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Penn State Students Travel to Germany with Animal Science Tour

Posted: March 31, 2014

Students gained a better understanding of the thriving Germany poultry industry in visits to the University of Vechta, broiler and layer farms, research facilities and businesses that support the industry.
At the Reichstag, from left: Corissa Steimling, Taylor Young, Deanna Miller, Lindsay Royer, Stephen Linde, Hannah Misner, Joshua Cassar, Jillian Koren, Dylan Lape, Jessiah Ramsey, Isaac Haagen, Heather Stutzman, Amy Mayer and Sarabeth Royer.

At the Reichstag, from left: Corissa Steimling, Taylor Young, Deanna Miller, Lindsay Royer, Stephen Linde, Hannah Misner, Joshua Cassar, Jillian Koren, Dylan Lape, Jessiah Ramsey, Isaac Haagen, Heather Stutzman, Amy Mayer and Sarabeth Royer.

Northwestern Germany is the center of Germany's thriving poultry and swine industries, and it was home base for fourteen students and four faculty from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, who traveled there during spring break as part of a course taught by the Department of Animal Science's Dr. Robert Elkin, professor of avian nutritional biochemistry, and Dr. R. Michael Hulet, associate professor of poultry science.

The Penn State group headquartered in the town of Vechta, located in Lower Saxony.  Like Lancaster County, PA, Lower Saxony is one of the areas of the world with the highest animal density. Students gained insight into the German industry through visits to the University of Vechta, the Federal Research Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry in Celle, broiler and layer farms, poultry processing plants, and businesses which support the poultry industry through diagnostics, analytical services, vaccine production, and manufacture of feed additives and equipment.

For several students, it was their first trip outside the United States; for all it was an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between U.S. and German production and processing systems and government regulations, adding depth to their academic preparation and enriching their collegiate experience.

Dr. Elkin said, "The study tour provided an outstanding opportunity for students to gain new insights into the global poultry industry from the European Union perspective. We met many wonderful people and saw some of the most advanced poultry facilities and processing systems in the world.  Besides garnering professional knowledge, another goal of the study tour was to introduce students to German culture and cuisine, while increasing their awareness of Germany's role in world history, particularly the more recent events of World War II and the Cold War."

The visit to the Federal Research Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry in Celle, where fundamental and applied studies center on the health and welfare of farm animals, highlighted animal welfare concerns of the industry in both countries. The Institute studies include evaluation of husbandry, transport, stunning and slaughter procedures all within the context of economic, welfare and environmental issues.

Students quickly learned that the industries in both countries are sharing in the transition to become more transparent to the general public, most of whom have little understanding of animal agriculture. In fact, a project called "Transparency in the Poultry Industry", organized by the University of Vechta, opens poultry barns in Lower Saxony for the interested public on the last Sunday during the months of March to October.

Corissa Steimling, Gettysburg, said, "I was most impressed by the progressiveness of the German poultry industry. They have very thorough regulations in regards to poultry welfare and put a great deal of effort into maintaining the high levels of animal comfort."

Taylor Young, Harleysville, noted, "On a basic level, poultry production is similar in both countries; however, Germany has much stricter environmental and welfare laws. The one sector that is less regulated than ours is in table egg industry. Their eggs do not need to be washed or refrigerated."

A particularly interesting issue for the egg industry is the EU-wide ban on conventional cages - Germany's ban pre-dated that ban by two years. Elkin noted that it was of special interest to students in light of the passage of Proposition 2 in California which takes effect January 1, 2015.

Poultry production in Germany reached record levels in 2012. A total of 1.68 million tonnes of meat was produced, making Germany the second biggest producer of poultry products in the EU. Poultry production was 1.5 million tonnes in 2012, or 18.5 kg per person. Export has also increased significantly over the past few years. In 2012, 688,627 tonnes of poultry products were exported to almost 100 countries worldwide.

The group visited a broiler farm; one of the largest turkey processing plants in the world in Wildeshausen; and Europe's most modern broiler processing plant in Wietze, owned by the Rothkötter Group.

Young was especially impressed with the appearance of the German poultry houses. "They are built to be more aesthetically pleasing and to last a long time. I have seen a lot of chicken houses in Pennsylvania and I never thought of any of them as pretty. The red brick houses in Germany were definitely pretty."

A highlight for some students was visiting Lohmann Animal Health, producers of vaccines, including the world's first oral vaccine against chicken infectious anemia and highly effective live vaccines against salmonella. They also produce a wide range of feed additives and pre-mixes.

For Steimling, one of the most interesting visits was to AniCon Labor GmbH, a provider of laboratory services for food animals and animal food products. This unique laboratory also has the capability to make customized viral and bacterial vaccines for farms based on specific strains of pathogens. Steimling said she was impressed with the direct relationship between the veterinarians on the staff with the farmers they serve.

An important facet of the trip was to show students career opportunities within the poultry industry.  Young said, "This trip has shown me the differences in animal production in Germany as well as the wide variety of international possibilities for my future career as a veterinarian."  Steimling added, "The trip broadened my outlook on the poultry industry. I hope to travel internationally with my career, so it was a great opportunity to learn about the industry as well as experience a different culture.

As part of the course, students were assigned topics prior to their departure, both professional and cultural. Upon their return they are presenting topics from marketing, turkey management and feeding, housing systems for laying hens and European Union regulations, among others. Some of the cultural topics including a look at the educational system, the wildlife, the early history to understand the impact of both World Wars on modern Germany, the Holocaust, and other topics.

Young shared the opinion of others in saying that both the professional visits and the cultural visits were valuable. The visit to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp memorial made a particular impression. "It put together a part of history you can never begin to understand until you see it personally."

The tour also included a visit to Big Dutchman International, a global industry leader in production of equipment for the poultry and swine industries, and a visit to Museumsdorf Cloppenburg, an open-air museum offering insight into the daily lives and cultural history of northwestern Germany.  The group spent the first two days of the study tour in Berlin, where they saw many famous historical sites, museums, and the Berlin Zoo. They also visited the German Bundestag (the national parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany), which is located in the iconic Reichstag Building, where they had a 90-minute guided tour followed by a self-guided tour of the building's 155-foot glass dome.

Several students will present a 50-minute seminar to the Animal Science Department on Thursday, April 24, at 11:00 in 324 ASI Bldg.

In 2010, a similar course included a poultry science study tour to the Netherlands.

The trip was partially supported by the College of Agricultural Sciences, the University Office of Global Programs, the Poultry Science Club and the Department of Animal Science.