Invention could be a leg-up for the pork industry
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.
Hamilton student Georgia Fulton next to her invention, Sowsense, on a model pig.