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Cameras help pork producers recognize sickness, behavior changes

Urgent need for remote sensing solutions to enable farmers to profitably manage increasingly large pig numbers.

August 1, 2023

2 Min Read
National Pork Board

Cameras are all around us. Phones, iPads, computers, Ring doorbells, all have become a part of our everyday lives and it’s difficult to imagine life without them. One Iowa State University faculty member is looking at how cameras in hog barns can help producers recognize sickness and behavior changes.

Joshua Peschel, associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, is conducting research on cyber-agricultural systems that could assist farmers. He said consistent, reliable, accurate, and cost-effective health and behavior understanding of pigs is one of the biggest challenges faced by the swine industry today.

“My research emerges from the critical need for new and innovative tools that expand precision livestock farming for production-scale swine operations,” he said. “My students and I create new technologies, data sets, and computational models for sensing and sensemaking. In other words, we come up with new data sets, using only video, to better manage pigs.”

Placing cameras in the barns could be helpful to producers because they could check on their livestock from anywhere at any time by logging in on their laptop or smartphone. This would be especially beneficial during farrowing when employees may be working elsewhere in the building.

Automating part of a producer's workload will ensure economic viability of swine operations and maintain and improve animal health and welfare, Peschel said.

“For example, it’s 10 p.m. and a producer wants to check on a sick pig. He could pull out his phone and watch the behavior of the pig for a few seconds or minutes,” he said. “The camera recordings and live feeds could aid in the decision of ‘do I need to go to the barn for a hands-on evaluation or can the pig wait until morning?’”

Internet connectivity can be tricky in rural areas. If there is no cellular signal or landline internet connection, satellite service may be an option. However, Peschel cautioned that satellite services can be slow and expensive.

Overall, cameras show promise as a vital part of expanding technology, and agricultural row crop producers are ahead in that game.

“They’ve aggressively implemented assistive tools, including computer vision techniques, to improve yields and reduce costs,” Peschel said. “There is an urgent need for remote sensing solutions to enable farmers to profitably manage increasingly large pig numbers.”

Peschel plans to expand his research in cameras and technology for pig barns through developing new software that takes advantage of evolving smartphone technologies.

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