The National Hog Farmer New Product Review Panel felt exhibitors at the 2006 World Pork Expo provided practical, affordable solutions to challenges facing pork producers, regardless of size.

“Manufacturers did a good job of using simple, applicable ideas to fill real producer needs,” noted Matt Anderson, a veterinarian with Suidae Health & Production, Algona, IA. Suidae Health & Production focuses on swine health, helps producer clients manage their swine operations and conducts swine research.

Ted Funk, University of Illinois Extension agricultural engineer, added, “You see an increasing sophistication in the technologies available to producers, with products ranging from software to sensor technology. The Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) products were particularly impressive, because there is a range of both products and benefits available.”

Colin Johnson, Iowa State University Extension program specialist, related, “I thought most of the companies did a good job of keeping producer costs in mind. A number of innovations were added onto existing technology. There were a lot of good communication tools available here, too.”

Dave Uttecht, a producer from Alpena, SD, felt there were many good management tools available for pork producers. “There is always room for innovation, and some of the products, such as the feeders we looked at, fill needs and offer good options for producers,” he said. Uttecht raises feeder pigs and market hogs, and raises replacement gilts for Babcock Genetics. He has a master's degree in swine nutrition and serves as vice president of the South Dakota Pork Producer's Council.

The panel looked at several products that offered new ideas and retrofitting options for pork producers. “The products were indicative of the evolution of the swine industry, from RFID technology to group housing and automatic feeding,” Anderson said.

“Most products were scaleable for multiple-sized producers,” Funk stated. “We looked at several products that would not require a large system in order to be affordable.”

Following are some thoughts about the products the panel found “most promising.” Products are not ranked in any particular order.

A.I. Handycope, Kane Enterprises, Inc.

The A.I. Handycope is a high-powered, portable, fixed-focus microscope designed as a fast and reliable pig-side test kit to help producers screen boar semen samples for fertility before artificial insemination.

“We wanted to make an economical, portable tool that would be easy to clean and affordable for smaller producers,” said Kevin Kane, president of Kane Enterprises. The Handycope magnifies an image by 200 times, comparable to a desktop microscope. Fine rotation of the revolving tube aids in sharpening fine focus.

The Handycope runs off a lithium battery that provides around 10 hours of operation, according to Kane. A high-powered LED light guarantees clear and bright images, even in dark working environments or at night. The unit comes with a spare battery.

A polycarbonate slide was specially designed to reduce the effect of temperature on sperm motility. “More accurate results could be achieved compared to using a general glass slide,” Kane explained, “although a general glass slide also can be used.”

Kane said the A.I. Handycope is designed to be a first-step screening tool. “If you have questions about sperm quality, you can take the sample to the next step in your screening process.”

The microscope, which retails for $180, comes with a protective case, six polycarbonate slides, 100 glass slides and four pipettes.

“This is a ‘why-didn't-I-think-of-that’ idea,” Uttecht said. “This technology will allow producers to take a microscope places they wouldn't have been willing to take one before.”

Anderson added, “This is a simple and economical way to make sure we are using viable semen at all sow sites. It is affordable enough to have one at separate sites in order to promote biosecurity, too.”

Johnson liked the unit's portability and the ease of use for employees.

MicroZone Automatic Lamp and Mat Controller, Novonix Corporation: A Herdstar Company

The MicroZone automatic heat lamp and heat mat controller adjusts the power supplied to heat lamps or heat mats based on farrowing room temperature and the age of the piglets.

As piglets get older and have less need for supplemental heat, the temperature control can be lowered in specific increments. “Producers can set the system up to drop the temperature by one-half degree each day, for example,” explained Robert Baarsch, HerdStar president. “The result is modulating zone heat based on the age of the pig and room temperature.”

Baarsch said because the temperature under the heat lamps or on the heat mats is adjusted to maintain a comfortable microenvironment for the piglets, they will lay in the creep area away from the sow. This reduces their risk of being laid on or injured, and can reduce prewean mortalities in some operations.

Power modulators automatically regulate the power from 0 to 100%. A readout on the controller unit allows producers to instantly check the amount of power supplied to heaters, the measured room temperature, percent power savings and the temperature control band settings. Overload protection shuts the unit off and re-starts it, if necessary. Power is slowly restored after an outage to reduce peak demand on the power utility or on a backup generator. The control is protected against transient voltage spikes, thermal overload and short circuits in heating devices.

One MicroZone Controller unit can manage up to 12 power modulators. Each modulator operates one 20-amp circuit, which is equal to 1,920 watts of heat lamps or mats. The controller unit costs $129. It would cost around $719 to install the units in a four-circuit room, with each circuit handling approximately 12 crates, explained Baarsch.

Uttecht asked where the ideal location would be for mounting the controllers, and wondered if the units could withstand power washing.

“Producers like to have the controllers mounted in the hallway so they can easily monitor each room,” explained Mark Jaeger, Novonix president. “The units are enclosed in corrosion- and water-resistant housings and can be low-pressure washed.”

Because the MicroZone system adjusts the temperature automatically, producers can save the time and labor previously spent manually adjusting heat lamp height. Anderson asked what heat lamp height is recommended with the system. Baarsch said lamps with a 150-watt bulb should be positioned between 18-20 in. from the floor.

Uttecht acknowledged that sometimes heat lamps don't get adjusted at the optimal time. Johnson agreed, noting the importance of paying close attention to sow and piglet temperature when working to prevent health problems. “Being able to adjust the heat lamps throughout the room would help reduce the possibility of mis-management,” he said.

As Anderson noted, “This looks like a simple, yet innovative way to fill a real need in the industry. It should benefit sows, piglets, employees and the bottom line. It seems to combine productivity with economic enhancement.”

Because heat lamps and heat mats use around 40% of the power, reducing the power between birth and weaning can result in significant savings per site, and in many cases the savings will pay for the units in one year, Jaeger noted. “Power companies in some states recognize this as an energy-saving device and offer rebates with it,” he said. He urged interested customers to talk to their power companies to see if they can get rebates in their area.

Funk noted that increased bulb life, which would result from using the system, could be an additional cost advantage to producers.

The MicroZone Controllers come with a one-year warranty.

Clear Advantage Water Purification System, Aerotech

The Clear Advantage water purification system from Aerotech purifies and disinfects any water source, including wells, ponds or rivers. Because it is an ozone purification system, the Clear Advantage system is chemical free.

As Aerotech's Norm Wettstein explained to the panel, the system utilizes a custom-sized tank, injection assembly generator and self-backwashing filters, configured for the level of contaminates in each operation's water supply. The system is matched to peak flow rate.

The ozone generator utilizes ultraviolet light, which turns incoming oxygen molecules into ozone molecules. The water is forced through a venture tube, drawing ozonated water into the flow. By a patented process, the ozonated water is fed through the bottom of a contact tank. As the water rises, it mixes thoroughly with the down-flowing, untreated water. The ozone gas destroys organisms such as bacteria, protozoa, mold, fungi and viruses. In addition, iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide and other contaminants are oxidized by the system. The harmful contaminants that are precipitated out of the solution form clumps, which are easily filtered out. The system, which is regulated by a flow switch, only runs when water is being used. The system automatically shuts off when usage stops.

The system continues to run for five minutes after the end of the flow in order to fully disinfect the last water into the contact tank. Automatically-timed backwash cleans the filter media as often as needed. No chemicals are necessary for the process, Wettstein said.

The panel asked if different water supplies require additional filters or treatments. Wettstein explained pond water runs through an additional pre-filter, while well water goes directly to treatment and then to post filters.

Producers need to have a dedicated area of at least 10 ft. × 10 ft. to house the necessary tanks and equipment for the system.

The price of the Clear Advantage system depends upon the quality of water and flow rate at each specific operation. Because each system is designed specifically for that site, full treatment of the water supply is guaranteed, and there is no concern that equipment being purchased is not required.

“Producers need to know whether or not they have a water problem before deciding to use this system. It could take care of bacterial problems, which would be an advantage,” noted Funk.

Anderson said if producers have access to rural water, this system might not be necessary. However, for farms with water quality issues, the Clear Advantage system has the potential to increase water intake during crucial phases of production.

“This system could improve the efficacy of oral vaccines and medications, and help prolong the life of medicators and the water system,” Johnson added. “You would need a large enough farm to make it pay for itself. Nursery sites might be the best application.”

Because the system is new to the swine industry, the panel wondered what long-term maintenance and upkeep issues may develop.

Agro-Jet, Medical International Technologies

The AGRO-JET is a low-pressure, needle-free, jet injector from Medical International Technologies, Inc. (MIT).

“There are no needles involved,” explained Karim Menassa, MIT president and CEO. “The pressure pierces the skin, and the injected medication disperses in a mist or spray as it enters the dermal, subcutaneous or intramuscular tissue.”

Around 160 psi would deliver a 2cc injection, for example, such as iron for baby pigs. An intramuscular injection for a sow would use around 250 psi, Menassa said.

Uttecht asked how the unit is adjusted to deliver enough pressure for a subcutaneous vs. an intramuscular injection.

The pressure is delivered via a 5-lb. canister of liquid carbon dioxide, Menassa explained. The canister is carried in a special backpack that comes with the unit. Users can set the necessary vaccine pressure by using a regulator on the carbon dioxide tank. “A 5-lb. canister of carbon dioxide can deliver around 800 injections of 2.5 cc,” Menassa said.

The AGRO-JET can inject from 0.1 up to 2.5 ccs in 0.1-cc increments. A different unit is available for injections up to 5 cc.

Funk asked if the injector has to be powered by carbon dioxide, or if compressed air could be used. Menassa said the AGRO-JET swine injector model is designed to be used with carbon dioxide, or an air compressor that could deliver up to 300 psi.

Stainless steel and plastic construction adds durability and allows the unit to be sterilized. The unit comes with a one-year warranty with no limit on the number of injections that can be performed during that year. A fee-based loan program is available in case producers need to send their unit in for repair.

Menassa said impact damage could cause problems if the unit is dropped repeatedly.

The panel quizzed Menassa about safety concerns, and Funk wondered how long a producer would have to hold the AGRO-JET against an animal in order to complete the injection process. Menassa said the injection is completed in a fraction of a second. The operator controls the distribution by squeezing a trigger, which helps keep the operator safe.

Anderson asked if research had shown any problems with muscle scarring when using this method. Menassa said there is no muscle scarring, and injections can be made on the ham or neck.

The AGRO-JET costs between $2,500 to $2,800 and comes with one canister of liquid carbon dioxide, the backpack and two vaccine orifices.

INTAK Ad-Lib Lactation Feeding System, Automated Production Systems (AP)

The INTAK Ad-Lib Lactation Feeding System from Automated Production Systems (AP) was designed to provide an economical and efficient way to upgrade the feeding systems in new and existing farrowing buildings.

“Our goal was to have a simple and cost-effective way to convert a typical farrowing crate feeder to an ad lib, or on-demand, lactation feeding system,” said AP's Tom Stuthman.

The INTAK system is designed to make fresh feed available to the sow 24 hours/day, thereby increasing feed intake while keeping feed fresh and decreasing waste. The system's dispenser is designed to provide reliable feed flow and delivers a regulated amount of feed with each actuation. An indexed adjustment system, which changes the opening of the feeder in increments of 1/10 in., provides uniform control of feed dispensed.

Uttecht asked if the system is adjustable to a daily amount of feed for each sow. Stuthman said the INTAK feed dispensers can be used to limit-feed sows, gradually ramping them up to full feed.

The dispensers can be adapted to most farrowing crates and can be retrofitted to existing stainless steel feeders.

Uttecht asked about the cost to retrofit each feeder. Stuthman said most farrowing crates could be upgraded to the INTAK dispenser with a feed-holding hopper for around $90.

Dispensers can be hand-filled using an optional 15-lb. hopper, or can be filled automatically with a chain-disk fill system to save labor, Stuthman added.

Funk asked if a water nipple can be included within the feeder. An optional, high-flow water valve in the stainless steel feeder can improve both water and feed intake while substantially decreasing water waste, Stuthman noted.

Anderson wondered how the feeders stand up to the rigors of mature sows. Stuthman said the dispenser is constructed of durable, injection-molded plastic, and was specially designed with features to endure abuse by large sows.

Automatic Gestation System, Schick Enterprises

Schick Enterprises developed a large-pen Automatic Gestation System (AGS) that uses RFID tags, which enables the system to manage, process and feed animals in seconds.

The large-pen design accommodates up to 150 sows. “We wanted a product that could offer quick through put,” explained Paul Schick, president of Schick Enterprises.

Sows pass through a stainless steel, electronic sorting station called the Interrogator. As sows pass through the Interrogator, their RFID tag is read. Sows are automatically sorted by the Interrogator into two pens for access to feed. Thin animals can be given access to feeding stations where additional feed is available. If a sow has lost her tag, or the tag is unreadable, the system automatically spray-marks her as she passes through the Interrogator and notifies the producer of the event.

The system features a user-friendly, browser-based computer interface, which makes it easy for users to monitor the system off-site. As each sow passes through the Interrogator for the first time, her RFID tag number is recorded so managers can create logical sow groups without having to enter tag numbers manually.

The system can be programmed to paint multiple groups of sows for pregnancy testing or vaccinations, for example, by selecting the desired groups and creating tasks to paint them. The system also sends an alert when an animal has not passed through the station within a 24-hour period.

“The large-pen design accommodates many sows, yet provides ample space, allowing every sow to remain active and mobile so they can find their comfort zone,” Schick explained. “Our system uses trickle feeding stations, which allow all sows to eat at the same time, virtually eliminating sow aggression while also keeping the dominant sows from overeating.” Water is provided in the loafing area.

Panel members wondered whether two sows could enter the Interrogator at one time and if animals could get stuck. Schick said there is really only room for one animal to go through at a time. “The saloon-style gates are designed so the animal can push through once the gate has been released, to decrease the chances of getting stuck,” he added.

Uttecht inquired about training sows and asked how many sows should be added at one time during the training phase. Schick recommended adding sows in groups of 10 or more, so aggressive behavior isn't focused on a small fraction of the population. He said little to no training is required.

The system does not interface with any major recordkeeping systems at this time, but Schick said that may be an option in the future.

The Automatic Gestation System sells for just under $10,000, which includes the Interrogator, the building blueprints and a one-year warranty. One unit is designed to accommodate 150 head.

Cargill Animal Nutrition, Cargill Incorporated

Cargill uses a new process to formulate diets using unique nutrients. This approach leads to more precise nutrient supplies and pig comfort for a pork production system.

“We use nutrients such as net energy for young pigs, heat of digestion for growing hogs and/or an ideal carbohydrate balance to formulate diets,” explained Cargill's Derek Wulf. He says this approach challenges traditional ways of how nutrition impacts hogs' energy metabolism. “The result is the right feed for the right pigs at the right time.”

Cargill developed a patented technology that quantifies the difference between the animal's metabolizeable energy and its net energy, as measured in heat increment differences in the animal's skin temperature. This is especially important during heat stress periods, as it creates a way to keep hogs cool from the inside out, which leads to more consistent growth and greater production efficiency.

As part of the process, producers routinely sample, assay and update their ingredient's nutrient matrix. This allows a precise understanding of net energy, ideal carbohydrate balance and others to be used — especially when ingredient prices increase. The panel viewed the close attention to the nutritional value of ingredients as a positive aspect of the program.

The price of the process depends upon the specific services a producer is looking for. “The process is used to support a consulting relationship with producers and what they require. Our focus is on nutrients,” he explained.

Farnam LTS Tag Recorder, Farnam Companies, Inc.

The Farnam LTS Tag Recorder is a Palm-based, rugged RFID reader and data accumulator, which is built into the reader. A lithium battery allows the unit to operate for many hours on a single charge.

Retrieving data from the reader is easy using the software (included). Once uploaded, data is easily modified using Microsoft Excel or most any other management program, according to Jerry Hall, Farnam's North Central regional manager.

Funk wondered if other tasks, besides animal identification, could be performed using the Palm.

“Yes, you can put everything into this unit that you can put onto a regular Palm, such as a daily planner, for example,” Hall explained.

When Uttecht and Johnson asked how close the operator has to be to an animal, Hall said the reader must be within 4 in. of the RFID tag to read it. If two animals are standing side by side, the reader registers the closest tag. Once the tag number appears on the viewing screen, it remains so additional information can be entered and edited.

The Farnam LTS Tag Recorder comes with a carrying pouch that fits on the operator's belt. The unit costs around $2,300, including the support software.

InSite Monitor Glasses, E. I. Medical Imaging

The InSite Monitor Glasses from E.I. Medical Imaging offers a hands-free, fully adjustable monitor for use in situations when it would be difficult to read an ultrasound scanner screen, or to help improve scanning speed, accuracy and user comfort. The glasses are designed to work with the Bantam Real-Time Ultrasound Scanner.

Users can adjust the glasses for eye width, brightness, contrast and focus. Velcro straps help hold the glasses in place.

“The glasses offer digital monitor quality,” explained Mia Rossini, E.I. Medical Imaging Sales and Marketing. Brightness and contrast control can be set within the glasses. Once a user has adjusted brightness and contrast, the settings remain until they're reset, even if the glasses are taken off.

The glasses can be adjusted to work with eyeglasses, and come with removable glare shields that help properly space the monitor from a user's eyeglasses, as well as eliminate any side glare from lighting.

Funk asked if more than one set of glasses can be plugged into the same ultrasound unit. “The ultrasound unit can simultaneously run two sets of glasses with both users seeing the same image. This helps to accommodate training,” Rossini said.

“The glasses are an example of adapting technology to improve user-friendliness,” Johnson said. He recalled in the past using duct tape to fasten ultrasound glasses to his head to help provide a shield against bright conditions.

“I liked the clarity of the glasses, and the graphics looked really good,” Anderson stated. “But they do limit motion somewhat.”

The InSite Monitor Glasses sell for $850.

PigChamp RFID Instant Data System, PigChamp

Producers and managers can quickly and accurately identify animals for data collection and then upload the data into their PigChamp recordkeeping software systems with the new PigChamp RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Instant Data System. A rugged, hand-held computer reads special RFID ear tags, allowing production information to be entered.

“Many people are collecting data by hand now, with pen and paper,” explained PigChamp's Molly Toot, noting tags are often difficult to read and office personnel often have difficulty interpreting the data. “If the data is misread, the information is inaccurate. This system helps producers collect accurate information and real-time data. Producers can get reports in a timely manner, which can help lower operating costs.”

The new system uses readily available RFID tags from companies such as Allflex and Destron. Tags are read by a handheld reader. Producers are encouraged to use both visual and RFID tags, so if an animal loses its RFID transponder, the visual identification number can be typed into the system to record the animal's information. The reader attaches to a hand-held data unit.

The handheld computer allows users to easily record and validate required daily activities. In addition to reading tags and allowing for paperless data entry, the unit can be used to retrieve an animal's current or historical information while still in the barn.

The handheld reader features a carrying strap and a neck strap.

Johnson asked how close the reader needs to be to the tag in order to obtain an accurate reading. Jayne Jackson, PigChamp product manager, said the reader needs to be within 6 in. of the tag. Metal in barns can cause some interference, but the reader can be placed between the headgate bars and still get an accurate reading, she said.

Anderson asked about the durability of the unit. Jackson said tests have shown it can be dropped on concrete from up to 6 ft. and still function normally. The reader is also water-resistant, cleanable and covered by a one-year warranty. The reader is powered by a NiCad battery with an expected 8 to 15-hour life between charges. The unit comes with a back-up battery.

Software in an on-site computer allows the handheld units to talk to one another. Producers can use a single docking station to download data to the computer while charging. Both single and four-unit docking stations are available.

“Many customers start with two units, one for the breeding side of the operation, and one for the farrowing unit,” Jackson related.

A single docking station system starts as low as $2,790 and includes a single docking station, one handheld unit, a 1-MG and 4-MB flash card, handheld and computer software, all batteries, hand strap, carrying case and RFID reader.

Multiple docking station systems start at about $5,300 and include multiple docking stations, two handheld units, 1-MG and 4-MB flash cards, handheld and computer software, all batteries, handstrap, carrying case and RFID reader for both handheld units. All prices include technical support.