Harvesting knowledge

UK - As barbecues go, it would be difficult to imagine a more intriguing group of guests. Queuing politely in a bustling farmyard in Wytham was a man who knows a good deal about burgers, or at least the art of selling hundreds of millions of them, Steve Easterbrook, the president and chief executive of McDonald's UK.
calendar icon 3 October 2006
clock icon 3 minute read

Major General Peter Davies, director general of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, stood not far behind him, along with Philip Lymbery the chief executive of Compassion in World Farming.

If there were more corporate heads than you could shake a barbecue skewer at, the collection of academics was equally as impressive with Professor of Zoology Sir Brian Follet and Professor of Animal Behaviour Marian Stamp Dawkins among those from Oxford.

From Colorado State University there was Dr Temple Grandin, the most famous autistic woman on the planet; an animal lover said to have a legendary ability to read the animal mind, who happens to know more about slaughter houses than anyone in the western world.

But they had all really gathered in the Oxfordshire countryside to think about, rather than consume, food.

They had also come to see at first hand a five-year farming experiment that could ultimately improve conditions for tens of millions of farm animals across the globe.

For almost five years, Oxford University's 1,050-acre farming estate at Wytham has been playing a leading role in the world's first research project to learn directly from animals about the type of farm that best suits them.

In 2001 the farm's management was taken over by the Food Animal Initiative (FAI) whose ambition was to take animal benefits developed at Wytham into the competitive world of farming.

Not only has the subsequent venture held out the promise of improving animal conditions, it aims to show farmers that profits could be boosted by having happier animals, and less guilt-ridden consumers.

The project has seen the university's zoology department and other specialists working alongside commercial farmers, to open an enormous range of research possibilities.

The work has seen systems created which prevents pigs from chewing each other's tails and to help ease the calving process for cattle. There have been projects on turkey pecking and tree planting to encourage poultry to get out more and express themselves.

Roland Bonney, director of the FAI, explained: "Our role will be in developing model farms for chickens, pigs and cows that are appropriate to the climate and topography of these regions. We will then provide training, reassurance and hopefully inspiration to farmers in Brazil and China considering free range husbandry."

Source: The Oxford Times

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