Ahead of The Herd


Brynna King

Business owners today are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, using computers not only for deskwork, but also for complex field tasks and mobile data collection — and pork producers are no exception.

Farm owners who use advanced technology in their operations expect to hire workers who are prepared to use these tools in their daily tasks, without the need for extensive training. Fortuitously, most of today’s agriculture students have used computers daily for their entire lives, and they expect to use productivity-enhancing technology in their jobs to simplify tasks and improve their work performance.

Students at Iowa Lakes Community College’s Swine Training Center in Emmetsburg, as well as professionals at Newton Pork in Coggon, Iowa, are using PigCHAMP swinemanagement software with ultra-rugged Nautiz PDA units from Handheld Group to save time and improve productivity — and by doing so, they’re helping Iowa’s pork industry stay innovative and competitive.


Newton Pork is a 600-sow breed-to-wean farm that produces early-wean pigs, which it sells to a local finishing barn. Owner and manager Sean Dolan began using PigCHAMP’s sow management software in 1997.

“We wrote data down on diary cards and eventually entered the data into PigCHAMP on the farm office computer, when time allowed,” Dolan says. “In 2007, we switched from individual sow housing to large group sow housing, and realized we needed to have real-time records at our fingertips.”

At that time, Dolan invested in the PigCHAMP Mobile software solution, which allows users to record electronic data pertaining to animal movements, mating, farrowing, health treatments and batch arrivals, directly in the barn.

The next big change came in 2011, when Dolan upgraded the farm’s hardware to the ultra-rugged Nautiz X3 PDA. Handheld’s Nautiz devices — a line of powerful, compact PDAs and smartphones — are IP65-rated and meet stringent MIL-STD-810G U.S. military testing standards for durability. They can handle repeated drops and are sealed against dust and water sprays, giving farmers an extra measure of reliability and data protection.

“These are hog barns, so there is feed dust and skin dander floating around,” Dolan says. “The conditions can sometimes be humid and unpleasant — and we’ve dropped our computers in fecal material more than once. The handheld gives me the durability I need.”


While Dolan raises his hogs, just 200 miles west students operate the very same swine-management technology in a state-of-the-art farming education program at Iowa Lakes Community College. ILCC’s Swine Training Center was established in 2013 for the purpose of preparing students for jobs at places like Newton Pork and more than 6,000 other Iowa operations that employ over 40,000 workers in day-to-day hograising tasks.

The center consists of a 7,500-square-foot facility with space to accommodate up to 12 sows every five weeks, plus up to 120 grower pigs — a small-scale model of what students might encounter at a typical farm. Up to 25 students per semester are learning how to use PigCHAMP Mobile along with PigCHAMP Reproductive and Grow-Finish desktop software for real-time record keeping and herd management.

“I felt that it was important for the students to be familiar with PigCHAMP and to learn the value of keeping accurate records,” says Kelly Dodge, Agriculture Technology instructor at ILCC, who spent more than 14 years working in the industry before returning to her alma mater to teach. “The handheld system fits into our program and is a good teaching tool.”

Before switching to PigCHAMP Mobile, Dodge’s students hand-recorded data onto paper.

“We had a mountain of paper records that contained information needing to be filed,” Dodge says. “We hung clipboards in the office, one for each event: breeding, farrowing, weaning and so on.”

Now the college uses the Nautiz X4 — another of Handheld Group’s powerful, ultra-rugged PDAs.

“Our swine unit is climatecontrolled, but we still have a significant amount of dust,” Dodge notes. “And we’re working with livestock, so some situations may cause the handheld to get hit or be dropped on the floor. The Nautiz X4 lets me keep working and teaching without interruption.”

Nautiz X4


Livestock farming is one of the world’s oldest occupations. So on the one hand it’s no surprise that pork-production technology has come a long way since the hog farms of centuries and millennia ago. But even when compared to more recent farming implements, today’s tools are very advanced.

Technology has improved exponentially in the last few decades, introducing tools such as real-time ultrasound and artificial insemination that have become common for modern pork farms.

Mobile record-keeping software paired with fast, durable hardware complements these technologies by protecting, organizing and analyzing herd data so it can be used in meaningful ways.

Dolan says he uses his Nautiz X3 with PigCHAMP “all day, every day of the year,” recording life events for each sow — including arrival, treatments, vaccinations, matings, farrowings, weanings and removal — directly into the device.

Before entering event details, he identifies a sow using an RFID wand reader that scans a chip inside the sow’s ear tag. This data is submitted instantly to his Nautiz PDA via Bluetooth.

PigCHAMP software automatically validates data during the entry process, allowing users to edit discrepancies as they happen and avoiding costly and time-consuming errors. And this feature doesn’t just create neat and clean records — it also facilitates timely, data-driven strategy.

Facilitates Timely, Data-Driven Strategy.

“The program gives workers accurate and up-to-date information to allow them to make quick management decisions, improving the productivity of the herd,” Dolan says.

For example, if a sow shows signs of being in heat, workers can easily pull up her history on the spot to determine whether she should be culled or re-inseminated.

Similarly, Dodge adds, “Students at the training center can look up a sow’s identification number on the handheld and immediately know how many days she is into a gestation or lactation phase.”

And when data entry is complete, the software churns out valuable production reports. At Newton Pork, that means Dolan can make sure his weekly mating and weaning targets are being met. And for Dodge, these reports become a valuable teaching tool.

“The handheld unit downloads data via wi-fi directly to my PC. I can analyze the information and print out reports that I use for review and instruction in the classroom setting,” she says.


Using the cutting-edge PigCHAMP Mobile solution, pork farmers are pushing their industry toward greater innovation and increased success.

“Running PigCHAMP Mobile on the Nautiz X3 has streamlined our data-entry process, and up-to-date data has allowed us to identify and manage production problems in a more effective manner,” Dolan explains.

Dolan says he’s working with his genetic supplier to add barcodes to semen dose labels used for insemination, so he can start using the Nautiz X3’s built-in barcode scanner to save even more time.

“Scanning barcodes will allow us to more easily track individual boars used. That way, if we come upon a genetic defect, we can alert the supplier and they can remove that boar from their herd,” he says.

The PigCHAMP Mobile solution has also served as a valuable training tool at a time when the need for highly qualified porkproduction workers keeps increasing.

“This solution provides ILCC students the opportunity to use industry-leading record-keeping systems they’ll see when they join the workforce,” Dodge says.

“In the past,” Dolan adds, “new employees had to memorize event codes and removal reasons for the small diary cards we used. Training young workers on the Nautiz PDA is much faster and more intuitive.”

Together, PigCHAMP and Handheld are providing unprecedented access to a wide range of data-management tools that support farmers as their operations grow larger and as on-farm technology advances.

And these tools are empowering both new and seasoned farmers to seek out more effective farming methods, in a technological ripple effect that’s producing higher-quality products while dramatically minimizing unprofitable downtime.

- Brynna King
Brynna King is a staff writer for Handheld, a manufacturer of rugged mobile computers. Handheld and its partners deliver complete mobility solutions and offer a broad product line of rugged computers including rugged handhelds, tablets and notebooks.