Leola, SD, pork producer Jerome Mack was looking for a better way to heat-check sows. Watching one of his children play with a remote-control car about four years ago spawned the concept of a small, self-propelled, steerable vehicle to automate heat detection.

A team of South Dakota State University agricultural engineering students took his design and developed a prototype. Mack turned that original work into a mass-produced unit, The Boar Bot, unveiled by his company, Swine Robotics, Inc. at the 1999 World Pork Expo.

At first, the idea of hooking a boar up to a machine to do heat checking drew skepticism from producers.

But the tethered mix of boar and machine has proven to be a resounding success with pork producers who like its safety and simplicity, says Mack. The Boar Bot leads a boar in front of a row of sows, while the producer operates the machine from behind the sows and checks them for heat.

Producer Comments

Delmer Scholten, who runs a 1,300-sow, farrow-to-wean operation, bought his Boar Bot a year ago to save time and improve heat detection by being able to control placement of the boar. “Before, we always gated the boar, and then he would back up. So we would have to gate both ends of the boar,” says the Inwood, IA, producer.

Scholten would gate off an area between about eight gestation stalls. The problem was the boar wouldn't always stand in front of the sow they wanted to breed, he explains.

“With the remote-controlled Boar Bot, once you find an animal in heat, you can force that boar to stand right in front of that animal by stopping the machine,” he explains. “We can even back up the boar if we go too far and return to a sow that is now showing signs of heat.”

The chain-driven Boar Bot makes heat checking and breeding more accurate and a one-man job in Scholten's 600-head breeding barn. “If you did this manually, you would probably follow the same procedure, but it would take you a lot more time setting up the gates,” says Scholten.

The Boar Bot is mobile enough to go anywhere in the barn that an animal can go, says Mack. The hand-held remote controls skid steering to maneuver alleys and corners in a building. The 500-lb. machine is geared to travel at 1.6 ft./second, forward or reverse, powered by two, 24-volt electric motors. It provides up to eight hours of continuous service on two, 12-volt deep cell batteries. Mack recommends recharging the batteries every night.

One person can handle heat detection and breeding completely by themselves, says Mack. The machine saves 2-4 hours of labor/day for every 1,000 sows.

Rick Howe agrees that heat checking sows with one person is the top advantage of the Boar Bot.

Howe is sow manager for Pork Technologies, an Ames, IA-based professional management company. He is also part owner in a 3,200-sow, farrow-to-wean operation.

At his farm near Ames, Howe uses two Boar Bots. When breeding, one boar behind a Boar Bot will be positioned in front of a sow. Only two females are bred at a time. “Breeding only takes 4-6 min. But since we are seeing sows in standing heat 10-12 min., once we have started artificially inseminating that sow, we move that first boar forward and follow the second boar behind a second Boar Bot to get 8-12 min. of boar exposure on every breeding we have,” he says.

Howe explains that six months after he purchased the first Boar Bot, he bought a second machine because it optimized the artificial insemination process.

He says it didn't take long before he realized the value of the Boar Bot. Liveborn increased by an average of 0.4 of a pig/litter and farrowing rates climbed 5%.

Mack says most farms experience a small jump in farrowing rate when they switch to his machine simply because they do a better job of placing the boar strategically to see if sows are in standing heat or not.

At Howe's farm, sows are heat checked daily on Day 17 through Day 26 after breeding. “We definitely saw a decrease in pregnancy-checked open sows found with the ultrasound. I attribute this to the speed with which we were able to heat check animals moving down that line with the Boar Bot,” says Howe. Again, heat checking is improved over the old method of two persons struggling with the boar and gates and trying to identify open sows.

Plus, in the old system, boars controlled the pace of heat detection, he says. The Boar Bot provides the correct pace and eliminates two people out front startling sows, disrupting heat detection and breeding. Howe estimates they can heat check 25-30 sows/min. with the Boar Bot.

Another key point is the Boar Bot never needs a day or weekend off and never shows up late for work.

Other Advantages

At 19½ in. wide, the Boar Bot fits down most narrow aisles and can be custom-manufactured for narrower rows. In most cases, boars can be trained to accept being harnessed to the machine in 2-3 days, says Mack.

The Boar Bot, which retails for $5,750, affords more producer safety in dealing with boars. Mack estimates payback in 3-6 months, based solely on labor savings.

For more information and a free video, contact Swine Robotics, Inc., 10858 365th Ave., Leola, SD 57456; phone (605) 439-3227; fax (605) 439-5305; Visit the Web site, www.swinerobotics.com.