Monthly Archives: April 2017


Like many animal science students, I am a horse girl. Obviously not everybody is into horses in our programme, but there is a large share of the girls that spend their free time at the stables. And I am one of them. Since the start of my masters programme here in Sweden I have been very lucky to be a ‘medryttare’, which kind of translates into ‘co-rider’, meaning to say I am riding and helping out with someone else’s horse. Lots of fun and a great way to see more of this country’s beautiful nature. Talking about nature, I am a little bit obsessed with spotting wildlife while in Sweden. I mean, there are a lot of animals out here in the woods that you would never encounter in the Netherlands. Imagine spotting a wolf or a moose! Unfortunately I still haven’t seen either one of those in the wild, but I have been lucky enough to see a wild boar, a badger, three different types of deer, crane birds and squirrels.

“I halted my horse and held my breath, as right in front of us, stood a beautiful roe deer.”

Yesterday I went out for a horse ride in the beautiful area of Hågadalen. It was late afternoon, the sun was low on the horizon and there were not that many people around any more. We were with a small group of three horses and riders and we were not far from home when I saw something moving not far ahead from us. As I was the first rider I turned around in the saddle and hushed my friends. I halted my horse and held my breath, as right in front of us, stood a beautiful roe deer. It was simply standing there, on the middle of the track, staring at us. I could not have been more excited.

Photo by Lotta Selberg

The other riders, two Swedish women, were clearly not impressed. Well, they were a bit astonished I think, by my excitement, but did not seem to pleased about the deer. Not pleased at all! “That, that is what we call a ‘jävlabambi’,” my friend Lotta sighed, “and you really don’t want to run into them.”. For your information: Jävla is one of the most commonly used Swedish curse words. And well, who doesn’t know Bambi? The problem is that the – silly – horses, get spooked by the deer. It doesn’t help that deer are not as frightened by horses as they are by humans, thanks to the horse smell. However, the deer are still shy in a way, so they will run, hide in bushes, and reappear. Wonderful ingredients for a horse to activate their natural flight instinct, one you try to avoid as a rider.

Indeed our horses tensed as we approached closer, but remained calm enough to keep walking. But for me it was an amazing experience, the three dear only on a few meters distance as we passed. I still have ‘seeing a moose in the wild’ on my bucket list, but I think I might add a note ‘not from horseback!’ to it 😉


Kosläpp: Dance of the Dairy Cows

The well-being of Swedish farm animals is regulated through strict rules in the Swedish animal welfare law Djurskyddslagen. For example in Sweden the crating of lactating sows, or beak trimming of laying hens is not permitted, which are common practices in the rest of the European Union. Another notable rule is the obligatory access to pasture for cows during summer time. Depending on country region, legislation requires cows to have access to grazing during summer for at least two to four months. Though not everybody is in favour of the current legislation, most Swedes seem proud of this tradition in its agriculture. Many Swedish people go and watch the yearly kosläpp which are organised all through the country.

“These days are so popular that you have to reserve your tickets in advance through dairy cooperative Arla.”

‘Excuse me, what kind of slap?’, I can hear you think. It was my first reaction as well, however, I don’t think this beautiful Swedish word is very translatable. Literally it would kind of mean the ‘release of the cows’. In practise it has become a festive event on the first day when farmers let their cows go out on the pasture. Besides watching the cows jump around in their excitement, some farms host some extra activities. These days are so popular that you have to reserve your tickets in advance through dairy cooperative Arla. If you’re in Sweden, go and have a look at their website to see when a farm in your area hosts their kosläpp! Our SLU research dairy farm at Lövsta will host a släpp as well, including lectures about ongoing research and possibilities to have a peek into the stables and at the machinery.

I really love this initiative as I think it is a good way to reduce the gap between consumer and farmer. It makes the dairy industry transparent and is a fun way for children to learn about farm animals. And as an (international) student it is a nice opportunity to get a feeling for Swedish animal farming, so what are you waiting for? 😉 No time to go out and watch? No worries, this year you can even have a look at the cow’s dance through livestream.

Do dairy farms open their doors to consumers on the first day of the pasture season as well in your country? Feel free to comment or ask questions below.


Glad Påsk!

Growing up in the Netherlands, I imagined Easter to be pretty much the same all over Europe. Though Swedish Easter definitely has many aspects in common with the Dutch celebration, I was surprised by some very old traditions that I had never heard of before. When my room mates explained to me that children dress up like witches and come to the doors for candy, I was convinced they were confusing the topic with Halloween. But I was wrong! My Swedish room mate told me proudly that the Swedish Easter traditions existed long time before the American version of Halloween gained popularity in Sweden.

“Folklore alleges that witches would fly on broomsticks to a legendary meadow named Blåkulla, where they would dance with the devil.”

The tradition we are talking about is called Påskkärring (“Easter witch”), and is assumed to originate from around 1600. Folklore alleges that witches would fly on broomsticks to a legendary meadow named Blåkulla, where they would dance with the devil. A bit more exciting than Easter bunnies and eggs, don’t you agree? Based on this old story, children dress up as sweet looking witches and will make cards with drawings or rhymes which they will hand out at the doors hoping to receive Easter candy.

Amanda beautifully dressed in traditional ‘Easter-witch-clothing’
with scarf and face paint. Photo by Jeanette Axelsson.

Because of course they also eat lots of chocolate and paint chicken eggs in Sweden during Easter. The funny thing is that the chocolate eggs are different from the ones I knew: In the Netherlands we have mainly small solid chocolate eggs, individually wrapped in coloured tin foil. However, the Swedish Easter candy is presented in a beautifully decorated, very large plastic egg, which contains a lot of different chocolates and other candy inside. And while our countries share the idea of eating asparagus around Easter time, Swedes celebrates Easter with lots of fish as well.

Did you notice any other particular Swedish events this Easter? Feel free to tell all about it in the comment section below. Enjoy your Easter holidays!


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.


GAP 21: Sheep in Sweden

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.

In Scandinavia, sheep production is strongly bound to the climate. However,
there are different types of production systems used. Timing of birth of the lambs
is regulated by the time of year breeding takes place. Depending on the moment
that lambs are ready for slaughter, it is either called spring, autumn or winter
production.  The impact of the type of production is huge, since lambs born before
late spring, will need to be kept indoors over winter. Not only does this mean that
more space is required in the barn, there are also higher costs of straw, hay and labour.
Yet, this production system is not uncommon. The lambs on the photo had spent
their lives indoor thus far; their first day outside was a joy to watch!


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)

Bike Life

“The many bike lanes that run through the whole city make biking a safe and efficient option.”

As a student it’s probably the first thing you should buy once you’ve moved into Uppsala: A bike. Uppsala is known in Sweden as ‘The bike town’, and this nickname did not come out of the blue. The many bike lanes that run through the whole city make biking a safe and efficient option. To me, coming from the Netherlands, the possibilities of biking everywhere and the town including a proper biking infrastructure did not seem very special at first. But the more I talk with both Swedish and international students, the more I realise how uncommon such a situation is. And very, very well appreciated.

Some things were new to me though. For example, the mountains. All my non-Dutch friends tell me they are ‘just hills’, but these steep bastards are definitely mountains to me. Though Uppsala is rather flat you still feel whether you are biking uphill or downhill and there are for sure streets almost every city cyclist tends to avoid because they are quite steep. Another new aspect are the relatively large distances. I must admit, not everybody is as determined to bike as me and many of my friends buy monthly bus tickets, especially in wintertime. However there is a large share of students that bikes from town to university on a daily basis.

Most bike lanes are shared with pedestrians. And in some areas
paths are even shared with horses! The split on the sign marks
where exactly one is supposed to make use of the track.

From my house to campus is a bit more than 7 km long and takes about half an hour. However, the popular student area of Flogsta is also located about 3 km from the city centre, which takes up to 15 minutes, depending on where in town you have to be. This means that on an average day on which you go to SLU during the day and meet up with friends at one of the nation pubs in the night, you will bike one and a half hour. That does not yet include any additional biking for doing groceries or going to the gym. However, my cycling life reached a new level now I have to visit Lövsta on a regular basis because of my degree project. From my house to Lövsta is over 16 km, one way. Which takes a bit more than an hour, meaning after coming home from my research chicks, I’ve already spend two to two and a half hours on bike. Luckily the route is quite beautiful and I am sure it keeps me fit. Or at least, I’d like to believe that!

Are you coming to Uppsala for (part of) your studies? The best advice I can give you is to start saving up some money for a nice, proper bike. You can thank me later 😉