Category Archives: Studies

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

 

Piloting

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.

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

 

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.
Rosan

 

Course: Anthrozoology

As this year is the second of my masters programme I am spending the time of a full semester on my degree project (read more here). Even though I am quite excited about the topic, at this moment I am still in the exploring phase and I feel like there isn’t much to write about it yet. However, last year I’ve taken part in many courses and I thought it may be of interest to tell more about them. The courses of the masters programme in Animal Science are currently being changed, renewed or fused together. Therefore you may not find the courses I took in the programme any longer, but most of them will be part of another, larger course in the new syllabus.

An… thro… zo… sorry, what?

You may not be familiar with the term anthrozoology. Trust me, you’re not alone. But you probably have heard of the term zoology, meaning animal biology, which our study of animal science is largely based on. Anthrozoology is about human-animal interactions. Sometimes it is also referred to as human-non-human-animal studies. A small field in science that has been gaining popularity rapidly over the past few years. There are not that many places in the world to study it (yet?) and I was very excited about SLU offering this course. I think this topic is fascinating and I am somewhat surprised there isn’t more research done into it yet. After all we humans interact with animals very frequently. What would the world look like without pets? But also keep in mind all the people who interact with animals while working; like farmers, security workers and zookeepers.

“Research findings are often related to a specific context and it can be hard to predict whether the conclusions will be relevant to other situations.”

The course was worth 5 ECTS credits and built up out of lectures, scientific seminars, case discussions and project work. Most time of this course I spent on the project work, which took place in small groups. The instructions were as followed: Each group will work with a problem in human-animal relations in dogs, cats, horses, farm animals or other pets. The groups should find scientific records on how well different methods work. The end product will be advices to the owners based on scientific knowledge. At the end of the course the groups should make a role play where the meeting between animal, owner and the therapist is played for the others.”

Our group had chosen to work with separation anxiety in dogs. To my surprise it was a well studied subject meaning we could find several papers related to the topic. The hard part was to translate the findings of these papers into practical advices. Research findings are often related to a specific context and it can be hard to predict whether the conclusions will be relevant to other situations. It becomes worse if the studies contradict each other. The role play was a new form of examination to me and though many of us were sceptical at first, it worked out really well. The role play focused on the practical part while the individual paper gave room to discuss the science behind it.

If you still have any questions you are more than welcome to ask them in a reply below.

Rosan

What is Animal Science?

Imagine. It is Wednesday night and you go with your friends to the nations for a drink. Upon arrival you realise there’s a new face in the group so you introduce yourself. This itself can be already quite challenging, especially if the group is international – you may hear a name you’ve never heard before and seems impossible to pronounce. When I say my name is Rosan the reply will either be “Roxanne?” or “Rose?”, after which I try to explain it’s like ‘Rosa’ but with an additional ‘n’ in the end. Sometimes you also ask each other where you are from but it won’t be long before the topic changes to studies.

“So you are studying to become a vet?”

I guess for some people this is a very easy question to answer. Imagine studying mathematics, history or English language… However, for people studying at SLU it is usually not that straight forward. I guess my programme is not as hard to explain as for example ‘Rural development and natural resource management‘, still sometimes I secretly wish I could just say I studied biology. After mentioning you are studying animal sciences, nine out of ten people will reply: “So you are studying to become a vet?”. No, I am not. I am hoping to graduate as an animal scientist!

“Animal science focusses on animals kept in a human environment – mainly farm animals but occasionally also pets, horses and zoo animals.”

As most people are well aware of what a veterinarian does, I try to use this when explaining animal science. A vet will look at a sick animal and needs to recognise the disease and will try to cure the animal. As an animal scientist you look at an animal kept by people and try to find the best way to do it – how to prevent it from getting sick in the first place. What is the best way to house this animal, what is the optimal feed for it and how do we breed the next generation? Of course the fields of veterinary and animal science have some overlap, but I think this is a fundamental difference. There is also a lot in common with biology, though animal science focusses on animals kept in a human environment – mainly farm animals but occasionally also pets, horses and zoo animals.

Within animal science there are several subdisciplines. Right now the master’s programme at SLU is going through a transition, but by choosing certain courses you can give a kind of ‘profile’ to your degree. At SLU these tracks are divided into the following three main categories:

  • Ethology / Animal Welfare / Animal Environment
  • Nutrition / Production Biology
  • Genetics / Breeding

Back to the storyline of the nation pub. Because sometimes it happens that people are quite interested in what you explained about your studies. They they might ask this most difficult question: “What will you be when you graduate?”. Or in other words; what will you do for a living after you finished studying? The easy answer is saying studying animal science will lead to graduating as an animal scientist. This is not really clarifying though. Animal scientists kind of end up everywhere – you’ll find them working at universities, companies, governments and ngo’s. I absolutely appreciate animal science being such a broad programme with aspects of economics and social science, but when it comes to future jobs it is not very specific. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – you have a lot of opportunities.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love my studies. Though there are days when I stand in the pub wishing I was studying to become a vet and my name was Roxanne. How easy life would be!

Rosan

Zotero

So I went to this class in zotero. After salsa, bachata and kizomba I thought it was time for a new challenge. Just kidding, zotero is a system to sort your references, like endnote. But don’t you agree the name fits quite well in that list of social dances? Anyway, the zotero workshop was hosted by the library and you had to sign up by email beforehand. I had received a reply with the question if people could come an hour later to an extra workshop, as there was such a huge interest. When I arrived it turned out everyone else had shown up at the original time, and therefore I had a private workshop in zotero.

“The librarian called it enthusiastically ‘Magic for scientists!’”

As I told you a few weeks ago, I recently started with my degree project. Right now I am doing literature research and soon I should start writing. You are probably familiar with the concept of reference lists at the end of a project or report. I knew that some smart software had been developed to make this easier, but I had never used it myself. If the project is not too big and the reference list not that long, I think it’s a small effort to type it. But for the degree project I expect to end up with a big pile of references, so when I saw the invite to the workshop this seemed the perfect moment.

“If you are aiming for an academic career – publishing in scientific magazines – you are going to love this.”

It may sound like a dull topic, but it was pretty eye-opening! The librarian called it enthusiastically ‘Magic for scientists!’. It takes a small effort because you have to download a programme, a plug-in and make yourself a web account, but I think it’s going to be extremely time saving in the future. It seems very user friendly and easy to learn. And if you are aiming for an academic career – publishing in scientific magazines – you are going to love this. Scientific magazines usually all have their preferred style of reference lists and by using a programme like zotero with one click the lay out will change. That can be a life saver!

SLU has some very useful information about the programme on their webpage to get you started. Go have a look and become a science wizard 😉 Still some questions? Feel free to post them below.

Rosan

 

Project-work: Breeding & Feeding

Even though the horse course is officially finished by now, I would like to tell you a little bit about the project we have been working on during the course. It was introduced to us as followed: “In this project you will focus on a stud farm that you visit on your own in small groups. You will work with a breed from the list below. The breeds are chosen because they have different use and nutritional requirements. The project includes both breeding and feeding. When possible, a synthesis between the two parts shall be made.”. Our class was divided into four groups and the breeds we worked with were the Arabian horse, Gotland pony, the Swedish Ardenner and Pura Raza Española(PRE). My group had the Arabian breed and our study visit was absolutely fabulous, you can read all about it in this post.

“Although the breeds were very different, there were quite some similarities concerning the challenges.”

Working on the project took place alongside classes and practicals. Our group had decided to split the breeding and feeding parts initially and I ended up in breeding. The breeding part was divided once more into Arabian horse breeding on a national level and ‘on-farm level’. All chosen breeds are relatively small when it comes to the amount of horses in Sweden. Some of them have a large population when looking at a global level(PRE and Arabian horse) while others barely exist out of Sweden(Gotland pony, Swedish Ardenner). This strongly affects the orientation of the studbook and breeding strategies.

picture2cOur breeding scheme of Arabian horses on the National level

It was really interesting to compare the differences between the projects during the end presentations. Although the breeds were very different, there were quite some similarities concerning the challenges. Does the selection process match the breeding goal?  What genetic diseases could cause problems and how is dealt with the prevention of these?

“The nutrition part of the course has been very good and it was a great experience to put theory to practice.”

For the feeding evaluation we had taken feed samples on the farm to analyse the roughage. We had received all information on concentrates and supplements used and talked with the breeders about their pasture management. We calculated nutrition requirements for young horses, pregnant and lactating mares and compared these with the analysis of the feed provided. Combined with the results of the body condition scoring we ended up with a clear picture of the current situation and were able to come up with well founded recommendations. The nutrition part of the course has been very good and it was a great experience to put theory to practice.

dsc_0839  dsc_0843
The main stables of Slängsboda studfarm

The most important part of the project was to analyse and evaluate the breeding and feeding practices on the farm, but other management aspects were also taken into consideration. For example our farm had one of the best stabling systems I have ever seen. Generally speaking it was spacious, light and clean. But it were the boxes that were outstanding. As most of them were without bars they allowed a wide range of social contact between the horses. The in between walls were removable, giving the opportunity to change box size and for example create a group-housing. However, this system was not only beneficial for the horses, it was also very ergonomic: Deep litter bedding required minimal daily workload and was easily removed mechanically by the end of the season.

All together I would say we learned a lot during the project. Also the teachers told us they were extremely pleased with the efforts the groups had made this year – Thank you all for well written reports! The best first versions we have read in many years!” – which was of course really nice to hear. If you have any more questions on the project or the horse course, please comment below.

Rosan

 

 

The degree project

Last week we changed from the first half of the Autumn semester to the second half. It’s hard to believe already a quarter of this academic year has flown by again. I am kind of sad that the horse-course is over, but I guess all good things must come to an end. However I am planning on writing a few more posts on the course and also I haven’t gotten my exam back yet… so might not be over at all. However, for now I would like to tell you about my new course. Actually, it’s not really a ‘course’-course, I am starting this period with my degree project – also known as master thesis. This project is accountable for a quarter of the total amount of ECTS in the master programme Animal Science, so yes, kind of important 😉

“For most of us the degree project will be the first time to actually take part in an experiment.”

As I see it a degree project is kind of a sneak peak into academic life, like an internship on a PhD-position. Even though you may already have written a thesis for you bachelor, for most of us the degree project will be the first time to actually take part in an experiment. As a student in Animal Science this often concerns animal experiments, something that should not be considered lightly. Luckily a lot of these studies are not invasive to the animals, but it depends strongly on what direction your specializing in.

Right now I am going through the registration process and am working on my research plan proposal. This means that I already should have a clear idea of what and how I am planning to do the research. As my project is part of a larger project, certain things are already decided while other aspects are still open to my own interpretation. And of course everything is guided by your supervisor.

I am looking very much forward on the work ahead in the degree project but I must admit that the beginning is a bit of a struggle.  In Dutch we have a saying ‘Alle begin is moeilijk’, which literally translates to ‘all starts are difficult’. I think there’s a lot of truth to it, or at least there is for me, haha. However, there is another saying ‘Een goed begin is het halve werk‘ which means ‘a good start is half the job’. My point being that the start may be difficult, but doing the beginning properly will pay off later 🙂

Rosan