Tag Archives: housing

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.


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.


Workshop mechanical ventilation

It’s already almost the end of February. Crazy how the time seems to fly by. Also, it means that we’re more than halfway with the housing course. I’ve told you about a couple of excursions(to Jälla and Lövsta) we’ve done for this course so far, but this time I’d like to give you some insight into another aspect of the course. No cute pictures of piglets any longer! Last week we had a so-called workshop in mechanical ventilation. Torsten Hörndahl came over all the way from SLU Alnarp (close to Lund) to learn us the ins and outs of ventilation of farm buildings. A serious afternoon of hard work.

“Ventilation plays an important role in keeping temperature and humidity within the limits of both good animal welfare and good human comfort.”

We started with a lecture on mechanical ventilation. First of all we discussed why do we ventilate? Besides guaranteeing fresh air to every animal, ventilation plays an important role in keeping temperature and humidity within the limits of both good animal welfare and good human comfort. Not in all cases ventilation has to be mechanical, depending on the type of building and amount of animals, natural ventilation may be sufficient. When using mechanical ventilation, it’s important to realize whether you’ll design a system with or without a pressure difference between inside and outside the building. Both have their pros and cons regarding efficiency, safety and costs.

After listening for a couple of hours the workshop took place. We were divided into groups and given several documents we were going to work with. Not only was our understanding of the theory tested, we were challenged to make calculations as well. I must admit it was a long day and the tasks were not easy. However in the end I think we did get the hang of it and i’d say we learned a lot more by doing the actual calculations and answering questions rather than just listening. Guaranteed that next time when walking into a stable, you’ll look at all those air out- and inlets in a different way!

Any questions? Feel free to ask.

GAP21: Alpacas in Norway

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.

Have you ever met an alpaca? If you’re from Europe the chances that you might
answer ‘ yes’ have increased rapidly over the past years. This adorable looking
camelid comes originally from the Andes of South America, but seems to cope well
with the European climate. Alpaca wool is famous for it’s special fibres and sells
for an extraordinary price compared to sheep wool. Small alpaca businesses are
popping up all around Europe, though science-based knowledge or regulations
on how you’re supposed to keep the species are hard to find. The beauty on the
picture is a young alpaca, housed in a small flock on a mixed farm in Norway.


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.



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 🙂