While significant progress has been made in pork production over the past 10 to 20 years, modern genotypes require tighter management, labor remains a challenge, and the industry continues to face emerging diseases. Where the U.S. falls short in terms of productivity compared to other countries is having larger facilities, less labor input and competitive feed costs, Caleb Shull said.
This is one reason why the industry should consider adopting more technology. The big question he says is “why aren’t we adopting more technology?”
“If we compare the hog industry to beef, dairy or even crops, we’re probably behind to some extent, and I think you can argue that there are some facility constraints that limit our ability, low ceilings, the environment we raise with Pigs are more corrosive indoors than they are when they work outside, which has some benefits,” said the Maschhoffs’ director of research and development. “I guess you could also point out that our margin structure is probably not as attractive as dairy or beef on a per pig or per animal unit basis. But I do think there are other reasons why we’re going to keep fighting . “
According to Shull, for a technology to be successful in a pork production system, it needs to:
- Has a compelling value proposition.
- Easy to implement.
- Make work more enjoyable.
- Improve animal care.
- Provide predictable results.
Which technologies have been successfully implemented in the swine industry and cover all five attributes? Shull said antibiotics and vaccines are a good example and can tick all the boxes. As for nutritional technologies like zinc and phytase, Shull says they have a compelling value proposition, are easy to implement and deliver predictable results. Genetic improvement is another area of science that has successfully adopted technology.
“Changing terminal genetics doesn’t really shake things up for most staff. On the maternal side, some traits of a particular female line may need to be managed differently, but for the most part, they’re easy to change,” Schur said . “People would have different semen ducts, it wouldn’t cause major changes. We could run trials and demonstrate differences between strains and understand the value proposition of making these genetic changes. So, that’s where we put a lot of effort into it because we It felt like we could capture a significant portion of the total value that was actually captured in our system.”
Retro-cervical AI is another technology that has been successfully deployed in the pork production system and has been well received by staff, Shull said. As for the web-based controller, the Maschhoffs are still figuring out how to get value from the technology.
“A major limitation in getting value from web-based controllers is that they only occupy a small portion of our website,” Shull said. “You need a certain amount of data from the site before you can really build the infrastructure around it. However, we still decided to go ahead and roll it out, and we didn’t hear much from a lot of our growers.”
Another technology implemented by the Maschoffs is the pen gestation gilt training divider, which significantly reduces labor input. “People no longer have to push a group of gilts across during training, which reduces stress on the animals,” says Shull. “Another example of technology that may not have had huge value or payoff on paper, but has certainly been successful for us because it makes work easier and more enjoyable.”
As an example of mixing successful techniques, Shull points to supplemental starter nutrition.
“Whether it’s a nutrient-enriched feed or a nutrient-enriched fluid, we’ve been able to prove through trials, and through R&D and field evaluations, that if we manage and implement these technologies, we do get fairly consistent results and it’s correct,” Shull Say. “The biggest challenge here is, if it’s dry, are you going to put it in small quantities on the farm through the bin? If not, handling bagged product can be a challenge as well. So, there are logistical constraints there. Liquid products, if you What happens when you have to add water several days a week? How do you manage an entire population when there is only one pipe per room?”
Multi-dose bags of semen are another example of a technology that makes some theoretical sense. However, Shull says, when you start doing it, there are issues with keeping the temperature constant, avoiding semen sedimentation, and handling the semen properly.
A single fixed-time AI is another case. “On paper, you do the math, and the payoff for a single fixed-time AI is very compelling. However, the whole process is very much dependent on the fixed time interval between dose administration and insemination,” Shull said. “We all know that people don’t show up, things happen on sow farms. If you have a technology that is very time-dependent, and when we don’t catch up to that time, it leads to variability in the results.”
Shull said he believes in microbes and plant technology; however, production systems often yield mixed results. “We have more work to do in this area to really define the value we get from delivering these technologies.”
Automated sorting also makes sense on paper, but changing a pig’s behavior and forcing it to go somewhere can become a challenge. “Automated triage systems require a different level of governance and increase risk if the technology fails,” Shull said. “Smaller systems with more local ownership oversight of pig houses may be able to make these systems work. These systems must also be designed in such a way that the behavior of the pigs is not altered in such a way that production parameters are negatively affected. The risks required to run these systems Negative performance impact and high attention to detail have greatly limited their penetration in the industry.”
While all of these technologies have been implemented with some degree of success, Shull said the million dollar question remains, how do we create a consistent, compelling value proposition that we can actually implement and that over time can repeat? In his view, the industry was “disadvantaged from the start”.
“Because we measure ourselves by the cost of production. However, technologies are measured by their ability to provide value, so immediately there is a little bit of a disconnect philosophically,” Schur said. “In my opinion, it really comes down to just tipping the scales in terms of benefits versus costs.”
The industry could do more to identify tangible metrics and measure the impact of technology on those — whether it’s mortality, average daily gain, feed conversion, pigs per sow per year — and through R&D models Running it, Shull says it will build more confidence to move forward with the implementation.
“We need to keep doing R&D work, but I think we also need to really look at how we design these technologies from a cost standpoint to keep them where we’re still attractive enough to start trying some of them. And we There’s also a need to make sure we’re also identifying some of the intangible value drivers to help sell and convince our production teams to invest in technology,” he said.
Building business transparency is an opportunity to spot problems before they become major problems.
“Another reason technology adoption often fails, in my opinion, is that the people who develop the technology, whether it’s a startup, an academic resource, or an IT company, are usually not the people who use the technology, and often , don’t even talk to people who use the technology,” Shull said. “We have to try to bridge the gap between those who develop the technology and those who use the technology, not only in the implementation support phase, but also in the ideation phase, because they will help put the technology together in a way that gives them the best possible Benefits. It’s much easier to implement and derive value from technology if the people using it ask for it because it makes their jobs more efficient.”
Shull said smart technology offers great potential, but several problems remain.
“We need to understand once we’ve collected all this data, what do we do with it? How do we turn that information into action? How do we change people’s behavior to actually use actionable information?” Schur said. “Will these technologies actually work in the barns where we have hogs? How do we do this in the Midwest, or at least in our case, seven states with barns and unconnected locations? We have to solve a lot of problems. But I do think there’s a lot of opportunity in this space.”
Some of the smart technology options Maschoffs investigated include electronic data capture, health monitoring, camera pig weight estimation, environmental monitoring, crate inventory monitoring, robotic cleaning and workflow tools. A concrete example is Acumence from Summit SmartFarms. In the barn, data is collected and tracked. While on the road, production managers can receive alerts, view early warning signs, compare sites, and prioritize support. In the office, teams can identify systemic problems and plan initiatives.
Before this system was implemented, production systems did not have any transparency on large-scale temperatures. They have now identified a significant percentage of sites with events where the temperature was 10 degrees below the set point. They also learned more about mortality and treatment trends.
When implementing new technology, Shull said pork production systems need to ensure they are measuring the right things and not underestimating the impact on humans.
“Successful technology adoption requires investing in what and how,” Shull said. “We can’t just focus on what, we really need to spend more time thinking about how and how it affects people so that it becomes an enabler rather than a distraction.”