AI-powered early detection system aims to transform pig welfare

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

The device uses AI algorithms to ‘listen’ to the frequency and intensity of coughs in pigs, alerting the producer to the onset of potential problems. Image: Boehringer Ingelheim
The device uses AI algorithms to ‘listen’ to the frequency and intensity of coughs in pigs, alerting the producer to the onset of potential problems. Image: Boehringer Ingelheim

Related tags animal health pig

A latest ‘listening’ device detects respiratory diseases in pigs sooner.

Boehringer Ingelheim, a provider of health solutions in predicting and preventing disease outbreaks in swine, has launched the device, called SoundTalks, across the UK and Ireland.

According to the company, the tool can help to improve the health of pigs and enables farmers to operate more efficiently by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Said to be built on years of real farm sound data, it uses AI algorithms to ‘listen’ to the frequency and intensity of coughs in pigs, alerting the producer to the onset of potential problems. The innovation has already been shown to detect respiratory disease in pigs up to five days sooner than conventional methods, the company said, supporting vets and farmers to deliver earlier appropriate treatments and responses, improving health outcomes, and minimising the risk of infection across the herd.

With 24/7 monitoring, it added, the tool provides farmers with a reliable and objective way to detect and identify trends in respiratory conditions through real-time data. This enables them to spend more time across the rest of their farm, alleviating the need for constant observation.

Each device covers up to a 10-metre radius and has a microphone that ‘listens’ to the pigs, and humidity and temperature sensors. The monitors transmit the pig noises to the Gateway, which links to the cloud where sounds are analysed.

Findlay MacBean, head of livestock at Boehringer Ingelheim UK and Ireland said, “Respiratory diseases can be detrimental not only to the health and wellbeing of livestock but a farmer’s bottom line. Against the backdrop of the wider pressures British and Irish pig farmers face today including labour shortages and the rising costs of production, maintaining herd health is becoming more challenging, and crucially, more important.”

Continuous learning for greater accuracy of disease detection

Listening and monitoring devices are not new in the animal health industry. What makes this one unique, according to Boehringer Ingelheim, is the years of data that were used to build the algorithms that the device uses to compare and detect coughs, and that the system is continually ‘learning’.

The sound data is translated into a respiratory health score, which is inversely related to the risk of morbidity and mortality, and visualised in an online dashboard and mobile app. The monitors themselves also signal the respiratory health status of the pigs and alert anomalies with a traffic-light system, helping farmers identify and focus attention on the right groups of pigs sooner. This enables farmers to take action quicker and minimises the impact on farm productivity, which has been shown to reduce as soon as the disease progresses throughout the herd.

Without action, productivity losses are further amplified as time goes by, as more healthy animals get infected, secondary infections appear, and the severity of the disease is greater.

With 5-day earlier intervention and improved overall health among livestock, installation of SoundTalks has resulted in an increase of 12.7g average daily gain and decreased mortality rates, ultimately supporting farmers in a challenging industry with a positive monthly return on investment ranging from 2.5 to 7.9​.

Richard Riley, production director at the UK-based pigfarm Yorkwold Pigpro, said “The data from SoundTalks provides us with the confidence that this technology can help us to identify, investigate, and take action to address potential health issues with our pigs.”

Paul Thompson, a veterinarian at Garth Pig Practice, added: “The earlier we can detect the onset of disease the quicker we can intervene. By taking action earlier we can aim to reduce morbidity and mortality, and potentially lessen treatments including antibiotic use. This will help improve the wellbeing of the pigs and reduce the time commitments and costs for the farmer.

“This innovation has the potential to provide robust data as to when respiratory disease starts, allowing us to refine our prevention plans and improve the overall health of the pigs.”

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