This year's Agromek trade fair in Denmark was an eye-opener for any producer interested in techniques for checking and controlling pig feeding systems. Several stand-holders at the show unveiled the possibility to control their feeder at long distance by means of a hand-held computer.
Almost any handset now tends to be referred to as a PDA device. The term personal digital assistant or PDA has become applied to a range of technologies that include palmtop and BlackBerry electronic organisers, pocket PC units and the newest generation of smart' phones.
Specifically within the pig sector, record-keeping is already regarded as a task suiting some form of PDA usage. Denmark has been among countries seeing a rapid increase in the uptake of such electronics for recording data on the farm. A number of Danish producers have installed a wireless access network on their unit so real-time information can pass to and from every PDA. Others link the pocket computer to the central PC through a cable connection when data updates are required. Additional uses for the handsets routinely include monitoring the climate control in each housing compartment.
The next stage is to allow the hand-held records to be related to feeder controls, said exhibitors at Agromek. This means feed adjustments can be made on the basis of the information recorded and also the changes to feeding are integrated immediately into the unit's database. Wireless or Bluetooth connection enables feeder controls to be interrogated and altered remotely by means of the same device.
For example, Domino A/S displayed its new Quick Starter weaner feeder in PDA-control form, showing how such aspects as the length of the feeding period, the feeding curve and the number of meal times per day can be programmed from the farm office or through a PDA handset. These adjustments are to a long-trough feeding system designed to start newly weaned pigs by giving them small portions of dry feed several times daily. For 20 pigs between 6-12kg liveweight there is a double-sided version 1000mm long. Alternatives 100mm and 200mm in length are for 30 and 40 pigs respectively.
The fact that PDA hand-held computers can also be equipped to read bar-codes and Tiris electronic ear-tag identities was emphasised by Schauer Maschinenfabrik GmbH & Co KG when presenting its Pig Manager Mobile on the stand of local distributor BoPil. Animal identification can therefore be imported automatically into the mobile feeding management software such as used for ESF sow feeding stations. Real-time data can be accessed immediately through a wireless local area network facility for the PDA using the software. The handset then becomes a recording and information platform for all applications that are connected to ISOagriNET-based farm management programmes, according to the company.
PDA links to its central FunkiNet management control system were described by Aco Funki A/S as involving a pocket computer capable of arranging feed adjustments and of wireless-channelled remote control. This FunkiNet Pocket can exchange herd data with AgroSoft programmes and send updates to a Controller database that also stores other information such as on ventilation. Related internet-based software provides a traceability record for the unit's own farm-made feeds and stores details of its deliveries from commercial feedmills. Another FunkiNet introduction by this manufacturer involved automatic speed control of auger conveyors in liquid feed preparation and mill-mix areas, to optimise operation and save on unnecessary power consumption.
In addition to showing Bluetooth connection to have remote programming by a PDA device, Skiold A/S explained that the tag decoder for its Datamix transponder ESF system had become multilingual it can read any of several different operating languages' used for electronic identification.
The same stand also developed a separate feeding theme, that of the Danish-style tube feeder. Its own example was a wet/dry feeder in a MaxiMat range with models for weaning and growing stages. A fenceline panel on display contained both the feeder and a separate Aqua watering dish. Water is dripped into the dish to attract weaners' attention when they enter the nursery at about 7kg. After 8-10 days of using this dish as the drinker, its water supply is switched off and the watering valve on the feeder is turned on so that the pigs make an easy transfer to wet/dry feeding. The dish has a further feature in the form of its spring-like mounts. Clearing it of soiling or residues is a simple matter of pushing a boot against one edge, because the springs afterwards return it automatically to its correct position.
The feeder highlighted on the Ikadan System A/S exhibit addressed the practical problem of bridging of feed inside a hopper. Even feed types that are prone to this defect due to their poor flow characteristics do not stick as easily in the Ikamatic's polypropylene hopper because of its ridged profile, said its developer. Outwardly the hopper resembles a descending series of interlocking cones. The internal ribs that this creates are claimed to stop the bridging of most materials. The design is being marketed above a polyconcrete feeding platform for nursery or wean-to-finish pens and with a stainless steel trough for finishing.
Bridging can similarly be a difficulty with the blending of powered products into feeds. A patented anti-bridging mechanism using a flexing plate formed part of the DC Dosing unit launched by Daltec A/S for the incorporation of dry additives, such as minerals or medicaments, into the material carried by a feed conveyor. Movement of this plate keeps the additive powder flowing through the unit and to the feed. Dosing rates between 30-200 grams per minute are set using a spreadsheet-style overview of feeding valves on the office PC. The start and speed of addition relate to the target destination pen and the required dosage. A further control option is sure to be offered in due course to meet the latest customer demands, said the company allowing the dosing unit to be controlled remotely by PDA.
Ikamatic feeder from Ikadan System A/S.