Forward-Thinking Technology Ensures Animal Care

Consumers want full transparency when it comes to their food, and that includes animal handling practices. Now, livestock producers can take the lead in training employees and tracking activities, knowing it’s better to be proactive than discover you have a problem through negative publicity. Some producers hire companies to not only train employees but also monitor animal care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Praedium offers consulting and training on animal welfare and food safety. Located in Urbandale, Iowa, its services include HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points), crisis management and emergency action plan development, sustainability and environmental planning. It also conducts third-party observations of on-farm video monitoring.

Video Monitoring

Several large pork operations already work with Praedium on 24/7/365 video monitoring, and some packer-processors would like their suppliers to do the same.

“We can’t just say the industry is perfect—we know things happen that are unacceptable,” says David Meisinger, vice president of sales for Praedium. 

For less than $1,000 per month, an operation can have their barns monitored with seven to 10 cameras (producers buy the cameras).

Careful vetting is used to hire people to monitor activities. No cell phones or electronics of any kind are allowed in the secure, coded room that holds the computers where employees monitor farm activity. Security and confidentiality are big components of the vetting process. Cameras are in place to monitor the video technicians, who must sign a confidentiality agreement. 

Praedium works with each producer on what they want to see, but areas with high human-animal interaction (like pig processing, loading/unloading and the breeding area) are important.

“We monitor a large dairy with 30,000 cows—the employees have their names printed on the back of their uniforms, so it’s easy for our technicians to know who they are,” Meisinger says. “They’re rewarded accordingly as an incentive program, which creates high morale for good behavior.” 

Weekly reports include video clips and cameras reviewed, including the duration and activities. Non-conformities, if any, are highlighted, and the client is notified immediately of any major non-conformances.

What They’ve Learned

Nick Peterson, program manager for video monitoring, started when the program began 18 months ago. 

 “The most eye-opening observation is the amount of information we can provide to the client,” Peterson says. “We cover a good chunk of their video, from small things to major issues. We can see if animals slip in a certain spot, so the owner can fix it, and we can identify a downed animal, so it can get assistance more quickly. We can see how people move animals, and whether or not more training is needed.”

Smaller weaned pigs have a higher chance for injury when they’re being moved, so this area is monitored closely.

“If we see egregious acts, the video technician notifies Nick, and he’ll get a second opinion,” Meisinger says. “Then we call the owner and give him or her a rundown of what happened. It’s time-stamped and we follow-up with an email.” 

Peterson says the first week with the cameras, they catch a lot of little things. Technicians take random samples of video from the whole day for a complete picture of what’s happening at the farm. 

“We’ve found instances on the daily checks on animals—they’ll go into the pen and use the rattle paddles too aggr-essively. If you do a training, you can see they’re using it more gently the next day.”

Video-monitoring is likely to become more common in the future, as producers realize full transparency is the new normal required by both processors and consumers.