Hog farmers can expect lots of innovation

BANFF, Alta. — There’s plenty of innovation going on in the hog industry, says Lee Whittington, whether its in development or already available.

There are geofences, sensors that constantly monitor transport trailer conditions, methods of making crude petroleum from pig manure and air scrubbers so efficient that hog barns could be located right in towns and cities.

“As you’re thinking about new barns, you’re thinking about renovations of barns, you’re thinking about the kinds of staff that you want to hire and what their capabilities must be in the future, I’m hoping that an inside glance on some of these things might be helpful,” Whittington told producers at the Banff Pork Seminar Jan. 11.

As president and chief executive officer of the Prairie Swine Centre, Whittington pays attention to swine industry innovation. It’s through innovation that a 130-kilogram pig can now furnish 400 eight-ounce portions to consumers.

He outlined several initiatives and projects that swine producers can access or one day expect to be used in their industry.

Sensors can be used to create an invisible perimeter around a farm or a barn so a signal is sent whenever a person enters. Service people and visitors on the property can then be sent instructions or directions. It could also improve health in the barn by monitoring the personnel that go in and out, potentially limiting those who have contact with the pigs. In the case of a disease outbreak, such a system could provide a record of who was in or out, helping to control spread and possibly trace infection source.

Whittington said an Ontario company has been working on this technology, primarily in poultry, but it could also be adapted to swine operations.

Swabs and testers are now available to the industry to almost instantly check the cleanliness of a hog transport trailer. An ATP meter is used to check the swabs and within five seconds can identify whether there is any adenosine triphosphate (ATP) present. ATP is an enzyme present in all organic matter, living or dead, including feces, blood and saliva. The hand-held meter costs about $2,000, said Whittington. Swabs are extra.

Castene Trailer of Spain has developed DrySist, a method of disinfecting trailers by baking them with hot air within a special station. Sensors in the trailer indicate when temperatures have reached 72 C. The process does not require heating an entire building, nor does it heat the truck engine or tires.

Whittington said the Raspberry PI microcomputer, developed in the United Kingdom, can capture data from various points within a trailer and send them to a tablet within the truck cab. Temperature, humidity and camera data can be transmitted in real time, ensuring driver oversight of pig welfare in the trailer.

The University of Illinois has identified swine manure as a good source of food for algae, which can be used in hydrothermal liquification to produce oil. There are already two small plants, in South Carolina and Texas, that can produce 40 to 160 barrels a day. Whittington said the process isn’t economically viable at today’s oil prices, but breakeven is potentially $80 per barrel. In his notes on this innovation, Whittington asks, “when designing new barns, should we be altering the proposed building complex site and making provisions for the capture of manure and taking advantage of also adding food waste to the mix?”

Whittington said the Prairie Swine Centre and the Centre de developpement du Quebec have a project that showed gases can be captured from hog barn exhaust, stripped of nutrients and then cleaned before release into the atmosphere. Research showed ammonia, dust and odour can be reduced by 77 percent, 92 percent and 75 percent, respectively. That could increase the options for hog barn sites, allowing them to be “better neighbours” while being located closer to packing plants.

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