Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


2018 Banff Pork Seminar

Robust new technology driving a new future for pork production

Date posted: January 10, 2018

Lee Whittington, Prairie Swine Centre

Expect to see a dramatic increase in new technology coming into the pork industry as a host of manufacturers from diverse industries look at animal agriculture and attempt to measure or monitor welfare, environmental pressures and food safety with their technologies.

That was the first message Lee Whittington, president and CEO of the Prairie Swine Centre had for delegates to the 2018 Banff Pork Seminar in Banff, Alta. The second is that what will be needed is a method to evaluate systematically how well the products work, the data integrity and security, and the link to decision support software and methodologies required to get value out of the technology.

"If this is done correctly there is value for the industry, otherwise we do not need 'High-Tech Hype' technology just for the sake of technology that isn't moving us in a strategic direction of making pork the prime choice of meat protein for consumers world-wide," he says.

Whittington knows a thing or two about new technology in this industry. The Prairie Swine Centre, a non-profit research corporation affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan focuses on near-market research, knowledge transfer and graduate student training. The Centre approaches industry issues combining original research with the evaluation of other research world-wide, assessing it for its application to the Canadian pork value chain.

Outside the barn

Whittington looks at a sample of what is coming, some promising research tools, some in early stages of commercialization. Here are some examples from outside the barn.

Geofencing and syndromic health surveillance. Now possible with satellite technology that allows the technology to draw a 'fence' around a building or property and link this through an app that can record the movement of people (or devices with the app) across the 'fence'. As part of the biosecurity of the farm - Be Seen Be Safe, a Guelph, Ont. based company is using this technology to create notification to the farm manager, an alert to the person entering the property and a record of who entered and exited the farm.

The platform can network with other subscribers to communicate changing health status in a geographic area through daily health monitoring inputs from the production supervisor. With the veterinarian linked in, there could be early warning of changing health status in participating farms. Long-term applications include potential for linking traffic between farm-sites in case of a foreign animal disease outbreak. This brings up the issues of privacy and ownership of data and may have its greatest benefit within a company of related barns. At an estimated $300 per year subscription this is a low-cost addition to the biosecurity program.

Monitoring transport vehicles. The transport truck is the link between barns and markets and is also the most significant vector of disease after the live pig itself. Technology from the food and hospital industries; the ATP meter, allows an instantaneous test of 'cleanliness' of trailers. A research project determined the likely areas that are not well-cleaned and the ATP meter swabs can be brushed on the metal and inserted into the reader for an instantaneous readout - clean, "please back up to the barn", or dirty "please go back and rewash before approaching my barn". At $2,000 per handheld unit (reusable for years) and $150 per trailer in disposable swabs this is unlikely to be used for finisher hog shipments, but would make sense for the nucleus barn.

DrySist cleaning/baking process. This one from Castene Trailer manufacturing in Spain uses a site dedicated to completing the disinfection of washed trailers. When arriving at the site 'washed', the undercarriage is sprayed automatically with disinfectant. Backing into the baking station, a sliding wall moves up each side of the trailer enclosing it and forms a pinch-point behind the cab. This concentrates the heat that is supplied by a heat generator moved into place and directed into the rear of the trailer compartment. The trailer can be previously outfitted with heat sensors that connect wirelessly to a central computer. Hot air is blasted in the back until all sensors reach 72oC. The advantage is that it would use about 40 percent less gas than the current method of heating a whole building. Also, it does not heat the tires and running gear, instead heating the trailer from the inside out.

Tracking trailers. As part of total traceability tracking trailers is now possible while also capturing environmental data in real time. The Raspberry PI microcomputer from the UK is the size of a credit card and can measure humidity, temperature, have cameras, etc.. This information can be sent directly to the operator's tablet in the cab, ensuring driver oversite of the welfare of the animals in transit. A GPS chip adapter allows the trailer to be tracked. A commercial application (Trailer Genie) is now under development. Note, this basic microcomputer is currently on Amazon for $55 Cdn. each.

Managing biowaste. Hydrothermal liquification (HTL) of biowaste is promising. This University of Illinois project has identified swine manure as potentially the best source to feed algae which are harvested and put through the HTL process to extract oil. "This is not commercially viable at today's oil prices but estimates breakeven at $80/barrel. When designing new barns, should we be altering the proposed building complex site and making provisions for the capture of manure and taking advantage of also adding food waste into the mix?," says Whittington.

Cleaning barn exhaust. Locating new barns closer to populations, labour, utilities, services, may be possible if barns are 'good neighbours'. This requires managing exhaust gases and odours vented from the barn. A project between the Centre de développement du Québec and Prairie Swine Centre demonstrated that gases can be stripped from exhaust air and the nutrients captured, and remaining air 'cleaned' before being exhausted beyond the building. The design confirmed in 2013 that ammonia, dust and odour can be reduced by 77 percent, 92 percent, and 75 percent respectively with a commercial-scale bio-trickling air filtration system. At the 2016 Eurotier show two companies demonstrated biotrickling cubes for such a use.

Amy Cronin, BPS advisory committee, session chair

Inside the barn

"Inside is where a proliferation of new devices will be introduced," says Whittington. "From low-cost sensors to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled technologies, the collection of data will be more frequent, and more complete. We should be able to make real-time decisions when conditions we determine are not optimal can be corrected before feed intake, growth or health is impacted."

Here are three in-barn innovations, all from Europe and all to be available within the next two years.

Finding "Super sows". The use of Big Data is beginning to be understood and used by PigChamp Pro Europa. This Spanish company offers recordkeeping services which has led them to begin mining the database for trends. The first Big Data output is a realization that most swine herds have 'Super Sows'that can be identified as giving 15 live born in the first litter.

Records on over a million matings identified that these females have a 6 percent higher farrowing rate and will produce 26 more live born pigs in their lifetime than their herd-mates. This detailed analysis lead to advanced management procedures that should be followed once the 'Super Sow' is identified. Long-term strategies include selecting for more of these prolific, long lasting females in the herd and use of predictive analytics. The current estimate is that these high-performance sows reduce the cost of production by $6 USD per 20kg weaned pig produced.

Old style meets new technology. This same group has taken the commercially-available digital pen and created software that allows a pen and paper solution in the barn (instead of expensive phones/PDA). A proprietary software application has been developed that allows the farm to determine the questions they want to ask and the measures they want to be taken in the barn.

The special paper form creates links to the digital pen, and through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, links in real-time to the home office. A screen that appears in the office, converts handwritten numbers and letters into digital, and allows for verification (sloppy writing) and saving of a digital file for later analysis. As an example, this has been used to score foot problems in the herd and categorize individuals by five different problems and whether the problem is light, medium or severe. Whole herd shifts in hoof health can then easily be monitored and managed over time. Cost still to be determined.

Tracing injectibles. The Vetic was developed by Optimal Pork Production in Spain and manufactured by Henke Sass in Germany will become available in 2018 and will provide complete traceability of injectables. It links the pig/pen/room through RFID tags, by having a reader right on the syringe. This allows the quantity of product, with detail of the day and even lot number of the product injected to be recorded, and that record linked to that individual pig.