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Fieldwork in the undergraduate animal production syllabus with particular reference to developing countries

Objectives of practical and demonstration tuition
Fieldwork types and design

A.B. Carles

The author's address is: Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi, PO Box 29053, Kabete, Kenya.

The author is most grateful for the very helpful comments of R. Baptist, Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi.

Reviews of agricultural and veterinary tuition in general, and animal production in particular, usually concentrate on the subject content while little consideration is given to the teaching techniques. Clearly, the curriculum must be the first step, but it is surprising how little attention is paid to the techniques and to the evaluation of their effectiveness. The traditional techniques of the formally structured lecture and practical, the demonstration and the tutorial are still almost the only ones used, particularly in developing countries. Although audiovisual technology has been found to be most effective for auto-tutorials (Dreyfus, 1968; Postlethwait, 1968), the availability of this technology is still very limited in developing countries.

It is generally acknowledged that the practical and the demonstration are of great importance in animal production tuition, and, as an applied science, it would be extraordinary if they were not. Their specific contributions and the teaching techniques employed, however, usually receive little rigorous examination.

Most surprisingly, practically nothing on agricultural and veterinary tuition has been published in English during the last two decades, especially on the tuition of animal production. There have only been passing references in publications on agricultural and veterinary curricula. Three decades ago, this problem was discussed at a symposium on undergraduate teaching in animal science (University of Nevada, 1968) and at the Second World Conference on Animal Production (American Dairy Science Association, 1969). The latter included specific consideration of the problems of developing countries, and shortly afterwards McClymont and McDonald (1972) also examined the requirements of curricula for developing countries. However, the only in-depth treatments of the practical and demonstration components have been made by Neumann (1968), Horvath and Inskeep (1968) and Kauffman et al. (1971), but none of these addressed the situation specific to developing countries. Neumann (1968) reviewed the general goals and examined the particular contributions made by the practical and demonstration components to the overall curriculum, while Horvath and Inskeep (1968) and Kauffman et al. (1971) provided a review of the specific goals of the practical and demonstration elements and considered in detail the wide range of techniques that can be used to achieve these. The general principles apply equally to developing countries, but the constraints in their application need specific consideration.

The goals and functions of the practical and demonstration components probably need particular attention for they have their own philosophy and their content must be carefully integrated with the rest of the curriculum (Neumann, 1968). Also, in developing countries, there is often a psychological barrier that needs to be addressed. Many university students, consciously or subconsciously, seek to break away from traditional life and move to a more varied lifestyle that offers a richer standard of living. In the case of agricultural students, the built-in irony is that their chosen profession is inextricably bound up with the past from which they are attempting to extract themselves. One effect of this is a natural antipathy for fieldwork, in contrast to the "modern" laboratory, although the field environment should be their top priority. It is clearly essential that this psychological barrier be destroyed by inspiring those students with a vision of how scientific methods can build on and transform the traditional past; tuition in the field plays a major role in this.

The intention of this paper is to define the goals of practicals and demonstrations and then to identify and examine those aspects that are most appropriately carried out in the field. This is partly because the field is the main environment of animal production and partly because it is most likely the tuitional environment that shows the greatest difference between more developed and developing countries.

Objectives of practical and demonstration tuition

The objectives of practicals and demonstrations are different. They are being considered together here because there is often a tendency for a practical to merge with a demonstration, particularly in the field. The respective objectives are as follows:

· The principal objective of the practical is to give the students an opportunity to become familiar with, and to acquire a degree of skill in, various techniques. In the field, these techniques range from those employed by farmers in the routine management of their livestock to more advanced techniques such as those used in oestrus detection or the phenotypic evaluation of body condition using ultrasound.

· The principal objective of the demonstration is to enhance the lecture through the use of a visual pathway for the transfer of information. It can take place in any environment: lecture theatres and laboratories as well as in the field.

· In addition to these two basic objectives, there is a third, and it is potentially the most valuable one. This is to enlighten the student on the processes involved in, and the evaluation of, the productive performance of livestock. It provides a very powerful technique for stimulating interest in, and revealing the real nature of, animal production, thus encouraging those with a bent in this direction.

Fieldwork types and design

The essential aspects of the above objectives are the acquisition of practical skills and demonstration and analytical techniques. Each of these may take place in the laboratory or in the field. They are usually simpler and easier to conduct in the former location, which entails abstractions from real life in the field and their realization in an environment designed for teaching The latter location poses particular problems, especially in developing countries, where the teaching environment is more complex and may even obscure the primary objective. Also, as the teaching environment is not designed primarily for tuition, there are often logistical and technical problems of a tuitional nature that have to be overcome. For these reasons the field environment will be considered here.

Another important aspect of the overall design of the tuitional programme is to employ as wide a variety of human senses and teaching environments as possible. The proportions of the different modes are also important. An extensive and properly balanced range could greatly enhance the efficiency of tuition Thus, the relative amounts of time spent in the lecture theatre, the laboratory and in the field have a major effect on teaching efficiency. An excessive number of lectures will complete the curriculum quickly, but at the expense of learning efficiency. A contact: hour ratio of approximately 1:2 for the time inside the lecture theatre to that spent outside has been found to be satisfactory. A ratio exceeding 1:1 would almost certainly result in too concentrated a programme.

Field (farm) practices

It is essential that all students of animal production are familiar with the routine procedures that farmers use in the management of their livestock. It is usually inappropriate to carry out any other type of practical tuition until these practices have been experienced. The requirements of animal production graduates in the area of routine farmers' skills is variable. The minimum is for them to experience these to an extent sufficient enough to understand their purpose and nature. This is satisfactory when the country has adequate staff trained in these skills at the certificate or diploma level. In developing countries, however, the number of such staff is often inadequate, and graduates have a greater responsibility in this area if their advice is to be successfully implemented. The following are examples of routine farm practices:

· identifying the different age groups of each species, singly and in groups;

· superficial examination for health;

· feeding procedures for each age group of each species;

· breeding management: oestrus detection, mating, parturition;

· hygienic conditions of structures, equipment and animals;

· drug administration: oral,: in feeds, body surfaces, by injection;

· produce harvesting: milking, egg collection, slaughter, shearing;

· produce processing: milk, eggs, carcasses, fibre;

· phenotypic evaluation of meat (including body-condition scoring), milk, fibre and eggs of all animal types;

· recording;

· various: castration, dehorning;

· animal structures for assisting management, particularly for smallholders.

Brooder preparation (practical) - Préparation d'une couveuse (travaux pratiques) - Preparación de incubadoras (actividad práctica)

Egg candling (practical) - Mirage des œufs (travaux pratiques) - Examen de huevos al trasluz (actividad práctica)

Collecting eggs from battery cages (practical) - Collecte des œufs dans des cages en batterie (travaux pratiques) - Recolección de huevos de las baterías de jaulas (actividad práctica)

It is preferable that students be exposed to these practices on suitable farms (either institutional or private) selected by the teaching staff and where the students' progress can be monitored. In more developed countries, it is usually a prerequisite of the course that a specified minimum period (usually not less than three months) is spent working on selected farms.

Developing countries on the other hand have a double disadvantage in this regard. They have fewer suitable farms and an ever-increasing number of students, making on-farm sessions virtually impossible, at least at the present time. Consequently, these practicals have to be carried out during the period of residence at the school, using the school's farm facilities. If this takes place during the normal term, then any further practicals will have to be accommodated during the long vacation period.

The problems of this course are essentially logistical, such as matching physical facilities with the time available and ensuring that there is adequate staff to supervise the students. Not many departments are fortunate enough to have a really adequate range of facilities, either to cover all types of farm animals or to accommodate the whole class in the time available (usually as small groups on a rotating basis). As a result, it is quite common for this type of basic but essential practical to put heavy demands on a department's resources and it may even preclude exposing the students to any other type of training.

Field demonstrations

The essential nature of demonstrations is that the students only observe and listen and do not take an active part. Replicas of real life may be used, particularly photographs, or reality itself. In the case of animal production, reality most frequently means the field. While replicas can be-of great assistance, they are usually not as effective as real life, since inevitably there is a degree of abstraction that results in part of the situation being omitted.

Field demonstrations usually consist of visits to:

· mills processing animal feedstuffs;

· plants processing animal products, such as abattoirs and creameries;

· animal-breeding centres, including artificial-insemination stations and stud farms;

· agricultural shows, to broaden students' exposure to agricultural material and introduce them to the extension potential of such activities;

· research stations, to introduce students to the major aspects of animal production research and to illustrate certain technical aspects of a subject that may be absent from the facilities of the department, e.g. metabolism chambers;

· farms, examples of each of the major production systems, such as milk production, range beef production and poultry production. Both smallholdings and large farms should be visited in order to introduce the students to the implications of variations in holding size and associated inputs.

The most important variable in this part of the practical programme is not so much the type of place visited as the way in which the visit is conducted. Two approaches may be used: either leaving the whole of the programme to the staff working in the place concerned or for a staff member of the department to design the programme and also give all explanations.

There is a widespread tendency towards the former approach, which most probably stems more from human laziness than from the requirements of effective tuition! An evaluation of these two approaches is needed before choosing the final design. The following elements, which are mostly related to farms since variation is greatest here, are some of the main factors to be considered:

Being more familiar with their farms, it is the farmers who are clearly the most suitable people to describe them.

· It is highly desirable that students become familiar with the farmers' personalities, their abilities, their weaknesses, etc., and farmers demonstrating their work would be an effective way of achieving this.

· It is not usual for a farmer to have been trained as a lecturer, however, and while most lecturers would certainly admit that they are not perfect, they nevertheless do have more experience in presenting material logically, appropriately balanced for the relative importance of all different sections and within the time available.

· Integration with the lecture material is most desirable, and since the lecture usually precedes the farm visit, only the lecturer can initiate this.

Consideration of these factors indicates that a compromise is likely to achieve the best result. A suitable system is for the farmer (or agricultural officer) to be the demonstrator, but the farmer and the lecturer must first discuss the programme in detail and agree upon its final format. Everyone on the visit should have a copy of the final programme. The farmer speaks from this programme, and in this way is helped to make a logical presentation that integrates with the lecture material. Since the programme should contain a timetable, the problem of only half covering the essentials is avoided. The lecturer joins in as required to clarify a point, to link up different parts of the course, to help the farmer keep to the time schedule and, perhaps most importantly, to give the farmer a moment to collect his thoughts before beginning the next section.

Productive traits of laying hens (demonstration) - Caractéristiques de la poule pondeuse {démonstration) - Características productivas de las gallinas ponedores (demostración)

Haifa water storage tank on a cattle ranch (demonstration) - Réservoir d'eau dans un élevage de bovins à viande (démonstration) - Depósito de apara de Haifa en una granja de ganado vacuno (demostración)

Water troughs on a cattle ranch (demonstration) - Abreuvoirs dans un élevage de bovins à viande (démonstration) - Abrevaderos en una granja de ganado vacuno (demostración)

Routine procedures for sheep (practical) - Procédures de routine pour les moutons (travaux pratiques) - Procedimientos habituales para las ovejas (actividad práctica)

This practice helps to expose the farmer to the students without the visit merely becoming a rambling farm walk, which could be dull and uninteresting to university students.

A valuable addition to this programme would be an introduction to the visit given by the lecturer before departing for the farm. Some farmers are able to provide background information on their farm beforehand allowing the students to absorb all the information before the visit, which would make more time available for actual demonstration on the farm. Also, a seminar after the visit would be valuable, with a few students presenting their findings on predetermined aspects to be discussed by the class.

Probably the most intractable problems of field visits are logistical. They are costly in time and transport, and in many field situations student numbers have to be limited. Usually these problems are particularly acute in developing countries, with large classes and scarce financial resources. At worst, this could lead to omitting some field visits or even to replacing field visits with audiovisual presentations in the lecture theatre. The latter is certainly better than nothing, but would hardly be as effective as the real thing.

Investigation of production traits in the field

A practical can become an investigation into some aspects of animal production processes, for example, how growth rates change as age increases or how milk yields change with stage of lactation. The natural approach would be for the student to investigate the operation of some factor that is the basis of an aspect of animal productivity. Probably the simplest method is to examine the variation and its sources for some production parameter.

Examples of productivity investigations include:

· Traits for investigation

- growth rate;
- development rates of different parts of the body, including the mammary gland;
- fibre growth;
- litter size of pigs or rabbits;
- milk yield and composition;
- egg production;
- behaviour patterns of some phenotypic function, e. g. grazing studies.

· Sources of variation

- age;
- nutrition (quantity and quality);
- genotype (breed);
- body condition.

For students who are potentially production-minded, few things are likely to motivate them more than real-life experience with variations of some production parameters, where a problem is demonstrated and their ingenuity is required to identify a solution. One of the main objectives of any animal production curriculum must surely be the discovery of such students and the firing of their imagination in this way. While the lecture programme and possibly the tutorial method may achieve this, many lecturers consider this type of practical to be almost indispensable if such an objective is to be achieved. The main requirements of such a practical are:

· the choice of a parameter should be such that it and its variation can immediately be related to some important aspect of animal productivity;

· a very simple design is essential so that very few factors (preferably one) account for almost all of the variations of the parameter being investigated and the results are clear-cut;

· data collection must not be too time-consuming or tedious;

· students should be required to complete a simple analysis and to interpret the results themselves.

It is important that the programme design is relevant to the course and not too simple, otherwise, with the constraints of time and the competition for students' interest from other courses, interest may fade and the purpose will be lost. Take for example a growth study of lambs, where the data consists of age, body weight and the linear measurements of three contrasting body regions: length of the hind cannon (an estimator of height), chest girth and width of the pelvis (an estimator of body width). Sources of variation can be decreased by ensuring that all the lambs are of the same sex, born within one 24-hour period, of the same breeding and managed together from birth. Accurate results are more likely to be obtained by taking the measurements over a period of fast growth, for example, from three to ten weeks of age. The problem of limited time per student could be overcome by providing additional data collected previously

The students should calculate the simple descriptive statistics from their own data, thus obtaining a picture of the various levels of variation. They would then obtain a growth curve and the development curves for each of the linear body measurements. Finally, they should interpret the results and draw conclusions. They can be guided in this by answering multiple-choice questions. Comparison of their own results with those from a data set collected on another occasion can greatly widen the scope of the investigation.

This type of work cannot precede the experience of farm practice, however. Apart from the advantage of introducing students to real-life production problems, it also requires repetition of many of the techniques that would have been introduced in the farm practical, thus providing further practice in a more interesting context.

The response of students has been most impressive, and in developing countries this could be of great help in combating the negative effect of their rejection of traditional farming systems.


It is important to appreciate the differences between the three main types of practical work and their contributions. Very often with practicals in the field, advantage is not taken of the opportunities offered. Frequently, these practicals do not extend the students' minds beyond exposing them to a farmer's experience, at best to a moderately developed farmer's experience. This needs to be extended further for at least two reasons. First, most students of animal production in developing countries already have some sort of farming experience, and for many it is this system from which they are trying to escape, to something more modern and developed, often to the experience of science (which is easier to appreciate in its non-applied form). Their eyes need to be opened to the possibilities that are present when the science of animal production transforms this very system.

Second, for most students, bridging the gap between the science of animal production and its application in the field presents some particular difficulties. On the one hand it is a modern science, yet on the other it is a conservative approach that entangles the essential issues and hinders progress. The students need some clear examples of the successful application of animal science in the field.

Compared to demonstrations, practicals are relatively costly in terms of physical resources and time required per student. When student numbers increase greatly, without concurrent increases in physical resources and time (a frequent situation in-developing countries), the tendency is for practicals to become demonstrations, which are much less costly in these terms. This may be inevitable, but it has a very serious adverse effect on the quality and effectiveness of tuition.


American Dairy Science Association. 1969. Educational challenges in animal production. Proc. 2nd World Conf Animal Production, p. 220-260. Urbana, IL, USA, American Dairy Science Association.

Dreyfus, L.S. 1968 Evolution-and promise of educational technology. J. Anim. Sci., 27: 928-937.

Horvath, D.J. & Inskeep, E.K. 1968. Role of the laboratory in the teaching of animal science. J; Anim. Sci., 27 952-955.

Kauffman, K.G., Thompson, J.F., Anderson, D.B. & Smith, R.E. 1971 Improving the effectiveness of teaching animal science. J. Anim. Sci., 32: 161-164.

McClymont, G.L. & McDonald, I.W. 1972. Education in animal production in developing countries. Wld. Anim. Rev., 4: 29-33

Neumann, A.L. 1968. New goals in teaching animal management. J. Anim. Sci., 27: 902-904.

Postlethwait, S.N. 1968. The audio-tutorial system. J. Anim. Sci., 27: 938-940

University of Nevada 1968. Symposium on undergraduate teaching in animal science, University of Nevada, Reno, 2-3 August, 1967 J Anim. Sci., 27: 863-955.

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