Monthly Archives: March 2017

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.


Vår i Uppsala

Do you know this feeling, when the sunlight touches your face and you realize how much you missed her? Sunshine, it’s like liquid happiness. Especially after these long, dark Scandinavian winters. Last week started with days of snowfall, yet soon it was replaced with bright, sunny days. The ice melted away, the gravel is being brushed off from the pathways. My bike is not wearing his winter tires any longer. The amount of people running outdoors is tremendous. You can feel the tension for the Valborg festival starting to build up. And to top it all of, this weekend we will get the best present you can imagine: Another hour of daylight, hurra!

Beautiful Uppsala, I took the photo last week. In the middle you see the famous Domkyrkan.


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.


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.


GAP21: Intensive dairy in Denmark

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.

Adorable, those young dairy calves. With their big eyes and wet noses, trying to lick you when you approach. In Denmark many dairy farms are so big that there are always some new born calves around. Farmers have mixed feelings when a new calf is born. Is it a cow or a bull calf? It’s a hard day, when mainly males are born. In Denmark it is not uncommon that the bull calves are shot, even before it had it’s first drink. All over the world farmers with specialized dairy systems face the same struggle: What to do with the bull calves? In some countries there are little issues raising these young bulls, but in Denmark that is not the case. ‘I wish I could let them live, but I will loose a lot of money on feeding it and in the end I can not sell it for a reasonable price’, a farmer explained. So this picture you see, it’s females only; their brothers never made it to the young stock stable. It was taken in 2012, but I am afraid there is no reason to believe the faith of bull calves has changed yet. 


How Sweden made me a feminist.

Feminism. What was your first association to this word? To me for a long time when thinking about feminism those images of angry women popped up in my head. Those women with big bushes of hair under their armpits who’d put out bras on the streets to protest. I had seen pictures of them, in my history books. What would you need feminism these days for, I wondered? Correct or not, growing up in The Netherlands I was never under the impression of unequal opportunities for men or women. We could all go to school, choose career paths we found interesting and would be allowed to vote one day, right?

“”You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife.”

In the years that followed I started noting some ‘small things‘ that seemed a little odd, but I never paid too much attention to. No, the real eye opener came, when I went on a working holiday in New Zealand. When I got accepted for an amazing horse job I was absolutely delighted. Though soon enough I realized that the guy I worked for treated women without any respect. I had been shouted at before, but never because of my gender. “You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife. I did not stay long. Nor did I in the next two horse stables, where a similar situation simply seemed to reoccur. However something had awakened in me, and it never went back to sleep.

“Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?”

Back in the Netherlands I started looking at things in a different perspective. Was it really that more equal, I wondered? Thoughts I had not given much attention to before, kept popping into my head. About teachers who would never take me serious in class, so I’d ask my male classmates to ask the question for me. Or why had it automatically been assumed I would become a cashier and not a shelf stacker, when I applied for my first job at the local supermarket? How about all these sexist jokes my friends from uni seemed to consider very funny, were they really that innocent? Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?

Toilet signs at SLU are gender neutral

I didn’t stay for a long time at home, as my master studies in Sweden followed shortly after my gap year. I am not saying Sweden is perfect in terms of gender equality, but it comes pretty damn close. Construction workers apologizing for the inconvenience, instead off making sexist jokes while a woman passes by. Fathers having the same, very long, paternity leave as mothers when their babies are born. Boys working as cashiers, while girls are stocking shelves. I’ll never forget the first guy that introduced himself to me as a feminist – I almost spilled my drink back then, but I got used to it now. Did you know that they even introduced a new word to their language, to express themselves without indicating someone’s gender?

“An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet.”

Most importantly, people find it simply normal to talk about how to overcome the gender pay gap, the lack of women leaders or the stereotype that sensitive men are seen as weak. Here, feminists are not put in a corner as attention-seeking man haters, feminists are those people (let’s put no gender discrimination of the subject here 😉 ) that speak up for gender equality. An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet. An inequality that I learned not to overlook any longer and am now willing to fight for.  Tack så mycket, Sweden, for changing me into a feminist.

Rest me to say: Happy International Women’s Day 😀


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.


Around Uppsala: The Botanical Garden

The large, elegant botanical garden of Uppsala is a place you’ll probably discover quite soon once you’re living here. Located centrally, opposite the famous and iconic Slott, and between several buildings of Uppsala University, it’s hard to miss. In winter time the garden seems quite sober and is for a large part not even open to visitors. However, it took me long enough to find out one of the garden’s best kept secrets: The Orangery.

“It’s such a pleasure to visit the place, a little bit like an escape to another world.”

Three different plant species in one photo  – the fruits on the left are figs

Most of the garden’s plants are housed in extremely large pots and live outside only seasonally. Before the cold Swedish winter kicks in they are moved into the orangery. This beautiful 200 years old, baroque building has high ceilings and plenty of windows to keep the plants and trees happy. It’s such a pleasure to visit the place, a little bit like an escape to another world. We recognised several species, such as fig trees, agave plants and freshly smelling laurel.

Such massive plant pots! Me for scale.

When my friend and me visited last week, we ran into one of the friendly staff members who told us enthusiastically about the plants. He explained that in springtime, about the beginning of May, there is a fun event day when the plants are moved back outside. A bit like the ‘ko-släpp‘ – the cow’s dance when they are allowed outside for the first time after winter – but for plants. I bet there will be a bit less of running and bucking but it sounds like it would still be worth a visit!

Feel like going for a wander yourself? During winter the orangery is opened Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm. Want to read more? You can find further information on the website of Destination Uppsala and Uppsala University. If you have any questions feel free to leave a reply below.