The development of smart technology for use in livestock farming offers significant advantages for hog farmers, including improvements to pig health, lower labor costs and even better meat quality. Using monitoring technology, pig farmers can now glean insights from hard data, taking much of the guesswork out of marketing meat animals. One of the more innovative methods for tracking animal performance involves automatic pig sorting technologies including automated scales that determine when animals are ready for market and cameras to monitor movement and feeding behavior.
Osborne’s Weight Watcher growth management system allows farmers to improve the efficiency of their operations by reducing the man-hours involved in sorting and loading, while also providing a means to accurately monitor animal weights and lowering stress among the animals going to market. This smart system additionally allows farmers to use high-level analytics software to examine the growth rate of a group of animals and possible factors affecting it. By including RFID technology with the Weight Watcher system, individual animal growth rates can be monitored and compared to penmates. Data is constantly collected with this automated system so that pig farmers can make informed decisions, not only concerning individual animals but larger groups as well.
1. Increased Animal Health
Pigs, like humans, are susceptible to various viruses, which can cripple meat production. Illness can cost significant losses when factoring in the culling of sick animals, mortality rates, and average daily weight gain. When it comes to sick pigs, a farmer can add an additional 10-15 days to reach an optimal harvesting weight. Automated pig sorting helps mitigate damage to meat production by detecting a decrease in a group or individual animal weight or slow growth potentially caused by illness. Early intervention helps prevent disease from spreading throughout the entire pen or barn.
2. Identifying & Tracking Underperforming Pigs
Automated systems used in pig farming can issue alerts should fewer animals feed than usual, which can mean that there may be a health issue or a problem with the feed or feeders. They can then mark and separate sick individuals, test the feed and adjust the diets of pigs that are growing too slowly.
3. Exposes Feed Quality Issues
Maintaining growth rates to get pigs to market on time depends on what they eat. Like other animals, pigs are susceptible to toxins caused by improper feed storage or damage. Often these problems contribute to poor health in pigs, resulting from fungal exposure to mycotoxins. For this reason, automatic pig sorting allows farmers to watch for changes in weight gain (and thus eating habits) and other behavior that may indicate feed quality issues like the presence of these toxins in feed.
4. Accounts for Variation in Growth Rates
The larger a litter of pigs, the more variation in their birth weights, and their subsequent growth rates. By the time animals are ready for market, farmers can be penalized due to weight variation. Nutrients are wasted when hogs are too heavy and meat quality is affected when hogs are too light. When the sorting process is automatic, market sorting occurs only when an animal reaches its market weight, with the system directing market-weight animals into pens set aside for animals on their way to market.
Automated sorting eliminates the need to estimate weights or sort hogs manually. With constant data collection allowing accurate forecasting of daily weight gain, it makes delivering animals to market much easier, as plans can be made for transport in advance. Automatic sorting also allows pig farmers to separate the lightest and heaviest pigs within the group, evaluating environmental factors and health that can contribute to variation in weight. With this data, the underweight pigs can be fed a different diet to increase their size, and reduce variation from heavier animals.
5. Allows More Efficient Business Planning
Automated sorting of hogs helps farmers accurately project dates when their animals will be ready for harvest. This improves a farmer’s ability to properly plan, by giving accurate projections of the date when pigs will be ready for delivery. Pig producers can then tap into the automatic pig sorting system’s software to create a market plan for delivering animals to harvest. It also allows them to accurately predict the number of hogs going to market at any certain time, improving return on investment.
6. Lower Labor Costs
A key advantage to hog farmers with automated pig sorting systems is the fact they reduce the amount of human labor needed to bring animals to harvest. Traditional facilities require skilled workers to select and mark the pigs that should go to market. When done in automated facilities, the system uses scales and pens to do this automatically, so that there’s no need to manually find, mark, and sort pigs going to market. It also reduces the time needed to sort and load hogs and eliminates the need for human sorters, keeping animals calm and less stressed. This time savings allows workers to concentrate on animals in distress that are in need of attention.
7. Stress & Meat Quality Considerations
One way in which pork producers improve the quality of their meat is by reducing animal stress. Automatic pig sorting can reduce stress in animals by allowing them the ability to leave competitive situations, which reduces fighting within a pen. Hogs learn how to move through one-way gates from the feeding to watering pen, becoming accustomed to the stressors associated with constant movement and loading them for harvest. Reducing stress from sorting and transport also decreases lactic acid build-up within the pigs’ muscles before harvesting, thus reducing the occurrence of PSE (pale soft exudative) meat, a defective type of meat resulting from low pH and high temperatures at death.
8. Controlled Feed Withdrawal & Higher Meat Quality
Prior to going off to market, farmers stop feeding their hogs several hours before harvesting them. This influences the taste and quality of the pork by reducing glycogen in the animals’ muscles, which subsequently decreases the rate at which pH declines after death. This controlled feed withdrawal prior to harvest also reduces the incidence of PSE meat. For this reason, pork producers need to carefully account for the time hogs spend in transit. Automatic pig sorting facilities, in contrast to traditional ones, can easily determine which animals should stop eating and when.
9. Better Space Utilization
In a traditional barn, automatic pig sorting allows for more space for individual animals and may even allow for additional animals compared to no-sort finishing barns. Technology allowing for more efficient utilization of space can also reduce the number of blind corners that are inaccessible to the pigs, enabling more open designs and better use of barn space without markedly increasing incidents of fighting.
As with other sectors, automation allows the pork industry to achieve a greater level of efficiency. While it reduces the need for labor, automated weighing and data collection allows farmers to look at the activity, growth, and weight of their animals. By making much of the process automatic, pig sorting practices can concentrate on improving the health and well-being of the animals, thus increasing meat production. Instead of looking at averages to estimate income, automation also helps pig farmers better manage their animals and increase profit.
11. Saves Time
As in other industries, automation can save a significant amount of time when it comes to sorting hogs before they go to market. Automatic pig sorting can cut the time it takes to sort and load pigs going to market, while also requiring fewer workers. This translates to significant savings, especially when it comes to larger operations.
12. Produces More Meat
The more meat a hog farm can produce per square foot of floor space, the greater the profit a farmer can achieve. Investing in automation can increase the efficiency of an operation by utilizing nearly all of the available floor space while also promoting the uniformity of the pork harvested. Automatic pig sorting technology incorporates the use of automated scales that give farmers the ability to send a group of hogs to market as soon as they reach optimum weight.
Contact Osborne Livestock & Equipment
Osborne’s extensive experience and research of animal behavior in group settings has enabled the Weight Watcher system to be one of the most reliable automatic pig sorting systems on the market. To learn how Osborne equipment can help you improve pig performance, please contact Osborne today!