Instant management feedback

In the second article of our series of six taking a detailed look at the PIVIT (Pig Improvement Via Information Technology) project, which is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England, we look at recording environmental data

Recording the environmental data related to pig production delivers more than just an indication on how a building is performing. Results and observations from the PIVIT project show that data collected from continuous environmental monitoring is a valuable management tool, capable of improving pig performance in a way that’s relevant and specific to individual production sites.

During the past two years, the PIVIT project has accumulated a substantial amount of information on how buildings are managed. The over-riding evidence suggests that most are not operating as well as they could be, and although the pigs’ environment is perceived to be correct, with an acceptable level of performance being achieved, closer scrutiny of PIVIT data, reveals frequent ‘inadequacies’ that compromise productivity. Once these discrepancies are addressed, pig performance usually responds positively, as does efficiency.

PIVIT project manager Hugh Crabtree, of Farmex, says few producers actually question if buildings are running correctly.

“Once the first batch of pigs has been through, this tends to set the precedent for subsequent production,” he says. “Initial results are usually very good, but after that producers seem to accept that performance will deteriorate over time. But if pigs are well managed, health status is stable, the hygiene protocol is good and the ration remains the same, why should growth and performance falter in the long term?”

If a building is continually monitored it’s easier to identify problems and initiate management changes, and subsequently monitor if any adjustments have been effective. A constant ‘eye on the sty’ enables swift response and immediate action that can optimise performance and minimise loss.

“It’s about consistently maintaining the best environment that meets the pigs’ needs throughout the production process,” adds Mr Crabtree. “And if you can do that, you can add value to your business.”

Through PIVIT, Farmex has found growth rate to be a pivotal factor within environmental management strategies. Having this information seems to help producers understand the value of monitoring temperature, ventilation and water intake as it provides physical evidence about how pigs are performing on a daily basis and how environmental factors can and will influence their performance.

Farmex has now taken this on a stage by developing a wireless in-pen growth sensor that can be linked to the environmental monitoring system. The free-access scale simply captures the weight of any pig passing through it and transmits the data for processing via the internet.

“By measuring growth as well as environmental conditions, we can build a specific picture of the growth curve for each individual production site,” Mr Crabtree says. “The more you measure, the clearer the picture, and then you can really begin to fine-tune your management and production process.”

Eyeing up the benefits
An excellent example of this monitoring system being put to good use can found in an ARM finishing/rearing building erected about 18 months ago. The fully slatted, automatically controlled accommodation is managed using Farmex Dicam controllers that are networked to Guardian Action and Barn Report using wireless technology. The system provides 24-hour environmental monitoring via the internet and can be monitored and managed remotely around the clock from any location. ARM technicians can also access the system to ensure the installation is set-up and working correctly, and to monitor the data recording to help solve any problems.

This PIVIT technology is easy to manage and is helping this particular producer to continually modify his production process to optimise pig performance and get closer to his target of 750g/day growth from weaning to finishing.

“Our key objective was to cut down on labour costs, but we also wanted better performance from the growth potential offered by our Hermitage genotype,” he says. “We previously reared growers and finishers on straw in naturally ventilated buildings, but it was labour-intensive and performance wasn’t in line with expectations.

“I was confident I could raise growth rates by about 100g/day, but knew it would require greater management control and more information about how the pigs were performing throughout the rearing period.”

By using Barn Report, the producer is now able to monitor the new building, analyse its performance and determine where improvements can be made. Also, once targets are achieved, the package provides assurance by continuously checking performance.

He has also been able to build up a precise picture of how his building operates and how the pigs perform. He knows the system is set up accurately and can satisfy the pigs’ needs throughout the growing period; and the recent addition of an in-pen growth sensor is allowing him to cross reference data against daily growth rates and performance trends. These measurements are indicating where further improvements might lie and enable any management changes to be monitored immediately. If adjustments are made, he can see if they’ve been worthwhile in a matter of days.

“If you don’t know the impact a change in management has on a batch of pigs until they leave the building, then it’s a gamble,” Mr Crabtree adds. “It might pay off, but if it doesn’t then that’s a loss you have to bear. If you continually monitor your production system and record what’s happening, then you can see if a decision has paid off in a reasonably short time, because the pigs and the data reveal all.”

The data collected by the PIVIT project (now totalling some 70 million records) is freely available to any research institute that wants it – contact Hugh Crabtree (hugh@farmex.com) for more information.

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