By Lilian Schaer, Farm & Food Care
(Brockville) – An Ontario-based company has developed a leading-edge electronic sow feeding system that it’s now selling across Canada – and it took just a little over a year to get from concept to market.
Curtiss Littlejohn, Swine Products Manager with Canarm, a privately owned company headquartered in Brockville, Ontario that produces ventilation and lighting systems, as well as livestock handling and management equipment, says the feeding system was inspired by information gathered from hog farmers across North America as part of a survey conducted last year.
“The survey showed that farmers in North America are looking for sow feeders that are built here, with durable components and integrated software, and by a company that has the depth to service them when something goes wrong,” explains Littlejohn. “Canarm had the ability to start to develop this and a year later, we had a functional unit on the show floor.”
More and more farmers are moving to loose housing for their sows – adult female breeding pigs – as the industry evolves to respond to consumer and food company demands.
This means farmers need new equipment to help them manage their animals in the barn.
When a sow enters the feeding station, the unit’s scanner works with the radio frequency ID (RFID) tag in the pig’s ear to identify the animal and determine whether she needs to be fed or if she’s already had her daily allotment of feed.
If the sow is to be fed, the machine extends the feed bowl in front of her and dispenses the appropriate amount of feed. When she’s done, the bowl is pulled away and she exits the feeding station.
The system, which is built entirely in North America, has a stainless steel structure and all the connections are waterproof, which makes it durable and able to withstand the wear and tear of daily life in the pig barn.
But its big advantage lies in the software, says Littlejohn.
The Canarm electronic sow feeder was specifically designed to integrate directly with a management software package commonly used on pig farms called PigChamp.
This makes it easy for farmers to access and work with the data that the feeding station collects each time a pig’s ear tag is read.
“Most management software we use now for pigs is based on historical data. This now lets us move to a system where you can work with real time data,” says Littlejohn.
Farmers can monitor what is happening on a feeding station straight from their smart phone or tablet without having to physically be in the barn to make adjustments or see what is going on, and the system was deliberately built using commonly available industrial components that could be serviced by farmers themselves fairly easily.
“What we’ve done here is bring technology into the barn that is currently available in other industries,” he says. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re looking at what is used in other environments and bringing that into loose sow housing.”
Canarm’s system was developed with a lot of ongoing feedback and input from hog farmers throughout the development stage, which Littlejohn admits was humbling at times, but he’s justifiably proud of how quickly the company was able to develop and rollout an entirely new product.
“We’ve worked all the bugs out and we’re now ready to start selling these commercially. We were talking about a concept at World Pork Expo last year, and this year we rolled out a functional unit at the Ontario Pork Congress. This is Canadian ingenuity at work,” he says.
This article is one in a series produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario. The stories highlight innovative initiatives in the areas of animal welfare and environmental stewardship in Ontario agriculture.