Broiler farm manager Scott Salter has given new meaning to “bringing technology to the farm.”
He has successfully introduced an in-barn network of cameras that have the ability to record and stream live video in the barn 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 360-degree PTZ cameras can pan, tilt, and zoom, offering continuous live viewing of a poultry operation with just one click from anywhere in the world over an IP network.
As the manager of two broiler farms in the Fraser Valley, Salter has utilized his background in computer networking to explore new ways of using modern technology on-farm. Murray Hamm, who owns one of the farms that Salter manages, says that the “in-barn cameras are the most useful tool I’ve come across since starting farming more than 20 years ago.”
With the cameras, Salter can keep an eye on 130,000 birds at two different locations using a computer or any smartphone device. “The cameras are not designed to replace us as farmers, but it’s an additional real-time tool that allows you to see the inside of your operation instantly,” he says.
As both a poultry veterinarian and a broiler grower, Dr. Neil Ambrose agrees that no technology ever replaces sound husbandry practices, and he is interested in implementing the live camera system in his own barns.
“Throughout the production cycle it is critical that there is no equipment failure or environmental mismanagement that could negatively impact the health and welfare of the birds,” he says. “Consideration to utilize the technology available to us all these days only makes sense in order to enhance our ability to care for our birds to the best of our abilities.”
The camera system allows a grower to view the birds’ behaviour, their eating and drinking patterns, whether they are huddling in a particular location (indicating a draft), the up and down time of the lighting program, the available feed in the feed pans, water leaks, as well as fan and inlet operation.
Trouble in the Henhouse
“When you are offsite and there has been a sudden in-barn alarm due to temperature, feed and water changes, you can actually view the details of the alarm and decide the appropriate action to take,” says Salter.
This has come in handy for pinpointing the cause of a problem in its earliest stages, before the situation becomes worse. Salter says that there have been occasions where he has been able to react more quickly than he would have prior to the camera system, such as when a water leak in one of the barns occurred due to a faulty nipple, and when there has been an issue with the feed line auger, resulting in no feed in the feed pans.
According to Salter, the cameras require an Internet connection at the farm and can be installed and configured in one day. Each camera can be controlled and viewed from any type of computer, an iPad, an iPhone or any other smartphone device or tablet. Because security will be a worry for most users, Salter says network security can be enhanced by employing options such as multi-level password protection, IP address filtering, and HTTPS encryption. To help obtain the necessary bandwidth required for streaming video and control commands over the network, the cameras support Quality of Service (QoS), a network control mechanism that guarantees a certain level of performance to the flow of data.
The system is running smoothly now, but it took Salter a year to work out the kinks. Networking wasn’t the biggest obstacle; it was finding the right camera for the job.
Working with a budget in mind, the challenge was to find a camera that could meet the various demands of viewing the interior of a poultry barn, says Salter. He spent many trial hours narrowing the choices down to a few cameras that could actually meet these demands.
The chosen cameras had to have the ability to pan 360 degrees, tilt up and down and zoom in a 500-foot barn – all over a standard Internet connection. It also had to be functional when the lights are dimmed, providing a clear picture when the light intensity is as low as 0.5 foot-candles, he says.
Size also was a consideration. “The last thing I wanted was a massive device that restricted airflow,” he says. The camera also had to have several mounting options available. “With so many types of poultry barns with various ceiling heights and types of equipment, this was a must.”
Protecting the camera from dust was another requirement, and to solve this, a translucent dome was fitted over the camera. Salter says dust on the dome doesn’t really become a problem until the last week of a cycle. To remove it, he says he cuts a Swiffer duster pad into a small piece to remove any dust on the dome.
The camera system also allows for enhanced biosecurity. Conditions in the barn can be checked more often, without having to physically be in the barn and always having to change in and out of coveralls and boots.
What Murray Hamm likes most about the system is its ability to record what the birds are doing, especially at night. “Never before have I been able to see what the birds are doing or where they feel the most comfortable throughout the night,” he says. “Because of this, we are able to see and make changes that we would never have known about before. It’s a small investment that will continue to make positive changes in the way we farm.”
Salter says he has used the live camera system in multiple broiler barns, but there is no limit as to where and what type of operation it can work in. “From broilers to layers, turkeys, dairy, hogs, you name it, these controllable, recordable, live compact cameras will work,” he says.
Currently, he has helped with the installation of in-barn camera systems on three broiler and one layer operation in the Fraser Valley, involving a total of 10 cameras (one per barn floor).
He says that interest in the in-barn camera system among growers continues to climb, and that many have expressed an interest in using exterior barn cameras for security as well. He has five additional broiler growers wanting both indoor and outdoor cameras for their operations. “I am getting calls almost daily from word of mouth alone.”
Another type of technology Salter has implemented is BinMaster’s Smartbob TS-1 sensor to measure feed inventory in real time. The Smartbob is designed for smaller feed bins. As it travels down the bin, when it hits the top of the feed, it stops and retracts back to the top of the bin, allowing Salter to determine the level of feed in the bin. It comes with software that allows him to take manual measurements at any given time, and he can log in remotely from anywhere. “It’s fully customizable,” he says.
Combined with existing forms of remote software to control in-barn computers, having a controllable, live, in-barn view of the birds is one more tool in the toolbox, he says. “The technology is there, let’s use it!”