Predicting illness

The Prairie Swine Centre investigates remote sensing of water intake and body heat, to catch illness faster

Dr. Bernardo Predicala: "The RFID we put in pigs so that we're able to identify each pig when it actually went to the drinker, and then we quantify how much each pig is drinking.”

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Dr. Bernardo Predicala, who manages the Engineering Research Program at Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, made two presentations at the recent PSC producer meetings across the Prairies.

While in Niverville, MB, in his first presentation, Dr. Predicala showed the PSC’s work using infrared technology, infrared cameras, and RFID tags in drinkers.

“The RFID we put in pigs so that we’re able to identify each pig when it actually went to the drinker, and then we quantify how much each pig is drinking. The whole idea is to determine whether changes in the feeding and drinking pattern of consumption can tell us whether the pigs are getting sick,” said Dr. Predicala. “Studies have shown that up to 12 or 24 to 48 hours before the actual onset of disease, the pigs’ drinking behaviour changes. That’s what we want to quantify to take away some of the manual evaluation that we’re doing in our daily barn walkthroughs.”

“If you do it manually, it depends on whether this person is well-trained to spot those behavioural changes in the pigs that are getting sick or not.”

The research scientist said the other side is the infrared camera.

“We put the cameras in the barn to capture their temperature. Studies show if pigs subjected or exposed to pathogens for example, then they get sick and they get a fever, but you can’t see that with the eye,” he said. ” An infrared camera can tell us the temperature of the pig, and if the camera is there the whole day, then we have the whole day to capture those changes in the animals, as opposed to a barn walkthrough, which would be for only four or five minutes.”

This study is in the second stage because other people developed them first. They have pilot testing on those two technologies, and the PSC is testing them in actual barns and taken their initial development further.

“We had to find what else needs doing so producers will use them in the hog barns because they did it in their research facilities. So it worked well, that’s why we’re testing it now at this second stage, but we still found some needed improvement,” he said.

“For example, the cameras that we use, some of them didn’t last long because of the different conditions in the barn. The RFID tags, because you need the reader antenna for that, at times they will be detecting two pigs at a time, so it doesn’t work because we have to identify individual pigs and assign how much each pig is consuming. There are still a few things to be sorted out.”

Development is also underway for an innovative pig transport trailer.

“By maintaining an environmentally controlled environment for pigs during transport, we have an opportunity to reduce contamination while maintaining pig comfort,” said Dr. Bernardo Predicala.

“Firstly, you want to protect the pigs against potential airborne infection when transporting. And you want to address existing issues, or issues with existing trailers, like welfare issues, or the wide variability in thermal conditions.”

He said one step is to remove as many ramps as possible. Another is to put in a filtration system to avoid contamination and protect hogs against airborne infections in the enclosure.

“But as research shows, this only works for certain conditions. It’s feasible if we are protecting high-value animals like genetic breeding stock, which cost thousands of dollars, as opposed to a normal market pig,” said the research scientist. “But also, some operations routinely transport pigs from one barn to another, and their barn is already protected by investing in filtered barns. The goal is to protect those pigs similarly while they’re outside of their barn. Otherwise, they waste all their investment filtering the air if the pigs coming into their barns get infected during transport.”

He said if they can realize those revenues for the pigs transported from the air-filtered barn, then the producer can recoup the investment in this kind of trailer within two years.

“Our systems filter the air that goes inside the trailer. We’re making sure that whatever air that goes into the trailer is clean air by taking out whatever contaminants that’s in the outside air,” said Dr. Predicala.

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