Cutting-edge technology at the service of animal production
Technology refers to the collection of tools that eases processes of creation, management and exchange of information
Technology refers to the collection of tools that eases processes of creation, management and exchange information. New systems that help in the problem-solving of complex actions and serve for larger purposes. Such communication improvement has reduced the gap between people around the world; faraway places got closer and the peace of life has increased. Things that used to take hours to complete can nowadays be done in a matter of seconds. The world has become smaller, life is much faster and technological advances have turned out to be an essential part of our lives.
What technologies are available to improve production on farms?
We can start by mentioning the diversity of software aimed at the management of animal production information through which we can get, for instance, reports on the productivity of a sows farm and analyze the number of births in a specific period. This type of software can be installed or stored in a cloud to be used and information can be reviewed from a mobile device or a tablet.
Nowadays data can be captured via voice commands or by using electronic readers to locate a sow and check its information – service, stallion it has been mated with, registered deliveries and total piglets born, etc . – and pass it to the server through a cable or via bluetooth.
TRAX systems directly transcribe data entered manually on a form and send it to an application where they get registered and automatically updated. It’s a simple operation: data written with a digital pen on a form is sent to a smartphone and , from it, it is stored in a server o website.
Recorded data can be updated and is available for analysis from any device with internet access. The fundamental value of TRAX systems is that specific farm data only need to be written once. By writing on paper with such device we will have information to improve farm efficiency.
Writing with a digital pen is simple, since its built-in microcamera will record everything. Once the “send” box is checked, the pen connects to the assigned smartphone via bluetooth and data is instantly uploaded and stored in the selected file, cloud or sever.
During a visit to farms in Brazil, a company of 400.000 sows took a week to compile the information of only one day despite having specialized software to do so. With the use of a data collection device, the information was ready to be analyzed right after its capture.
To facilitate the inventory of the herd, the use of electronic earrings – Radio Frequency Identification systems (RFID) – can be a great tool . With a reading stick an inventory of 2.500 sows can be made in only in 2.5 hours. Doing it manually would imply the work of 10 people for two days, with the possibility of reading failures and animal stress.
The electronic earrings help identifying objects at a distance, even if being out of visual reach. The reading stick can identify each individual easily. The detection device emits acoustic and vibration signals once the reading has been taken. Duplicated information can be deleted and it only needs bluetooth or cable to connect with either a scale or a computer. We can preselect and introduce data about specific individuals and the device will warn us when preset parameters change regarding selected animals.
The electronic earring can also be used in an electronic feeding system . A specific feeder from which a particular sow eats can be monitored to avoid other sows to eat from it. At the same time, each individual feed intake can also be measured. When a sow enters a feeder an antenna picks up a signal from the chip, which is sent to the computer. If the computer recognizes that the sow has not yet received its recommended daily feed intake, the entrance gate closes and feed is dispensed into the feeder for the sow to eat.
The computer offers several options: feed portions can be adjusted to each individual needs based on their body condition and eating speed; sows can be marked with spray – for example, for vaccination – and separated from the group for birthing or for medical treatment; and a list can be printed identifying animals that have not taken their recommended feed portion . Nutrition lists are one of the most important electronic tools for daily farm management because it allows farm personnel to identify problematic situations. The adjustment of feed portions according to the needs of each animal requires a regular assessment of the optimal status of each sow. For instance, data should be introduced into the system in the middle and at the end of the gestation period.
Test stations for stallions
Test stations for stallions have been used for some years to evaluate feed efficiency of each individual by analysing daily weight gain, growth rate and , therefore , having accurate behavioral information of each individual. Nowadays, this technology is commonly used in some commercial farms, where the objective is to evaluate animal behavior in groups and the quality of the offered feed . This tool allows the possibility of elaborating precise growth curves without disturbing the animals . It also allows to make real predictions on when animals should be sold and their exact food conversion or, alternatively, to make comparative tests between two feed types. Evaluation of animal weight by cameras .
Animal weight assessment can also be done through cameras. They capture each animal and the software identifies its weight, thus, projecting the behavior of the group and without the need for additional handling.
Feed inventory control can be done by weighting feed trucks but there are other technologies that allow us to have inventories directly from the hoppers, through the installation of digital scales under the silos’ legs . These are directly connected to a software that will record every feed input and output. At the same time , such calculations can be made based on the inventory of animals and predict how long the feed will last in the hopper, and when it will need restocking . This technology can also be programmed to adapt to the different kind of diets required on the farm.
Other feed inventory systems measure the amount of feed and water entering each farm unit and provide real time data to a cell phone or computer, and sending specific alerts when required.
Farm climate monitoring
In addition to control systems for feed and water, climate monitoring is perhaps one of the most extended technologies in poultry and pig production facilities. Computers are programmed to handle the optimal environment for each animal species and age, as well as for monitoring CO2 levels and improve air filtration.
Another advantage of using this technology is that one can obtain an overview of all farm units. Therefore, improvement actions can be prioritized to the units that need more attention. According all data collected from each farming unit, it is possible to make decisions foscused on animal productivity and health.
Electronic detector of sow heat and early pregnancy
The electronic detector for sows in heat and early pregnancy eases the prediction of the optimum date of sow insemination and identifies silent or atypical estrus. This device helps detecting early pregnancy – 3 to 4 weeks after insemination – and the following heat if the insemination attempt was not succesful. Birthing date can also be predicted, thus, improving insemination efficiency and farm economic performance.
Farm Biosafety Surveillance System
New advances have been achieved in farm biosafety surveillance. These new tools are based on sophisticated biological monitoring systems that protect farms from potential disease outbreaks. These devices are able to record all farm visitors in real time.
It is used through an application that is downloaded to a smartphone, which automatically activates when a visitor crosses the farm perimeter. The geofencing system remotely establishes a virtual perimeter around the farm using satellite technology. Therefore, individual movements within the premises are automatically registered.There is no physical fence.
Farm staff electronic ID cards
In some farms, staff flow within the production facilities are controlled by the use of electronic ID cards. Hence, unwanted personnel movements are registered within the premises. This electronic card systems can also be programmed to identify the flow of vehicles into and out of the farm.
Adenosine Triphosphate Luminometer for farm disinfection
Evaluation of farm cleaning and disinfection processes has also made substantial progress in recent years. It is no longer necessary to take samples for an external laboratory to evaluate them since detection technologies such as the luminescence meter or luminometer are already available . This detection system uses Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) bio-luminescence technology.
ATP is present in all animal or plant material, even in most food residues, live and dead bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. This product’s sampling strips use luciferin/luciferase enzymes to produce light, which is proportional to the amount of ATP present in the sample. The reactive sampling strips measure the intensity of light emitted and display the test result in Relative Light Units (RLUs).
Luminometers are used by taking samples from surfaces or water to determine whether RLU results are acceptable or further disinfection procedures are needed. Tests are easy and quick, which allow to take immediate measures when results are not satisfactory such as re-clean and repeating the analysis before the entry of a new animal batch. The use of luminometers help ensuring that farm hygiene management objectives are achieved.
Portable PCR kit
Finally, faced with the constant threat by a large number of pathogens that currently beleaguer animal production, early diagnosis in farms plays a major role . With the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) portable kit, one can have an accurate diagnosis within hours. Hence, by knowing the exact pathogen affecting a farm it is easier to make the right decision for its treatment. Reagents can be transported at room temperature and they are lyophilized. Therefore, chances of contamination are reduced. Both their handling and conservation are simple, since they only require refrigeration and last for up to two years.
Its use only requires re-suspending the palletizing and adding the tempering, obtaining qualitative results in less than 2 hours. This kit is an easy and efficient way of simultaneous extraction of DNA and RNA in a single step, obtaining an elution yield of up to 200 µl . This precharged extracting kit ensures minimal handling, hence facilitating the work of the operator. Extraction can be automated or semi-automated and each sample type has its own extraction protocol – tissue, blood, serum, feces, swabs, supernatant of cellular cultures, etc.
Technology will keep advancing in favor of human and animal welfare, with the aim of making production more efficient and generating greater profitability in for animal production businesses.
“We cannot solve problems by thinking in the same way as when we created them.”
Dr. Óscar F. Huertas Alva
Óscar F. Huertas Alba is a doctor of veterinary medicine. Production consultancy Porcina OH, more than 35 years of experience in the pig sector. LATAM, State of Puebla, Mexico.