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Penn State Students Study Swiss Animal Agriculture Practices

Posted: June 26, 2019

Fourteen students studied animal agriculture in Switzerland through course work and visits within the country.
From left: Nisha Bhatt, Jaclyn Topper, David Buckwalter, Donald Opp, Kelly Boland, Brooke Pitney, Paulina Oleinik, Alyse Crownover, Jesse Reichenbach, Elizabeth St. Clair, Paige Prawucki, Jessi Nalepa, Colleen Clark, and Catherine Padilla

From left: Nisha Bhatt, Jaclyn Topper, David Buckwalter, Donald Opp, Kelly Boland, Brooke Pitney, Paulina Oleinik, Alyse Crownover, Jesse Reichenbach, Elizabeth St. Clair, Paige Prawucki, Jessi Nalepa, Colleen Clark, and Catherine Padilla

Fourteen students in Penn State's Department of Animal Science had the unique opportunity to compare and contrast animal production in the United States and Switzerland, first by taking a for-credit course during spring semester, then traveling to Switzerland this month for a close-up view.

The course was broad-based, focusing on dairy, beef, swine, equine, small ruminants, dogs and animal welfare and was presented through research projects, presentations, and lectures. Each student researched a topic, writing a paper and presenting it to the class, so when they arrived in Switzerland they enjoyed the opportunity to follow-up on "their" topic.

The 10-day trip to universities, a veterinary medicine school, farms and agricultural industries allowed the students gain a better understanding of Swiss agriculture, as well as learning more about Swiss history, culture and traditions.

The fourteen students were accompanied by Jacob Werner, VMD, Research Professor and Attending Veterinarian for Agricultural Animals and Wildlife; Ann Macrina, PhD. Teaching Professor of Animal Science; and Danielle Smarsh, PhD., Assistant Professor of Equine Science, all of whom taught the Department of Animal Science course.  

Werner said, "This course and the trip offer students a really in-depth look at the agricultural practices of another country. For some of our students, it is the first time they have flown and for many this is their first experience with international travel. Our students are provided opportunities to experience firsthand cultures and people and ideas other than their own. It is rewarding to see our students grow and see how open and willing they are to listen to new ideas, learning and to think critically and not just blindly follow."

Macrina said, "Interaction with Swiss students from the University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences (HAFL), Zollikofen, was a high point. Some of them had visited Penn State last year, and had contact with our students during the spring semester class. Since they met several times throughout our visit to Switzerland, students developed strong connections which are sure to be long-lasting." She added that students returned with a deeper understanding of the people, culture and agriculture of Switzerland and expressed appreciation for the broad range of learning opportunities throughout the trip.

Swiss hosts were Jürg Blum, DVM, PhD, professor emeritus at the Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, and an adjunct professor at Penn State in the Department of Animal Science; and Peter Kunz, PhD, professor emeritus at HAFL, Zollikofen, Switzerland. The group visited the University and received an overview of its activities in agriculture and animal science education and research by Dr. Peter Spring, Head of the Department of Agriculture of HAFL. A complete overview of plant and animal production and governmental policies was provided by Adrian Aebi, Vice-Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, Bern.

Dairy farming is an important enterprise in Switzerland and visiting a farm in the Alps was a highlight for many, allowing a look into how families live in their summer homes and how cheese is made every day from milk collected from the cows. Students observed the cheese-making through a window and were hosted inside the home. Walking around the mountains offered a special view of the Alps.

A visit to a modern dairy farm in Moosseedorf with milking and feeding robotic systems demonstrated the use of technology in the dairy industry, and a visit to a goat cheese production farm with cheese tasting showed the importance of goat cheeses to the economy. Students found a visit to an agriculture supply centers and farm stores interesting. Other dairy experiences included a visit to the well-known Emmental area, where students visited a dairy farm, a Water Buffalo farm and tasted cheese at the Marbach Alpine Dairy and Cheese Factory. In that area they also visited a breeding station for Bernese Sennenhunde - cattle and sheep dogs, as well the Berger Factory/foundry which manufactures bells for cows, goats, sheep and horses, including trychles which are hammered sheet metal bells, not cast, and whose sound carries long distances.

Equine interests were pursued at the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Bern including the Bovine Clinique and the Equine Clinique as well as the Swiss Institute of Equine Medicine and the National Ridehorse Sport Center.

The trip to AVIFORUM, provided a close look and information on poultry production as did a visit to the cow-calf and broiler operation at the (Bio-)Farm "Schüpfenried" near Uettligen. Also in the area, the group visited the Bio (dairy) farm of Josh & Susanne Pitt-Käch. Bio-farms are a chemical free method of farming, embracing sustainability and promotion of biodiversity within plant/crop systems and encouraging good microbes and insects for increased positive influence on plant health and growth.

Swine production was the focus of a visit to the pig farm of Meinrad Pfister, where they observed breeding, fattening, and testing of boars for artificial insemination. They learned more about the Swiss swine industry at SUISAG, the service and competence center of Swiss Pig Production, with an introduction to the breeds, herdbook, performance testing, breeding goals, meat and fat quality traits and a look at the lab for carcass and meat quality measurements.

In an experience unique to Switzerland, the group visited the farm of Jacques Pralong to see the Eringer cows fight in an ancient Swiss tradition. Touring the World Heritage Region of the Lake of Geneva highlighted the natural beauty of the area and traveling to Lucerne offered other views of the mountainous country.

A tour of Bern, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, also offered valuable perspectives into Swiss life. And no visit to Switzerland would be complete without a tour of the Maison Cailler chocolate factory.

Early visits to the new research and education center "Agrovet-Strickhof" of the Federal Institute of Technology Zürich and Agroscope Posieux with Vetsuisse Faculty gave students an overview of research activities being conducted, especially on animal nutrition and physiology.

Werner expressed appreciation to the Swiss hosts for making the trip both rewarding and memorable. It is hoped that the connections will continue through further visits and collaborations.