The USDA continues to develop precision monitoring scheme

Precision farming utilises modern monitoring methods, such as 3-D, heat sensitive cameras, to track individual animal feed consumption, movement, temperature, sickness, weight, among other factors. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) continues to develop its precision monitoring capacity in pig farming.
calendar icon 2 January 2018
clock icon 3 minute read

Tami Brown-Brandl, an agricultural engineer at ARS’s US Meat Animal Research Centre (USMARC), Nebraska, explains the importance of precision farming in understanding animal health:

It can be difficult to detect when just one animal is sick.

[With precision farming], theoretically, you could detect and treat sick animals sooner and with more accuracy than you could visually. We are using individual animal time at the feeder to predict the next days’ time at the feeder. If the prediction and the actual are too far apart, then we investigate the cause.

In earlier research, Brown-Brandl and her team used skin surface temperatures of individual and groups of pigs to determine appropriate temperatures for housing them. Thermal images were taken of 160 group-penned pigs and 20 individual pigs on specific days within a certain temperature range. Scientists found that the use of thermal images showed promise in determining heat tolerance for pigs.

The use of precision monitoring extends beyond on-farm health; marketing pigs and gauging market weight achievement accurately and efficiently can also be completed using innovative imaging methods. Packers want pigs at current market weight. The traditional weighing method - running pigs over a scale - is time consuming, especially with large groups of pigs. Brown-Brandl and her colleagues are developing imaging methods to measure a pig’s weight. They determine the pig’s volume from the pixels in the digital image, and then they use equations to convert volume into weight. She says the error rate is only about 5%.

ARS scientists continue to investigate the use of precision agriculture technology to benefit animal production and health. Their research includes testing and developing methods to help farmers operate more efficiently in managing production costs and increasing production and profits.

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Source: Sandra Avant, ARS Office of Communications

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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