Farm Horizons, February 1998

Computer technology, information helpful to bottom line profits

By ANDREA VARGO

Technology has a critical impact on the profits of local hog and dairy operations. Records provide information to let producers know if they are doing the right things.

Computers give Pat Fitzsimmons of Cokato an edge in the hog business. He has a computer system to run ventilation fans, heaters, and the air intakes.

"We were a test site for Phason in Canada through Ray Dot in Cokato," said Fitzsimmons.

Phason provided the software system, and the work was done by Ray Dot.

Located northwest of Cokato on Wright Co. Rd. 100, Fitzsimmons' 1,200-sow farrowing operation relies on the computer to keep his animals comfortable and healthy.

A built-in alarm system goes through the computer and calls a list of names within minutes if problems occur.

The computer system collects information that is critical to the huge operation.

It records and monitors temperatures around the clock.

The capability to monitor feed levels in the bins and to place calls for feed orders when necessary is part of the system, but is not yet in use.

It also has the ability to monitor and deliver water to the animals, said Fitzsimmons.

Information on the animals drives decisions by Fitzsimmons as to which animals stay in the herd and which don't.

He needs to know which sow farrows, how many pigs it has, and how often it produces.

In addition, he can track a list of 26 reasons why a piglet might die, medications used, as well as total litter weight.

Through the system, Fitzsimmons can track temperature in the barn as well as the exterior temperature on the day the sow farrowed to determine what effect environment has on breeding and production of live pigs.

The computer records go to a vet clinic in Fairmont that specializes in hogs. The computer program was developed by the University of Minnesota and is called Pig Champ.

A sow must maintain 10 live births per farrowing to remain in the herd.

Since 95 percent of the breeding is by artificial insemination, only 10 boars are maintained on the property.

Different feed rations are provided for the sows; for gestating gilts, breeding sows, and lactating sows.

Fitzsimmons is in business with four of his brothers, and the baby pigs leave his facility at 14 to 16 days of age (about 10 pounds) to their finishing facilities in Good Thunder, Minn.

His goal is to farrow 50 to 55 sows per week.

In order to run an operation this large, he employs four full-time persons.

Because of the large number of animals, waste disposal must be addressed.

Buildings have deep manure pits under them, and the waste is spread on corn and hay ground by Harlan Anderson of Cokato.

This way, the organic materials are returned to the soil, said Fitzsimmons.

He belongs to the Wright County Pork Producers, and does a lot of pork chop frying for them at their functions, he said.

On their board for seven years, he had been president for five years, 1992-96.

He spent the last spring and summer on a manure management task force to address some of the situations dealing with large feedlot waste disposal.

Metro Dairy, owned by Virgil Scherping of Winsted, is another large operation that utilizes computers throughout its facility.

On a recent tour of the operation, Scherping explained how the computer system identifies the cow through a collar worn by the animal.

The collar contains a transponder that is read by an electric eye and records the amount of milk given at each milking.

The touch of a button gives the previous milking information. Since milk production is tied closely with health, this helps identify individual health situations before they become real problems.

Visual inspection by the milkers is also an important part of herd health, said Scherping.

Computers let the herdsmen know when an animal is ready to breed and keeps track of calving information as well as milk production, he said.

Again, as in the hog operation, ventilation systems are regulated by the computer.

Both Fitzsimmons and Scherping agree that animal comfort makes a big difference in the profitability of their operations, and the computers help with that.

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