Animal behaviour, health and welfare

Part of our existence

Animals are part of our existence and everybody wants animals to have a good life. However, there are different ideas on what is good, or good enough. Moral principles, convictions and reference frameworks generally determine the stance people adopt in respect of animals. As a result, animal welfare unintentionally runs the risk of becoming projections of people. Animals are not humans, but they are definitely not things either.

Animal behaviour and health tells us how they are doing. For a proper understanding of these signs, knowledge of animal behaviour is essential. However, another factor is how humans relate to people and how they give meaning to these signs. The various social and ethical angles render animal welfare a comprehensive and complex concept.

The applied research group started as Welfare of Animals in 2003 and the name was changed to Animal behaviour, Health and Welfare in 2017. The applied research group consists of Professor Hans Hopster and a knowledge circle with project engineers and lecturers from various animal study programmes within VHL University of Applied Sciences (VHL).

About the professor

After his studies at the higher school of agriculture, Professor Hans Hopster went on to study the behaviour of cattle, overcapacity in free stall barns, automatic feeding and milking, stress and mastitis and cow comfort. He did so in Leeuwarden and Dronten as a research assistant and subsequently as a researcher for the Service for Agricultural Research (Dutch abbreviation: DLO). Hans then did his PhD under Professor Wiepkema at Wageningen University, on the subject of coping strategies in dairy cows.

Following his promotion, Hans broadened his scope to the behaviour of pigs, poultry and horses. He quickly became head of the research cluster Behaviour, Stress Physiology and Management at the Institute for Animal Husbandry and Animal Health in Lelystad. It is here that he continued to train in research management and programming. He combined this role with that of programme leader of policy-supporting research in the field of animal welfare.

In his role of driver of the programme for animal welfare, the Dutch knowledge portal was developed, based on the idea that well-informed citizens and organisations are a condition for a proper debate on animal welfare in terms of quality and content.

New course

After starting as professor of Animal Welfare in 2003, he embarked on a new course in 2016, making the behaviour and health of animals explicit. This ties in with previous research into the well-being of circus animals, overcapacity and automatic milking, bite incidents with dogs, the positive list for mammals and the consequences of freeze-marking and premature separation of cow and calf.

He combines his role of professor with that of senior researcher of animal welfare at Wageningen Livestock Research. Because the way animals are treated is strongly rooted in the relationship between humans and animals as well as in personal convictions on what is good for animals, he believes it is important to focus on the biological facts, without losing sight of sentiments and by dealing with the latter in a respectful way. As a member of the Council on Animal Affairs, Hans Hopster actively contributed to the emergence of diverging views.

As for the applied research group, he believes it is his task to support lecturers, students and external parties in a (future) professional role in which they contribute to the continued improvement of the welfare of animals in a way that does justice to the various interests of stakeholders.

Professor Hans Hopster


The behaviour of animals is key to our understanding of the consequences of animal use. Ethological research is therefore of great importance for animal managers, in addition to effective communication on the consequences of animal use.  These are therefore two lines of research of the applied research group of Animal Behaviour, Health and Welfare. We focus on farm animals, companion and recreational animals, laboratory animals, pests and zoo animals.

Applied research group

Various people are active within the applied research group. They jointly work on the challenges set by the applied research group. Below you will find a list of some of these active staff members.

  • Jelmer van Belle, lecturer in the Wildlife Management programme
  • Ignas Dümmer, GIS specialist in the Wildlife Management programme
  • Femke Kromhout, project engineer
  • Susan Ophorst, lecturer of communication
  • Annika Rettig, lecturer of marketing in the Animal Husbandry and Livestock Farming programme
  • Marko Ruis, lecturer-researcher in the Animal Welfare programme
  • Irene Walstra, lecturer of biology
  • Martijn Weterings, lecturer in the Wildlife Management programme
  • Gelein Biewenga, lecturer in the Dairy Farming programme and the Animal Husbandry and Livestock Farming programme

For more information see (Dutch website on Animal Welfare)

Within the organisation of VHL, there is cooperation with other applied research groups including the applied research group of Meadow Birds, Herd Management and Smart Dairy Farming and Sustainable Agribusiness in Metropolitan Areas.

The applied research group engages in permanent cooperation with the following training programmes:

  • Animal Management, Business Administration and Agribusiness
  • Animal Husbandry and Livestock Farming (D&V Bachelor of Sciences)

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about the applied research group, then e-mail your question to [email protected] or call +31 (0)58 284 63 31 (Nelleke Fledderus, secretariat).

Address Leeuwarden

Hogeschool VHL
Agora 1
PO Box 1528
8901 BV Leeuwarden

Address Velp

Hogeschool VHL
Larensteinselaan 26a
PO Box 9001
6880 GB Velp