New wildlife enclosures and ecological offsets
Most of the construction consisted of renovation and extension work: a freestall for suckler cows was added to an old barn and the former dairy barn was turned into a sheep barn. Modernisation and extension efforts also focused on the laboratory infrastructure so that researchers can process and analyse samples directly on site. A winter shelter with spacious pens was built for fallow deer, as well as an outbuilding with a fire brigade depot “Berg” for the commune of Walchwil.
ETH Zurich provided ecological enhancements on the Früebüel site to offset the space enclosed by the new pens. For example, it applied extensification to wetlands and planted new hedges and ecologically diverse border zones. In addition, 300 metres of forest border were extensified. All of these connecting elements serve as a corridor for wild animals and add up to a total of 4.5 hectares.
Research focuses on livestock
“Research here focuses clearly on livestock science and its place in sustainable agriculture that has been adapted to its location,” explains Susanne Ulbrich, Professor of Animal Physiology at ETH Zurich. For example, the researchers investigate how feeding the animals impacts their metabolism, testing Schwarzbraunes Bergschaf sheep and Swiss Original Braunvieh suckler cows.
Ulbrich herself is heading a study on roe deer. These ungulates are only rarely kept and studied in enclosures. She is particularly interested in the roe deer’s phenomenon of embryonic diapause, or delayed implantation. “If we knew more about this special process, we would be better positioned to understand fundamental development processes in livestock,” Ulbrich explains. “We investigate what embryos need for healthy development. We’re also looking for new parameters that will differentiate healthy stress from the type of stress that harms the animals.” In addition to the physiological studies, the researchers conduct behavioural studies as well.
All studies with animals are carried out in compliance with strict animal welfare guidelines. Every study first has to be approved by the canton’s veterinary office.
Terranova points out that the higher education and research that AgroVet–Strickhof conducts at Früebüel is of national and international interest: “Besides AgroVet–Strickhof, Switzerland has neither university-level education nor research that is directly connected with career training and agricultural practice. This one-of-a-kind collaboration thus plays a crucial role,” she says.