February 10, 2021, by Ruth Musson

i-Hen – Our award winning live animal teaching facility

Vision and Background 

The basic idea was to set up a food production animal enterprise on Campus that students could access either on an informal basis or embedded in formal learning opportunities. The project secured a Cascade grant, an alumni funded scheme for projects which improve the student experience. Recently the team, Cormac O’Shea, Associate Professor of Non-Ruminant Science, Gavin White, Assistant Professor in Animal Nutrition, Judith Wayte, Assistant Professor in Professional Skills Education and Neil Doherty, Teaching Associate, were awarded the highly prestigious Lord Dearing award that recognises excellence in teaching and learning.

The facility has proved to be more valuable than we imagined, not just allowing students to learn about the animals, but food production, microbiology, business models, food quality and composition. We introduced the first-year students to the hens, appropriately, directly after their lecture covering eggs and egg, products. We also found that word spread quickly amongst staff, notably within the division of food sciences, who quickly became involved – visiting in their lunchtimes and becoming very hands on.

The facility is used during induction week and university open days It is a great showcase for the University and the education we can provide. We have also had work experience students spend a day here and we hope to continue on by building links with local schools.

NottingHEN Competition

Modern laying hens produce lots of eggs, and we wanted a way to engage the students more fully. We were aware that there were areas that they would not necessarily experience as part of their degree. With the help of a Faculty of Science small teaching and learning grant, we came up with the NottingHEN Competition. Students were encouraged to form teams, be creative and pitch ideas to grow the business and market the eggs.

Eggs Factor

A panel of SB alumni working in the poultry industry were invited to judge the competition. The students received invaluable feedback from the panel, in particular relating to the commercial viability of their projects. The feedback from both students and alumni was that it was a positive experience all round.

The winning team were 2nd year students called Eggs factor. It was a very close thing and students demonstrated some great ideas not just commercially but  environmentally too. However, the most important outcome was the enthusiasm and positive feedback that came from all concerned.


The future

Currently the scheme is on hold. We are busy planning so when things get back to normal so we can offer the community access to the hens once more.
The hens have their own Instagram page uoni_hen and we plan to build on this to improve virtual accessibility. Students will be able to observe the hens in real time and learn about the hens’ behaviour.

The main aim though is to increase the flock and to build a small scale model of a real business.

The scheme should eventually be self-funding and we do have some funds remaining. We intend to retain our humane principals, rehoming the hens at the end of their laying potential. Environmental considerations are also paramount.

If you are interested to find out more please contact Cormac O’Shea.

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