In­ven­tion could be a leg-up for the pork in­dus­try

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Row­land

A Hamil­ton stu­dent’s in­ven­tion to save piglets from be­ing crushed by their moth­ers could be just what’s needed to fat­ten up the pork in­dus­try.

Ge­or­gia Ful­ton’s in­ven­tion is de­signed as an al­ter­na­tive to con­tro­ver­sial far­row­ing crates and was cre­ated while she was study­ing in­dus­trial de­sign at Massey Univer­sity.

Her fam­ily owns a life­style block where she owned two pet pigs.

“It ba­si­cally started from own­ing a cou­ple of pigs,” Ms Ful­ton said.

“They grew big­ger and more naughty as the years went on and be­cause I didn’t de­cide to nose ring them, they ended up de­stroy­ing the pad­dock.”

“It in­spired me to look for an al­ter­na­tive to nose rings which then led me to look at more prob­lems in the New Zealand pork in­dus­try.”

In her en­try to the an­nual James Dyson Award, which en­cour­ages in­no­va­tion in prod­uct de­sign to tackle real-world prob­lems, Ms Ful­ton, 22, said pig farm­ers are strug­gling to find al­ter­na­tives to sys­tems like dry sow stalls that have been banned.

“With costs in­creas­ing and wel­fare reg­u­la­tions get­ting tougher due to con­sumer de­mand, farm­ers are with­draw­ing from the in­dus­try.”

Pork pro­duc­tion is drop­ping steadily and cur­rent breed­ing pro­grammes pro­duce big­ger pigs with larger lit­ters of piglets, re­sult­ing in 18 per cent of piglets be­ing crushed or suf­fo­cated by large sows on out­door farms.

Mother pigs of­ten flop down on their sides to feed their young, reg­u­larly trap­ping new-born piglets un­der­neath. Her in­ven­tion, called Sowsense, works by us­ing sen­sory tech­nol­ogy to in­crease piglet sur­vival rates and train the sow to pre­vent fur­ther crush­ings, ben­e­fit­ing farm­ers.

The cur­rent so­lu­tion to piglet crush­ing is far­row­ing crates and al­though de­signed to re­duce piglet mor­tal­i­ties, the crates re­strict the sow’s move­ments (sow can’t walk/turn around) to al­low the piglets time to move out of the way be­fore she lies down to feed them.

Due to se­lec­tive breed­ing, sows are much larger and crates are too small and cause ul­cers where the sow rubs against the bars.

“The far­row­ing crates are not ac­tu­ally solv­ing the prob­lem so I went for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

Ms Ful­ton’s in­ven­tion is a ny­lon and leather coat work by the sow. It con­tains cir­cuits and sen­sors and is so­lar pow­ered.

The coat pro­vides a wel­fare-fo­cused so­lu­tion which al­lows nat­u­ral ma­ter­nal be­hav­iour in sows. Farm­ers are able to keep the pigs out­side on the farm safely, en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers to shift away from con­tro­ver­sial in­door sys­tems.

Ms Ful­ton says Sowsense in­creases pro­duc­tiv­ity and pork yield, re­duces eco­nomic losses and men­tal ef­fects on farm­ers from dead piglets, but mostly im­proves the wel­fare and lives of sow and piglets.

■ Massey Univer­sity stu­dent Holly Wright took out the top prize with a horse sad­dle aimed to help or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Rid­ing for the Dis­abled. The James Dyson Award runs in 27 coun­tries. The con­test is open to univer­sity level stu­dents (and re­cent grad­u­ates) study­ing prod­uct de­sign, in­dus­trial de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing.

Photo / Sup­plied

Hamil­ton stu­dent Ge­or­gia Ful­ton next to her in­ven­tion, Sowsense, on a model pig.

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