IoT Provides Solutions Beyond California Proposition 12
California overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative in 2018 that seeks to set new standards for animal housing. This law primarily effects minimum space allotments for laying hens, veal calves and breeding sows’. In response, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) filed a lawsuit in 2019 to stop the enforcement of Proposition 12, but the trial court of the 9th Circuit denied the injunction request. Consequently, this 2018 California law which intends to improve the wellness of certain livestock animals has far reaching effects well beyond its borders. Transitioning from individual pens to group housing is nothing new. The trend in the pork industry has been going in this direction for a number of years. But what the California law does, is that it mandates specific
space requirements beyond what many operations had already planned for and now causes the pork farms to go back and revisit a number of management processes. Because of this, sow operations need to employ a set of strategies that not only adjust to these new space allocation requirements but provide new insights that lead to improved management practices.
What is California Proposition 12?
The California Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Initiative passed in November 2018 with 63% of the vote. It was recently upheld by the CA Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which means that the Proposition 12 Initiative is still intact. What the Initiative primarily does is impose new standards for certain livestock housing. Since we are talking all things pork in this article, it mandates minimum requirements for breeding pigs’ (sows) and that by 2022, sows must have 24 square feet of space during gestation. This is quite a difference since the existing swine industry allowance is 16 feet. However, the Act’s biggest feature says that if a farm or pork brand wants to sell its products in the state of California, it has to comply with California’s regulations. So, if you are a pork farmer in another state such as Iowa, North Carolina or Illinois, your operations must comply with California law. If not, then the California market is not open to you.
As these California laws burdensome? Well, if you are a sow breeder that uses individual pens, or any pen for that matter, that doesn't equal 24 square feet then you do not comply and would not be allowed to sell your product in the enormous California market. Even if your farm’s pens measure more than 16 feet, but less than 24 feet, your operation’s pens would need to change. Would this have an impact financially on your operation’s bottom line? You bet it would.
Over the past decade there had already been a steady shift to group housing for sows’. Some of the largest pork producers had committed publicly to shift from individual stalls or crates to group housing by specific dates. These are not easy decisions. There are challenges that occur when a large operation changes their production processes and considerations include 1) health and safety, 2) feed and water, and 3) stockmanship and training.
Health and safety concerns come into play with sows anytime routines change, and new social orders are adjusted. With individual stalls, the sows’ environment and socialization is self-controlled. 16 square feet translates to predictability. Added space and encounters with more sows will lead to social challenges (fighting and potential virus spread) that could lead to increased wounds, lameness, and viral outbreaks. Additionally, during the first 18 days of a pregnant sow the embryos tend to “float” inside the uterus and have not attached themselves to the uterine wall. It’s a delicate time for the sow, and with more potential chances for aggression between sows, the operation risk farrowing rates.
Another consideration in moving to group housing for sows is feeding methods. There are two types of feeding methods in today’s barn environment: competitive and non-competitive. Now I don’t know about you, but personally speaking, if someone were to tell me that I will be taking my meals in a competitive environment, I would get pretty stressed at the prospect. With sows it’s no different. Automated Feeding Systems (ASF’s) on the other hand, are considered ‘non-competitive’ and provide protection from dominant sows and can dial up the intended mixture and portion for a particular sow. However, as good as these systems are, they come at an expensive price and take up a large amount of floor space. Competitive feed methods include floor feeding, partial stall feeding and trickle feeding systems. These methods, because more sows will mix in the group pens, will almost certainly lead to more aggressive behavior, and can lead to differences in body uniformity and backfat.
Lastly, the workers that walk through the isles of the barn will need improved training to learn and understand sow behavior in a different way. Stockmanship and/or husbandry skills will need to be refined to better understand the behavior of sows in a group pen environment. With individual stalls, a farm employee walking the isles can look directly at the sow and can better determine the condition of the sow. Additionally, tasks such as vaccinations and checking if the sow is in heat are performed easier in individual stalls. In a group pen setting, workers need to appreciate stress levels and look much harder for sows that seem “off”. This takes much more experience and knowledge of sows and a level of trust amongst workers and the animals needs to be established.
These are just a few of the considerations needed as the nation’s pork producers adjust to the law that California Proposition 12 has enacted. The deadline is 2022 and there isn’t much time to adjust barn operations to adequately deal with the changes that will impact the operation from a financial, managerial and wellness standpoint. Changing the space allocation for sows from 16 square feet to 24 square feet sounds like its strictly a matter of pen size; however, the implications extend throughout the operation and many adjustments will need to be made. Most farm operations will not be fully prepared to embrace these space allocation changes in a substantive way without some type of support and insight. That is why farm operations need to fully embrace a true IoT strategy to monitor the wellness of each sow, determine new group tendencies and apply the data to adjust farm practices. Using IoT, coupled with big data, new insights can be revealed that include:
Sow vital diagnostic readings to include temperature, heart rate and respiration,
Environmental readings such as ambient barn temperature, humidity ammonia and air quality,
Monitoring the eating and drinking habits of each sow 24 x 7,
Track and traceability of the sow and industry stakeholder inputs,
Knowing vaccination records for each sow with alerts for missed vaccinations,
Monitoring daily weight gains with projections,
and lastly, confirming individual space allocation.
Pressures to transition over to group housing for sows has been a decade in coming. What California did with its Proposition 12 just cemented that trend. For operations that have been slowly adjusting to group housing and plan on marketing product into California, there will be a transition period where considerations such as health and safety, feed methods, and husbandry training need to be emphasized. Adoption of technologies that improve understanding of the sows’ health and wellness, feeding and activity and stress levels are essential during this transition period. Embracing a combination of Internet of Things (IoT) and big data will only help solve the issues such as lameness, morbidity and mortality that had been a longstanding concern to the pork industry. But with the right distillation of the data, we can improve most aspects of health and wellness and bring additional efficiencies to the operation and industry stakeholders. In addition, the pork industry will be able to realize vast amounts of information, improve traceability, reduce morbidity and mortality, and improve consumer confidence and goodwill.