Schools from across Northern Ireland visit AFBI, Hillsborough

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AFBI Hillsborough recently opened their doors to school students studying agriculture at GSCE and BTEC.

170 staff and pupils from six schools across the province attended the open day, which showcased some of AFBI’s leading research and scientists. The ‘Schools Day’ - the first such event post-Covid – gave students the opportunity to hear about important global and national challenges within our agri-food industry and to see firsthand some of the potential solutions being researched to support a sustainable future.

Highlights for the pupils included a visit to the dairy unit, where scientists demonstrated how technologies allow individual cow intake to be recorded during studies to understand nutrient use efficiency.

The importance of high silage quality in dairy cow nutrition and other strategies to reduce the environmental footprint of cattle diets were also discussed.

Pupils learn about the importance of efficient grassland management at AFBI Schools Day. Pic: AFBIPupils learn about the importance of efficient grassland management at AFBI Schools Day. Pic: AFBI
Pupils learn about the importance of efficient grassland management at AFBI Schools Day. Pic: AFBI

The importance of grass in ruminant diets was reiterated throughout the day, from using the correct genetics in the AFBI Grass Breeding Programme, through to its efficient use in grazing and grass silage systems.

High animal health and welfare status is paramount and pupils were delighted to hear about the research focusing on some of the youngest livestock, for example they learnt about the importance of quality, quantity and timing of colostrum intake in the newborn calf. The role of technologies such as activity and temperature data for early detection of diseases was also demonstrated in sheep. Students also heard about pig nutrition research and discussed how poultry genetics had changed over the past 50 years.

Students also learnt how biogas generated from animal slurries and grass silage on the farm could be utilised on site in the Anaerobic Digester to provide renewable heat and electricity. The role of biomass crops such as willow was discussed on the road to achieving Net Zero targets.

The pupils also had an opportunity to think of their options for further and higher education with representatives from CAFRE, QUB and University of Ulster also in attendance on the day.

Denise Lowe, co-ordinator of the Schools Day, was delighted with the positive feedback from both teachers and students: “The Schools Day has allowed pupils to see some great science firsthand – AFBI is highly regarded worldwide as a centre of research excellence in livestock systems and we’re proud to have it in NI.

"The day was also an opportunity to align this research to their current studies and to enthuse the future generation about potential careers in the agri- food industry.”