An eye in the sty

by 5m Editor
16 April 2004, at 12:00am

UK - The most obvious way producers can deliver the number of pigs they promised, on time, and at the required weight and quality, is to reinvest in modern housing and systems - but this is not a route that will be open to every one for some time.

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Step forward the video camera. This humble - or perhaps not so humble - device, can be fitted practically anywhere on an existing unit.

It can cast an electronic eye over pigs to determine how much they weigh, and it promises accuracy in the order of 97 percent, which is better than most stockmen achieve as they push stressed pigs over the scales.

The ways a pig unit chooses to use this daily-gathered and accurate weight information are limited only by the imagination.

An obvious route to cutting costs and improving productivity is to plumb the 'eye' into an existing electronic feeding system so that sows and gilts are fed according to their actual daily needs.

And in the finisher house it is possible to cut labour costs by doing away with the manual weighing of pigs as slaughter day approaches. An 'eye' over the feeders will do the weighing and could even be set up to spray or segregate pigs that have reached slaughterweight.

"The intention," says Terry Cross, of Osborne (Europe) limited, "is to be able to provide a relatively low cost piece of kit that can be put into a box and sent to a farm where it is bolted above a feeder to send back good, reliable management information."

Osborne has been working on the new technology for a number of years now and will be launching its Vista system at British Pig and Poultry Fair.

The introduction of Vista is a signal to British producers that not all new technology involves major reinvestment; some technology can usefully be introduced to existing units, to work with existing equipment.

The ultimate way forward for video cameras in pig houses is to link them with electronic identification of all pigs - but this isn't essential; Vista has shown it can accurately predict pen averages, as well as maximum and minimum weights, even when pigs are not electronically identifiable.

So how does it work? Working with various partners, including Defra, BOCM Pauls and Osborne (Europe) Ltd, Silsoe Research Institute determined that practically all measures to automate pig production have at their root the need for reliable weight information.

They have been working on an integrated management system for accurate feeding of pigs using weight and growth rate information captured from video images.

Silsoe's video image analysis system - which is at the heart of Osborne's new Vista package - measures daily changes in body shape and processes these to show current and predicted pig finishing weights.

Video imaging can work out a pig's weight as accurately as a manual system, with the added advantage that it doesn't take stockmen away from their other duties, and it doesn't stress the pigs.

It is possible that one day the ease and accuracy of video imaging will be taken for granted and the glory will instead go to the integrated management systems bolted to it, to offer near real-time control of pig production.

But it will be video imaging that is at the heart of such systems. The video camera will make it possible to consistently supply pigs of the right weight and conformation, and thereby increase returns from satisfied processors and retailers.

Source: Digby Scott, National Pig Association - 19th April 2004

5m Editor