Today was our first visit out to a working farm as part of our animal hygiene module, basically to let us put everything that we have covered in the module so far into practice. I am going share some photo’s and videos today as they were very enthusiastic with us taking them as to paraphrase they have nothing to hide as they exceed all the legal standards! I absolutely love this philosophy and the level of care and welfare shown to these animals exceeds some UK farms!!!
It is a large farm split over several different sites producing milk, sheep and beef. The site we visited today was their main one which has around 500 cows and 1600 sheep. Whilst it may seem like a large number of cows, the use of a management system where cows had free access to internal and external areas in groups of no more than 20. The door’s between the inside and outside areas have coverings to help prevent draughts and are even fitted with brushes for the cows to use (yes I had to get a video)!
Something I would like to talk about here is animal behaviour – whilst the intent of the brush is for cows to be able to clean themselves it is by no means what the cows are doing. When talking about animal behaviour it is important to record the action without interpretation as unless you can speak animal you can never be sure what the intention is. A very recent example would be a friend whose dog would grab their shoes, they had always thought it because the dog liked shoes. However when it was suggested that they try taking the dog for a walk when he did this they realised it was because the dog needed toilet, and associated shoes with going outside.
Anyways back on topic, in addition the cows and milk production there were also sheep located in a separate area of the farm. Lambing had finished already in February so there was a lot of lambs around, however here the magic number (lambs to ewe ratio) was 1.2 which from my experience in with UK farms was a little low. When I say low here I mean in terms of production economics for the producers, however a lower number is generally better for the ewe as it means that there are less twins and triplets. During the visit the farm cat popped into say hi, I just had to get this on video as it was so cute!
All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience as back in the UK there are so many horror stories of farms in Europe so it was a great experience to have this myth dispelled!
This week in animal hygiene we started with our double lecture:double practical system as next week instead of being in the classroom we are out visiting a cow and sheep farm. So we previously defined animal hygiene and now today we spent the lecture looking at the specific requirements of cattle in the different life stages. When dealing with production animals one of the best management strategies is grouping together animals with the same nutritional and environmental needs. With cattle these are split into
Dairy Cows (Female lactating cows)
Calves (Until 6 months of age)
Heifers (Females aged 7 months – first calving
Bulls (From 7 months of age)
Theses categories are further broken down by age and weight, and within this by breed and health status. Generally a single group of animals should not exceed 20 animals, and during the calf stage animals may only be individually penned up until 8 weeks of age (excluding those receiving veterinary treatment). Some of the reasoning behind this includes the memory of the cow to recognise other members of the group, promoting natural behaviour whilst trying to provide for the physical and mental needs of the animal.
As I said on Tuesday, I am going split the diary entry for Tuesday where I have tonnes to write about over both Tuesday and today which is a little quieter. So Tuesday’s physiology practical was on the reproductive physiology of animals and we did a few tests looking at the ovulation and breeding of animals, before then heading down to the clinic to look at induction and synchronisation of ovulation in sheep practice.
The most basic clinical exam when looking at reproduction in animals is taking a vaginal smear, basically a swab is inserted into the vagina to collect a sample of the skin cells. These cells alter depending on the levels of different hormones within the blood allowing detection of ovulation and fertility within the animal. We did vaginal smears from a dog and from rats which was interesting because of how the same techniques can be applied across species regardless of size.
We then went down to look at induction of ovulation in some sheep, this is extremely important within the sheep industry to ensure that animals will lamb at the same time and so allow for this to be planned and managed properly. It’s especially useful for production of Christmas Lamb or Easter Lamb for holiday occasions. This can be done either naturally by introducing a infertile ram into the flock, or artificially using hormones to induce the estrus. The technique we learnt was inserting a vaginal sponge (kinda like a tampon) soaked with hormones to induce estrus, this sponge is then left in place for 14 days before then being removed and a ram introduced for mating.
Another Thursday and another day of animal hygiene, today we started looking at how temperature is managed and the different ways that heat is lost from the buildings. We then started looking at interpreting architect drawings and plans for construction to be able to calculate the required ventilation for the animals as well as for their lighting and space requirements.
Sadly this is a skill that I don’t think I’ll get to use as it is such a specialist area and one that I feel is not used as there is not much construction in new farm facilities. It is however very interesting to learn, and does help reinforce how the environmental conditions that the animals are kept in are controlled. Sadly however it is not the most exciting thing to write about, hopefully this will get better in a couple of weeks once I get out onto some farms and see some living, breathing animals!!! 🙂
There are also rumours that we actually have to design our own animal housing as part of our final assessment in this module. This would actually be interesting as I am not sure whether I would go for an intensive or extensive design…