is the course tropical livestock production. I took this course last spring semester and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Our study programme is mainly based on animal production systems in the Western society. Generally examples are taken from the national production, but both universities in Sweden and the Netherlands have shown some aspects of other production systems within Europe and the US. However, I felt that after finishing my bachelors degree my understanding of animal production in other places of the World, was still quite limited. As this course focused on animal production in hot climates in countries of lower economic wealth, there were many new things to learn.

“Goats have some fascinating anatomical and physiological features which make them perfectly adapted to the tropical environment.”

The course was organised by the departments of Animal Nutrition & Management and Animal Breeding & Genetics and worth 5 ECTS credits. The lectures included tropical livestock production systems of several species, but most time was spent on ruminants. To me it was very  interesting to learn about the importance of goats in the tropics. Goats are not a large investment, can live off a relative small amount of land and they can stand seasonal shortages of feed. And they have some fascinating anatomical and physiological features which make them perfectly adapted to the tropical environment. Thanks to their narrow bite and split upper lip they are able to select better compared to other ruminants. As you may know goats are real athletes, meaning they can browse at higher level standing on their hind feet only or by climbing trees. Physiologically speaking goats are able to deal better with tannins, the toxic substances in plants which from time to time cause trouble to ruminants in the tropics. Not only are goats able to detoxify higher amounts of tannins, they also select plants containing different tannins which prevents from the harmful accumulation of one type of tannin. Isn’t that remarkable? 🙂

Goats in an Argan tree, Morocco – Photo by Grand Parc, Wikimedia

Besides the lectures part of the course consisted of an individual project. You were free to choose your own topic as long as it was related to the course and it had to be approved by the course leader. I chose to write about the impact of the increasing cattle production in the Amazonas. There is a lot to find about this subject, but finding objective, recently published articles wasn’t easy. It was extremely interesting and I learned a lot diving into this matter, even though it was not a very cheerful topic… I’ll explain all about this project in a next post 🙂

Any questions? Comments? Don’t hesitate to leave them in a reply below.