I’ve been asked to be on a panel at an upcoming meeting of swine nutritionists where I give my thoughts on what’s new and upcoming in swine housing. As I think about this I’ve come up with several items worth thinking about.
Heat is a big determent to pork production. Since they lack the ability to sweat (evaporative cooling) they are reliant on our housing systems to help them dissipate metabolic heat. The challenge is that as we improve health, etc. and growth rates (including lactating milk production) increase, the amount of metabolic heat increases which means today’s pigs are more sensitive to heat than previous generations. This shows up every year as an 8 lb decline in upper Midwest slaughter weights and the impacts in North Carolina last even longer. There are economic advantages for anyone that can figure out better ways to help pigs deal with summer heat and humidity.
A second growing area of interest is precision farming in the barn. We’re all familiar with how rapidly precision farming has become the norm for corn and soybean producers. I remember when the first yield monitors were installed on combines and we were so happy to have indicators of yield as we progressed through the field at harvest. Now these yield maps are linked to soil fertility maps, drainage maps, etc. to more precisely use limited resources to maximize profit (income over expenses).
What would it be like if we could yield map a barn full of growing pigs? If we could know that influenza always begins in pen 4 and progresses in a repeatable pattern through the barn. If we could know that putting gilts into pens in the northwest corner pens and barrows in xxx pens would change their growth enough to increase the uniformity at market. If we could identify which pens had different feed conversion and use that to identify a feeder that is just beginning to need repair, a drinker that doesn’t always flow correctly, etc.
What about ‘Big Data’? This generation of ventilation controllers and the next generations are really computers. Many now use the ventilation controller as the internet link to the site with immediate access to probe temperatures, fan status, feed weights in bins, water use, etc. How do we capture this data and ‘mine’ it for patterns that are predictive of both good and bad use of resources by both growing and lactating pigs? At least one controller company has started down this road with much of their preliminary work being done in poultry.