Pakistan and Germany meet at UNE over chicken feed

Zafar is from Pakistan, Florian from Germany, and for the past few weeks they have been working at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, on a joint project around their shared interest in poultry nutrition.

Zafar Iqbal and Florian Metzger are together at UNE because of an exchange program run between Australian Universities and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to encourage collaborative research.

The students are building careers in the nutrition of chickens, the world’s most-consumed protein, and UNE is home to a world-leading team of poultry nutritionists and the poultry Cooperative Research Centre.

This core of excellence persuaded Zafar, who has spent several years working in Pakistan’s large poultry industry, to do his PhD in poultry nutrition at UNE. His supervisor, Dr Isabelle Ruhnke, suggested that he enter the DAAD exchange.

Zafar travelled twice to the Freie Universität Berlin in 2016, to work with veterinarian and doctoral student Florian Metzger, and in February it was Florian’s turn to travel to Australia for two months at UNE.

The pair are working together on a project around managing fibre intake in laying hens. Excessive fiber intake can be a major challenge in free range production. Florian focuses on microbial utilization of fiber (lignocellulose) in chickens; Zafar works on solutions for fibre digestion in laying hens.

With the exchange almost over, both students say it has been invaluable for expanding their understanding of how research is conducted in different cultures, and for their scientific knowledge.

Freie Universität — where Dr Ruhnke also took her veterinary degree and PhD — employs the German cross-disciplinary system, where the work of poultry nutrition researchers is integrated with disciplines like human nutrition and agriculture.

UNE’s researchers are focused wholly on poultry nutrition, but the team working on the area is one of the largest and most accomplished in the world.

Both systems have their advantages, the exchange students have learned, and the exchange has taught them a lot about how to communicate with international teams.

Zafar said his experience has taught him that there are many paths to the same destination. “If I was just working in Pakistan, Australia or Germany, I would only see one approach. This exchange has been a unique opportunity to see things from many sides, and that can only boost my skills and opportunities. I’m trying to learn from everyone.”

Florian found the Australian experience took him out of the lab, to field trials, chicken sheds and a big poultry conference in Sydney. “This kind of research environment is different to Germany, where it is more academic and structured. It has been an opportunity make connections with other researchers, other PhD students, and industry partners that could be important to me later.”

Dr Ruhnke also acknowledged the value of the exchange as a way of introducing new knowledge and methods adding to the entire working group.

DAAD is the world’s largest funding program for academic exchange, with an annual budget of 430 million Euro.

UNE academics also won support in the last DAAD round.

In 2017-18, Dr Nicolette Larder of UNE’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences will investigate the role of finance in agriculture with researchers at the University of Leipzig, and Dr Nengye Liu from the School of Law is researching the conservation of living marine resources in the polar regions, in collaboration with colleagues at Trier University.

Image caption: DAAD exchange students Florian Metzger, from Germany, and Zafar Iqbal, from Pakistan, collaborate on a shared poultry nutrition project at the University of New England.