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How to build health monitoring into pig buildings.

Health is a key factor in pig production. Buildings, and the environment they provide, have an enormous influence on the health of pigs and therefore their performance.

Huge strides have been made in the design and structure of buildings enabling pigs to achieve performance levels unthought of a few years ago. High levels of insulation ensure pigs can be kept warm, slats have reduced the internal parasite burden and smooth non-adsorbent surfaces allow inter-batch cleaning and a high degree of hygiene.

As controlled-environment buildings have become more sophisticated, proper maintenance and regular servicing has become increasingly important, says Tim Miller, environment specialist. Farmers assume that, because they don't see anything wrong, everything is working perfectly, but often it is not.

"I've found broken baffles in chimneys, fans that have not been working for months and stretched pulley cables which fail to open inlets properly. These failures of the building are not obvious. Farmers assume that if a fan is not rotating it is because it is not needed at the ventilation setting when, in fact, it is faulty."

Such situations can have a serious knock on effect on pig health. Pigs can easily become too hot, cold or suffer from high ammonia levels. There seems to be at least anecdotal evidence that these conditions can be a precursor to, or even trigger, outbreaks of aggressive tail biting.

Advance in housing, however, is the development of remote monitoring- the retrieval of data-which gives detailed information on how a house is performing. Sensors can record temperature, air changes, feed, water input, and energy consumption. Each of these inputs is vital to the pigs' health.

Monitoring has allowed us to see what happens when changes are made in the building, whether it is due to high or low outside temperatures or internal control. Is the shed too hot in summer or in winter, is heating provision adequate? Is the building achieving the set temperature? Just because the stock person has set 28 deg C on the thermostat does not necessarily mean the environment will achieve this. If farmers have a max/ min thermometer this only shows the two extremes, it does not show how long the building was really maintained at this point.