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Cameras tell the story of animal behaviour

A hog farm finds much can be learned when employees aren’t in a barn

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When looking for answers to problems with barn operations, make sure to ask the pigs.

Pillen Family Farms was trying to figure out why its new nursery barns weren’t performing as well as some old ones, so they turned to video cameras as a way to better understand the behaviour of pigs when workers weren’t in the barn.

Why it matters: There are factors that affect animal behaviour when workers aren’t able to observe them.

Andy Jakubowski, a director at Pillen Family Farms, a 71,000 sow, farrow-to-finish operation in Nebraska, told the recent Banff Pork Seminar, that “we undervalued that extra set of eyes in the barn.”

Cameras were installed in several areas of their nursery barns, including entries for people, quarantine zones for supplies and animal areas.

They found that better understanding pig behaviour has helped them make better management decisions.

Identifying stressors

There were several areas of stress discovered by observing pigs via camera.

Pigs pile together when they are cool, using body heat to keep warm. But that’s also an indicator that the building is either too drafty or too cool.

When filling barns with new groups of piglets, they found that the pigs would pile up after the workers had left, especially in barns that were entirely filled in one day. They learned to shut down a minimum ventilation fan to limit the airflow and keep the pigs more comfortable.

Another lesson related to vaccinations. The company had vaccinated its nursery pigs when they arrived at the nursery barn.

However, the stress of the vaccinations, while the pigs were in new surroundings and adjusting to new feeding systems, was another additional challenge for them. Looking at the pigs while there were no employees in the barn showed them issues relating to feed and water intake.

“We moved all vaccinations to the sow farm, which was more work, but we could see results in the nursery from reducing stress.”

Ventilation stories

There were several examples where being able to observe pigs during their resting hours helping to solve ventilation issues.

When workers are present, the pigs are often up and moving around, and so worker observations aren’t always the best measure of pig comfort.

Workers checked humidity while in the barn and adjusted the ventilation system to lower the humidity when needed.

However, the video camera images showed pigs piling up when workers left. It was eventually understood that when workers are in the barn, the pigs are moving and eating and their respiration increases, as well as the humidity. If the ventilation system is set to manage that higher level of humidity, when the pigs settle down again, the fans will cool the pigs.

They also found that new nursery barns had areas where drafts were more intense and spots avoided by pigs. The new barns were built so tightly that where drafts occurred they were more intense than in older barns that had more air leaks.

They used various tools to disperse the air in the new barns.


Cameras have allowed the company to keep an eye on areas where biosecurity is critical, including auditing how well workers conform to best practices and how well quarantine areas are functioning.

“We get asked is this big brother stuff using this,” said Jakubowski. “But since we put cameras in workers have been really receptive to it. We show them when they are doing a great job and also when they are not.”

About the author


John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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