July 2015: A worthwhile look “outside the box”

Many of you will have read the report on the BPEX Innovation Conference in last month’s Pig World. And it certainly was innovative with a big “I”. Speakers came from a wide range of specialised fields, which goes to demonstrate the importance of casting our net wide and looking well outside the box as our industry strives to increase production, safeguard welfare and minimise environmental impact.

While some people may query the validity of asking a cucumber disease expert to speak, there was a great deal of value in the research that was presented. While equipment that routinely samples air may not seem so relevant, when we learn that this type of equipment can also analyse the air for specific pathogens in real time, the pig production chain raises an eyebrow in interest.

Think if we could make use of this technology in a pig unit to monitor the air in a building, or in a specific area of a unit for, say, pneumonia loading level? And if we could monitor where the disease-loading source is, and how a pathogen is moving through a building, I would say that sounds pretty useful.

The other particular speaker I wish to highlight was Paul West, again an expert from outside the industry – in this case from the Tropical Marine Centre. He looked at “biologically relevant light”.

It’s a widely held view that we should light service sows for 16 hours at 300 lumens of light at floor level. I query this on the grounds that it contradicts research that suggests seasonal infertility in pigs is linked more closely to long summer days than to high summer temperatures.

If I put aside these doubts, and we accept the idea that 300 lumens at floor level is the optimum, then how are we measuring these lumens? Many light meters measure in lumens, easy enough – but is this the right measure. A point Mr West alluded to.

The pig’s eye differs to ours, and only certain wavelengths and colours of light within the visible light spectrum actually act on the animal.

For example, a pig could be placed in a building with no natural light, but with only a red light bulb kept on 24 hours a day. On paper, its hormonal profile and general behaviour would match that of an animal kept in the dark for 24 hours.

Mr West also discussed the concept of biolumens. This suggests that as each species perceives light differently, and different wavelengths have a varying impact on different animals, then perhaps the light level should be measured differently for each species. This would ensure that we’re not only supplying the correct overall level of light, but that we’re supplying the correct spectrum of light to have the desired impact on production, welfare and behaviour.

While it’s impossible from the brief presentations to draw direct applications of monitoring air to disease control, and prescribing light requirements more accurately, the practical application of these latest innovations for the pig sector might not be so far away.

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