In this new publication from the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, Dr. Perle Zhitnitskiy from the UMN swine group, in collaboration with Dr. Beth Ventura explores the impact that various educational initiatives have on first-year veterinary students attitudes towards swine production.
- First-year students undergo 1-hour lecture and one farm visit in their first year of the curriculum.
- Knowledge and attitudes towards pigs improved after the educational initiatives.
- Students became more segmented in their overall view of swine production.
- Provision of enrichment did not increase students’ satisfaction with the level of animal welfare on the farm.
103 first-year veterinary students were enrolled in this study. Students were given a 1-hour lecture overview of swine production followed by the visit of a sow farm. Half of the class visited the farm when sows were provided with enrichment toys. Students were surveyed at three different time points (before the lecture, after the farm visit and in between these two experiences) to assess their knowledge and attitudes towards pigs, animal welfare on swine farms, and their overall satisfaction with swine production in general.
After the lecture and farm visit, students’ knowledge of common farm management practices and pig’s biology increased as expected. The vast majority of students agreed that pigs are sentient and intelligent animals at any point during the study.
Additionally, visiting the farm improved attitudes toward pigs in students less familiar with them, and reduced negative perceptions of pigs as dangerous or intimidating animals. Before the educational experiences, a large population of students was neutral in their perception of animal welfare on swine farms. After the farm visit, this neutral subset of students became more divided such as students with an interest in food animal practice or from a rural background became more satisfied with animal welfare on swine farms. Reasons for students increased dissatisfaction included aspects of natural living such as socialization, space, and behavioral restrictions.
Interestingly, students who visited the farm when enrichment was present were more dissatisfied about animal welfare than the group who did not observed it. This might have been due to the fact that the enrichment toys heightened students’ scrutiny to behavioral welfare.
Veterinary schools are facing the challenge of increasing animal welfare (AW) training while also attracting future practitioners to livestock medicine. Both objectives may be better achieved through farm visits early in veterinary training. First year veterinary students at the University of Minnesota (n = 103) were surveyed during the Spring 2019 Professional Development II course to document their knowledge, attitudes, and values relative to pigs, AW, and the industry before and after classroom and online lectures and a visit to a farrow-to-wean farm. Quantitative (Kruskal-Wallis, Kendall tau-c and Chi-Square) and qualitative (content analysis) analyses were used to identify shifts in knowledge and attitudes and associations with demographics and use of the AW values of biological functioning, affective state, and natural living. Most students were female (85.4%), from urban/suburban backgrounds (68.9%), and did not wish to work with livestock (66.0%). Knowledge scores (p < 0.05) and attitudes toward pigs (p = 0.0152) improved after visiting the farm. Satisfaction with AW on most commercial farms shifted after the farm visit (p = 0.0003), with those valuing biological functioning becoming more satisfied (p = 0.0342). In contrast, students who visited the farm when enrichment was provided were more dissatisfied compared to those who toured the farm without enrichment (p = 0.0490). Those referencing natural living (p = 0.0047) rated the toured farm as a poorer steward of welfare. Students’ AW concerns included behavioral restriction in individual stalls and injury and lameness in group pens. Farm visits are an important tool in veterinary education, but may result in segmentation in student knowledge and attitudes relative to livestock welfare.