The beating heart of production

Of all the inputs monitored by PIVIT project farms, feed and water are what producers are most interested in. Maybe it’s because feed, as a primary cost, is of paramount importance and water is the lifeline for the whole production process. The PIVIT (Pig Improvement Via Information Technology) Project is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England

PIVIT (Pig Improvement Via Information Technology) Project, which is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England – See more at:

Monitoring feed and water inputs through Farmex’s Barn Report and Guardian Action systems has provided valuable knowledge to PIVIT producers, revealing facts about production that initiate change, both immediate and for the long-term, that has bearing on efficiency and profit potential.

They may say their main interest is to check feed and water are doing what they expect on a daily basis. However, by continually collecting feed and water data, producers can identify trends, establish where production should be and recognise any deviations from that norm. Such observations have economic significance because of the interdependent relationship between nutrient intake, growth and cost per kg gain.

Monitoring feed and water intake is simple via output meters and auger running times. Both are relatively inexpensive to install and can be easily networked to process controllers to provide real time continuous data streams.

Water consumption data is probably the most valuable measurement as the volume that pigs drink is undeniably linked to their feed intake.

“Through extensive research and practical experience on numerous farms my late colleague Nick Bird, proved the only driver of water intake is feed intake,” says PIVIT co-ordinator Hugh Crabtree. “Graphs detailing water consumption simply track those of feed intake. If the amount eaten goes down, then so does water intake and vice versa; it’s a significant barometer for pig productivity and performance.”

Jump to the beat
A typical daily water trace (see Figure 1) looks similar to that of an electrocardiograph heartbeat. It peaks usually around the middle of the afternoon and has a regular shape, although there are differences between naturally lit buildings and those with permanent lighting – the natural situation appearing more condensed.

“Pigs should be more active leading up to the hottest part of the day, then less so afterwards,” Mr Crabtree explains. “What you see is behaviour changing in relation to ambient temperature. If this is not the case, then something is preventing normal behaviour.”

The objective is to produce a clear, uniform daily pattern, repeated day after day with a cumulative rise in total consumption in line with increasing feed intake and growth rate. A normal trace should show zero/negligible consumption during the night hours; if not this usually indicates leakage, maybe a running tap, or that the pigs are active.

Nocturnal behaviour occurs because pigs are being prevented from doing what they would normally do during the day. This could be due to equipment failure, say a broken drinker or reduced flow rates, which would interfere with water availability. Or there could be vice in a pen where dominant pigs are preventing others accessing the drinkers. Such events will produce a change to the regular “rhythm”.

Also, a steady drop in consumption can indicate a potential health problem. Pigs tend to go off their food when disease is circulating. Water consumption (and feed intake) often declines a few days before clinical presentations.

One US pig business that has been tracking water intake through Barn Report for a number of years, picked up a particular trend associated with swine flu. By analysing historical data, it noted how water intakes dropped two or three days before clinical infection was observed in its pigs. By continually monitoring water consumption, this farm was able to pre-empt a potential flu outbreak and take a more proactive approach in reducing its impact.

Like water intake, feed intake data establishes what is or isn’t happening on a daily basis. A typical trace should follow water consumption and also show a steady rise in consumption as production progresses.

Real-time revelations
So what is the feed/water data revealing and how is it changing herd management and improving efficiency?

“The challenge here is to provide producers with FCR and growth rate in real time for their finishing pigs,” says Mark Nowell of Dicam Technology, which specialises in IT-based control/monitoring solutions and is a PIVIT project partner.

“As technicians, we now need to develop data sheets that are simpler for farmers to interpret, with graphics showing predictable input curves for a specific building covering the entire production period.

“By using historic data from a particular building, a bespoke mean “curve” can be created for that production system. This indicates where the current daily intakes (feed and water) should be, if it is following the established pattern.”

Having a single, individual mean trace (curve) for both feed and water enables any deviation from that mean to be clearly visible and easily evaluated. Such a deviation may be small and/or acceptable for one instance – a blip. However, if the trend continues over a specific time period, then investigations and direct action may be required.

“Managers and stockmen can learn from what their system and the pigs in it are telling them,” Mr Nowell adds. “They learn how to recognise important deviations, to investigate why they occur and to resolve issues by changing their management.

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 ([email protected]) for more information.

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 ([email protected]) for more information.

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