Pig health and welfare expert Dr Monique Pairis-Garcia sees endless possibilities for technology in the swine barn, telehealth for pigs included.
Safeguarding good animal welfare on pig farms cannot be done without preventing, controlling or reducing the severity and impact of disease both at an individual and herd level. There is a strong relationship between an animal’s health and its welfare. Animals experiencing states of disease have compromised welfare and most often experience poor affective states of pain, lethargy and distress.
Optimising animal welfare from a health perspective can be approached either through a prevention or maintenance strategy. Prevention strategies aim to avoid disease altogether and include implementing protocols to both prevent and control the introduction and transmission of disease within a system.
However, even with the best protocols, it is inevitable that some pigs will become sick. In these situations, swine veterinarians rely on rapid detection, appropriate management and excellent animal care to minimise disease impact now and in the future.
None of these strategies can be accomplished without a strong and established veterinary–client–patient relationship and ample opportunities for swine veterinarians to get on farm and evaluate sick animals. So, what happens when the vets cannot get to the farm? Although not really a common issue in the US today, prohibited access to farms during the Covid-19 pandemic really got some veterinarians thinking about alternative ways to evaluate pig health, with one group from Iowa State University exploring the concept of telehealth for swine farms.
Dr Petersen’s primary objective was to evaluate how telehealth technology can be used to teach veterinary students basic clinical skills, and the results are good!
Under the mentorship of Dr Locke Karriker, Meredith Petersen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Swine Medicine Education Center, began exploring telehealth concepts for swine barns. Dr Petersen’s primary objective was to evaluate how telehealth technology can be used to teach veterinary students basic clinical skills, and the results are good!
Using technology virtually transported more students to farms and allowed these students greater access to a diversity of farms that would not be accessible before, given strict biosecurity protocols and required downtimes between systems. Students were also able to fully embrace the role of the vet and make decisions as if these producers were their own clients, all while having access to “phone a swine vet” if needed.
It is very clear that technology in swine barns is the future for veterinary medicine and pig production. The sky is the limit when it comes to what we can do with technology. Reaching beyond the education component of telehealth, I see amazing opportunities in the future for producers on a global scale to get access to veterinary care and direct support from world leaders in swine veterinary medicine.