CIT students create milking device to reduce piglet mortality

Posted on: 6th July, 2015

Category: Farming

Contributor: West Cork People

Above: The developing device was demonstrated at the 2015 Cork Mechanical, Manufacturing and Biomedical Engineering Exhibition and attracted significant interest from the engineering and farming sectors. It was also demonstrated at Engineers Ireland National Innovation Awards, where it generated great interest.

CIT biomedical engineering students Kelly Lane from Riverstick, West Cork and Emma O’Leary and Nicolle Dunphy from Waterford reached the finals in this year’s Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Awards 2015, sponsored by Siemens. Their project, entitled ‘Automatic Pig Milking Device’, was created to reduce piglet mortality. The automatic milking device is designed to reduce all four major death factors including starvation through competition, diarrhoea and contamination caused by milk replacers and inadvertent crushing of these small and vulnerable animals.

“Piglet mortality in Ireland is significant – thereby driving the need to find a viable alternative to reduce death rates. The aim of our project is to reduce piglet mortality by a significant amount. We wish to make the living environment of both sow and piglet a safer and more desirable place,” comments Kelly.

The main cause of piglet deaths is starvation, crushing, contamination and diarrhoea. The combination of these factors greatly affects the survival rate of piglets as each of the four factors; starvation, crushing, contamination and diarrhoea can all independently have a detrimental effect on the survival rate and progression of young piglets.

“The current solutions to these problems include farrowing crates, milk supplements and piglet teeth clipping — all of which have serious ethical liabilities,” explains Kelly.

“Our approach to this problem is to develop a device that will milk the lactating sow and feed the piglets separately and safely away from the sow, providing an ethically safe, secure environment.

“This project was inspired by a close friend of ours — an agricultural science student who, as part of her placement, spent time on a piggery. She was distressed by how many piglets are lost to each litter and approached us as to the need for a humane and ethical engineering solutions to this problem. On investigation, we found these concerns to be well founded.”

Research has shown that 25-28 per cent of piglets in a litter die – a very poor outcome for animal husbandry and a huge financial loss to farmers. For every litter, the farmer loses on average six piglets and circa €112. Over time, this loss becomes a huge financial cost to farmers.

From the research gathered on all the factors, which increase piglet mortality, the development of an automatic milking device was devised as the optimal solution. The application of an automatic milking machine addresses in a significant manner the four major piglet death factors.

Market research and surveys were undertaken in both organic and non-organic pig industries to give an insight into current practices and to inform the design and development of our product.

To prevent crushing of piglets, the developed design provides a separate feeding system for piglets. This system configuration allows piglets to safely feed without fear of sow accidently lying on these young and vulnerable animals and crushing them.

The automatic milking machine is also desirable, as it greatly reduces starvation of weak piglets among large litters. Starvation is common among large sizeable litters of on average 16 piglets. The developed artificial feeding system can cater for large number of piglets and avoids competition between individual and weaker piglets to receive sow’s milk.

The developed automatic milking device also addresses the issues of diarrhoea and contamination — both these factors are largely caused by the use of milk replacers in piglet feeding. The developed system based on the sow’s naturally produced milk enables the provision of natural milk benefits including colostrum – essential for optimum development of immune system and conditioning of piglet. “Our system promotes the option for piglets to feed safely from sow’s milk instead of from milk replacers.”

Extensive design optimisation, analysis and experimentation was undertaken to maximise the functionality of the automatic milking device and reduce all four major factors including starvation through competition, diarrhoea and contamination caused by milk replacers and inadvertent crushing of these small and vulnerable animals.

The developing device was demonstrated at the 2015 Cork Mechanical, Manufacturing and Biomedical Engineering Exhibition and attracted significant interest from the engineering and farming sectors. It was also demonstrated at Engineers Ireland National Innovation Awards, where it generated great interest.

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