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On the Tuesday 18th October, the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) held a schools open day on its research farm at AFBI Hillsborough.  This event was designed for A Level students studying biological sciences or a related area.

AFBI Hillsborough is a specialist farm platform used for conducting precision research into livestock production.  The 300 hectares of land is used to conduct studies on the 300+ dairy cattle, 200+ dairy youngstock, 100 suckler cows and 400+ finishing beef animals, 300+ ewes and lambs and a 150 sow ‘birth to bacon’ unit.  The studies utilize the latest electronics to monitor individual animal intakes as well as infra red thermography, tri-axial accelerometers and heart rate monitors etc to measure animal movement, grazing and ruminating activity, body temperature changes and other welfare/stress responses.  Metabolic chambers and digestibility crates are used to measure all the gaseous, fluid, solids and heat losses of individual animals during environmental impact studies and an anaerobic digester extracts biogas from the animal slurries to create electricity and the hot water supply for the farm.

The overall aim is to improve the efficiency of farm practices, optimise food quality and reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production so that local farm businesses are as profitable and sustainable as possible while ensuring the animals have a life worth living.

14 LVI and MVI pupils learned about science directly from the scientist who are conceiving and conducting the research.  Pupils were taken on a tour of the farm and were able to question each scientist about any aspect of the work, as well as what it is like to be a research scientist.  The information was valuable and definitely inspired and motivated some of them to take a greater interest in science as a future career.

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