An app has been developed to facilitate engagement with animal welfare on-farm

By Kristine Welde Tranås

Photo: Håkon Sparre, NMBU

Forskere fra Veterinærhøgskolen og ingeniørstudenter fra REALTEK har utviklet en app som effektiviserer dyrevelferdsforskningen i fjøs. – Samarbeidet viser hva man kan få til på tvers av fakulteter og særlig i samarbeid med studentene på Eik lab, sier prosjektleder Camilla Kielland.

Researchers from the NMBU Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and engineering students from NMBU Faculty of Science and Technology (REALTEK) have developed an app that streamlines animal welfare research on-farm.

– The collaboration shows what can be achieved through multidisciplinary cooperation across faculties and especially in collaboration with the students at Eik lab, says project manager Camilla Kielland at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.. 

The WelCow project will assess the animal welfare status in Norwegian dairy herds. This autumn, the researchers travelled around the country and visited farmers and cows in approximately 160 herds. 

All data from the visits is recorded using an EU protocol called Welfare Quality©. 

– The protocol is made as a pdf document, and it is quite old-fashioned and cumbersome, says Kielland.

To use the protocol, one must fill in all the registrations on paper, and then manually transfer them into a spreadsheet, calculate intermediate data, and then enter that intermediate data into another spreadsheet that contains the formulae from the protocol. Only then can you get an overall score on animal welfare. All that data must then be entered into a combined data set in order to perform statistical analyses for further research.

Facilitates smoother workflow

Therefore, Kielland and her colleagues thought that it was essential to do this digitally, so the whole process became easier and faster. 

– We contacted Eik lab, and some fantastic engineering students there developed an app for us, she says. 

Eik lab is the centre for student-driven innovation at REALTEK. 

– The students have created an app that facilitates the researcher's workflow when they are on-farm and provides a simple way to get raw data, which they can use for further research, says Kristian Sørby Omberg, senior engineer at REALTEK and supervisor at Eik lab. 

In addition, the app has made it possible for the researchers to give the farmer feedback on how animal welfare was scored during the visit immediately after the welfare assessment has finished. In the old way, it would have taken several months to get these results.

Desirable competencies for working life

The app has been developed along the way while PhD candidate Conor Barry has been out visiting the herds, and there has been close collaboration between him and the students at Eik lab.

Sørby Omberg says the students have benefited greatly from the project.

– It is very rewarding and motivating for the students to work with enthusiastic people like Conor and Camilla. In addition, they have gained experience which is fantastic to take with them when they eventually go to job interviews. The digitization skills they have gained are highly sought after, and the work they have done here supplements their studies so that they are even better equipped for working life, he says.

Handover and presentation of the work

Next week the app will be officially handed over from REALTEK and Eik lab to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the WelCow project. The researchers and students will talk about their work with the app, the collaboration between the researchers and the students, and about ideas for further development.

– We believe that we are only at the starting point. We imagine that there are many possibilities here, both for further research and for dairy farmers who may use it as a tool to aid decision making and to be proactive in their work with animal welfare, says Kielland. 

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