Video cameras drive nursey barn management at Pillen Family Farms

Date posted: January 7, 2021

Andy Jakubowski

Andy Jakubowski

Have you ever wondered what the nursery pigs' comfort is when caretakers are not able to be present in a barn 24/7?

Andy Jakubowski knows. The Director at Pillen Family Farms told the 2021 Banff Pork Seminar how that large hog operation in Columbus, Nebraska installed roughly 150 cameras in virtually all their nursery barns in the fall of 2017. It was so successful it anchors a new management era for the farm.

Here's an edited overview of his paper presented.

The background

The decision to install the cameras was driven by inconsistent performance across the nursery system. The health and age of the pigs were consistent, but the leadership and experience varied by site. Nursery barn designs in our business are hotel style with plastic floors. Each site was stocked with 12K-15K all-in all-out pigs, with each of the rooms having an inventory range from 700-1,800 head per room.

The footage from our cameras helped the leadership adjust environments, which translated into decreases in mortality and narrowed the gap between our site's inconsistent performance metrics. Through the process of viewing and analyzing camera footage the nursery system now better understands the following key areas that impact the success to managing the nursery pig:

  • Pig stressors
  • Drafting/chilling of pigs
  • Adjustments to ventilation; and biosecurity

The install

Cameras installed were ip67 rated cameras that can withstand the long-term dust and power washing of multiple turns of pigs. Each camera is powered by Power over Ethernet (PoE) and did not need 110v power installed. The internal IT team installed cameras and ran the Cat5 cable to each room through the attic. On average, it takes the team 30 man hours to install cameras at a 12,000 head nursery site.

To adequately supply power through the cable for sites with distances over 200 feet from the office to the camera's, separate PoE switches were installed in the hallways. Video is recorded by each camera and stored locally on an on-site Network Video Recorder (NVR) in the office of each nursery, and connected to the internet for remote viewing. Video can be viewed remotely on a PC, IOS or Android device. The positioning of the camera varies on room size to obtain the best angle. In most cases, the cameras were installed in the middle of the room above the door.

Pig stress

The cameras identified several areas of management where improvement was needed. Pig stress was one of these.

Vaccination Stress. Through camera footage, pigs were observed piling in the hours and days post vaccination. The video footage revealed an increase in environmental comfort, decrease in feeder activity, and decrease in water consumption. However, the best results were measured when all piglet vaccinations were moved to the sow farm. Last piglet vaccinations are now given one day prior to weaning. This change allows the piglets to recover while still on the sow and gets the piglet off to the best start early in the nursery, because it minimizes stress.

Partially Filled Rooms. Nursery rooms can take up to two days to be filled. Camera observations demonstrated chilled pigs were visible in rooms that were not filled on the same day. Under the normal ventilation curve, piglets were getting chilled and piling. The camera footage encouraged us to adjust our minimum vent fans. Fan speeds were either decreased, or the fans were shut off to slow down the drafts.

Grueling Pan styles. Grueling small pigs after placement and sick pigs in rescue pens is a common practice in our nurseries, but camera footage confirmed that the execution of grueling varied from farm to farm. In large pens, we switched to trough style pans. The cameras provided a birds eye view that wet floors occurred due to cleaning and dumping the pans in the pen. The cameras also allowed us to observe that some pigs laid in these troughs or stood in them and became chilled. The higher set points in the nursery rooms resulted in an increased humidity, which encouraged the team to run the minimum ventilation fan speeds at higher levels to control the humidity. Unfortunately, as observed by the cameras, the result of running the minimum ventilation fan at higher speeds created even more drafts in the room, which increased the number of chilled pigs.

Drafting/Chilling of Pigs

Air movement issues were identified.

Barn Style and air leakage determine minimum ventilation settings. The cameras provided several observations between barns of how pig comfort was impacted though CFM and inlet settings were equal. Notably, older sites with more air leaks proved to have fewer chilled pigs and better performance than sites that were newer and had minimal air leaks. As a result, we determined that setting a standard CFM per pig at minimum ventilation was detrimental to pig comfort based on how well the nursery was sealed up.

Inlets that leak directly into laying/feeding areas. Within the same airspace, camera observations revealed situations where there were both pigs laying comfortably and pigs being drafted or chilled in the same pen. Bifold inlets had several leakage points at their hinge point. Modifications inlets demonstrated that the pigs in the room were more comfortable.

Ceiling obstructions. Camera observations also revealed that pigs were experiencing drafts from obstructions in front of air inlets, which included feedlines, water lines, electrical conduit as well as the aluminum layout from the ceiling. To correct these issues, we could either eliminate the use of the inlet or place a smooth surface in front of the inlet to prevent air from deflecting down on the pig space.

Using Video Cameras to Manage Nursery Pigs: Andy Jakubowski

Using Video Cameras to Manage Nursery Pigs

Heater blower. The cameras revealed a pattern of pig behavior, both positive and negative, that correlated to room heaters being cycled on and off. To provide a more consistent environment, air diverters and angles of the heaters were adjusted to ensure the pens directly in front of the heater were not impacted. It was also determined that our larger nurseries could get by with one heater and that the second heater was creating drafts rather than uniform heat in the room. Also, sick and pull pens were relocated from the heater discharge to minimize the air velocity to the challenged pigs.

Attic pressurization relief. Cameras identified pigs being chilled and drafted on windy days in certain nursery rooms. Our nursery sites range from eight rooms to 16 rooms and are ventilated 100 percent through the attic. Our cameras helped us identify that the end rooms where we were using minimum ventilation had higher air speed velocity coming out of the inlets and longer heater run times. Tests were conducted by shutting more inlets in the affected rooms but this did not correct the drafting/chilling entirely. Data collected proved that the pressure in the attic was forcing more air into the rooms than what the minimum ventilation was taking out. To correct the discrepancy, we installed shutters on the ends of the attics in the barns, which allowed the air to be released out of the barn on windy days and has greatly reduced the chilling of pigs.

Ventilation changes. Cameras allowed our leadership team to track the timeline of when team members made a ventilation adjustment with how the pigs responded to the adjustment. When team members increased minimum ventilation fans due to humidity of the room, video observations confirmed that pigs became chilled and piled up once the chores were done in the room. Further data collection was done with humidity readers that collected readings every minute throughout the day. The cameras showed that when chores were being done the humidity increased thanks to a higher respiration rate from more active pigs. Humidity subsequently went back to normal after chores were finished and normal activity resumed. With the use of the cameras, we can now verify if a ventilation adjustment is warranted, because we can observe the pigs' behavior from anywhere.

External Biosecurity. Cameras were placed at all farm entrances and passthroughs, as well as supply quarantine/downtime disinfectant rooms to verify biosecurity processes. Cameras are now a resource that leadership can use to coach on poor decisions and recognize exemplary actions. Cameras are also placed in loadout areas to observe trucks being unloaded and loaded and monitor animal handling.

Internal Biosecurity. The cameras have served as a critical resource to verify and coach the cleaning and sanitation processes at the end of a turn. This has helped decrease our mortality by 0.5% for the following turn. Cameras also helped us verify whether hot water is being used for washing and detergent is applied correctly in accordance with our disinfecting protocols.

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