SoundTalks Barn Technology

Providing an early detection - and response - for respiratory disease.

by Dale Polson and Dr. Carmen Alonso

Soundtalks microphone mounted in barn

Respiratory disease in pigs is arguably the most important health concern for swine producers today. In 1995, the National Animal Health Monitoring System reported respiratory disease as the leading cause of mortality in nursery and grow-to-finish operations.1 Today, respiratory disease remains a top cause of performance loss for US swine production businesses.

Therefore, the earliest possible detection, intervention, and treatment of respiratory disease provides the best opportunity to minimize losses.

However, relying only on the human ear for the earliest possible detection of the onset of a respiratory disease episode can be challenging, due to the limited amount of time that personnel spend in the barn.

Performance losses start as soon as the disease begins to progress through a group of pigs in a barn,2 so early detection becomes critical. Early detection of respiratory disease can lead to more timely, accurate diagnostic sampling/testing and a better response to treatment,3 which can result in improved productivity and reduced costs.4

Early Detection with SoundTalks

To better supplement their disease-monitoring protocols, producers can now turn to SoundTalks, smart barn technology that uses sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence combined with “24/7” always-on in-barn audio monitoring to detect signs of respiratory disease up to five days earlier than conventional methods.4

While research has shown that SoundTalks can help detect signs of respiratory disease, new research presented at the 2023 AASV Annual Meeting evaluated the positive economic impact of that early detection.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the performance and economic differences resulting from earlier detection and intervention, following the onset of a clinically detectable respiratory disease episode, as measured by SoundTalks.

Study Materials and Methods

A total of 1,655, 11-week-old pigs were placed in 72 pens throughout two rooms. Each room contained three SoundTalks monitors, one monitor per 12 pens. Study groups were randomly allocated within each zone.

In every pen, three randomly selected seeder pigs were challenged with Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (Mhp) for two consecutive days, followed by porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) seven days later. Continuous sensor data was recorded. Performance was measured at both the individual pig and pen levels.

pigs standing in barn
Photo Credit: patarapong - stock.adobe.com

Individual pigs were weighed at the beginning of the study, and every four weeks through the end of the study. Feed disappearance was recorded weekly for every pen. Daily individual pig treatments and mortality were also recorded. Pig carcass weights and the processing plant carcass discount-premium matrix were obtained.

Three study groups were defined: SoundTalks (ST) alert day zero (G0), day 5 (G5), and day 10 (G10).

Alert day 0 was defined as the day that the first SoundTalks yellow/red alerts were reported post-challenge. All pigs received the same intervention protocol - differentiated only by the date the intervention was started.

Economic differences among treatment groups were calculated using a “Standardized Economic Index” (SEI), based on a partial-budget spreadsheet model. The SEI is a function of finished-pig performance measures, historical feed ingredient costs, historical market pig prices, historical inflation rates, processing plant carcass discount-premium grid, and the calculated cost-to-operate (CTO) of SoundTalks.

Pig performance measures utilized in the SEI were average daily gain (ADG), feed conversion rate (FCR), mortality, and individual pig treatment cost. Historical monthly market prices and feed ingredient costs were obtained for a roughly 31-year period, from January 1993 through October 2022 (the most recent available USDA data at the time the paper was written). The most recent 12.8-year (154-month) time period (January 2010 through October 2022) was used as the focus of the economic analysis using the most current data available.5

A sensitivity analysis was conducted by constructing a 3 x 3 table (nine combinations), where the X-axis was pig live market price (USD per kg live body weight), and the Y-axis was diet per cost per metric ton (USD per 1,000 kg complete diet).

The pig price middle value was the calculated average of the 154 historical monthly market price values from January 2010 through October 2022. The pig price lower- and higher-sensitivity matric values used were calculated as the 99 percent lower control limit (LCL), and the 99 percent upper control limit (UCL) from the 154 months of historical data for the same period.

The diet cost per metric ton middle value was the calculated average of No. 2 yellow corn (energy) and 44 percent soybean meal (protein) across the 154-month time period from January 2010 through October 2022. Other feed costs like non-energy and non-protein ingredient estimates and fees for finished diet preparation and delivery (GMD) were obtained,6-7 and adjusted across the 154-month period using monthly US inflation rates.

Typical grower-finisher pig diet formulations were obtained,6 and utilized the aforementioned ingredient and GMD costs to calculate an average diet cost per metric ton representing the 154-month period. The diet cost lower- and higher-sensitivity matrix values were calculated as the 99 percent LCL and 99 percent UCL from the 154 months of historical data for the same period5

Study Results

Pigs from G0 (earliest alert) performed better than the G5 and G10 groups; pigs from G0 had 12.7 and 20.4 grams higher ADG compared to those from G5 and G10, respectively.

Similarly, challenged pigs from G0 had a 23.4 percent and 10.1 percent decrease in individual treatments when compared to G5 and G10, respectively. Challenged pigs from G0 had a 0.26 percent higher and 1.22 percent lower mortality compared to those from G5 and G10, respectively5

At a CTO of USD $0.254/pig marketed for a 4,800-head finishing site, when the observed differences in production measures from this study were input into the partial budget, and applied to the 154 months of feed costs and pig market prices (including carcass discount-premium), the estimated benefit:cost ratio (B:C) was 6.51, ranging from 3.89 to 11.28. Further, the B:C ratio exceeded 2:1 for 154 of 154 months (100 percent), meaning SoundTalks continued to drive ROI even as markets and commodity prices fluctuated.5

Study Conclusion

The results of this study and the standardized economic analysis suggest that there can be a consistent and long-term favorable economic impact, based on aggregate performance differences using a technology that enables earlier detection and treatment intervention.5

Additional Benefits of SoundTalks

With automated monitoring and potential problems identified in real-time to the right team members, producers can optimize labour more efficiently, leverage objective and continuous respiratory health data, and capture proven ROI through early interventions - all of which can lead to increased pig performance.3–4,8

Maintaining and improving herd health in the face of labour shortages is a challenge for many producers today. SoundTalks can be a key piece of doing more with less, supplementing dwindling labour resources and helping barn managers and veterinarians identify where they should direct their time and attention.

SoundTalks provides producers with real-time, objective, and continuous respiratory health data, giving them greater confidence and efficiency in decision-making and time prioritization. Over time and with continuous review of SoundTalks data, those responsible at a broader flow, system, or area level can better assess the larger-scale behavior of specific disease agents and the clinical impact of intervention and control protocols.3

SoundTalks communication unit

For more information about SoundTalks, contact your Boehringer Ingelheim representative or visit: https://bi-animalhealth.com/swine/ihm/soundtalks .


1 Bush. Swine ’95: Grower/Finisher. Part II. Reference of 1995 U.S. Grower/Finisher Health and Management Practices. In Miscellaneous Publications. 1996;14–16. National Animal Health Monitoring System, USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services.

2 Haden C, Painter T, Fangman T, Holtkamp D. Assessing production parameters and economic impact of swine influenza, PRRS and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae on finishing pigs in a large production system, in Proceedings. 43rd Annu Meet AASV 2012.

3 Spronk A, Polson D, Playter S. Field application of cough monitor technology: A swine practitioner’s perspective. SoundTalks, Boehringer Ingelheim. Available at: https://www.soundtalks.com/paper/field-application-of-cough-monitor- technology-a-swine-practitioners-perspective/. Accessed March 10, 2023.

4 Polson D. Economic assessment of a sound-based precision livestock farming tool (SoundTalks) based on timing of intervention after a dual Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae and PRRS virus seeder challenge in pigs, In Proceedings. Allen D. Leman Swine Conf 2022.

5 Polson D, Alonso C . A methodology for assessing the economic value of early disease detection in growing pigs, in Proceedings. AASV Annu Meet 2023.

6 Tokach M. Personal communication. Kansas State University, Animal Sciences and Industry.

7 Hoek J. Personal communication. Summit Smart Farms, Remington, Indiana

8 Alonso C, Ghysen A, Figueras SJ, et al. Using SoundTalks®® real-time respiratory health status monitoring to improve grow-finish production performance. Available at: https://www.soundtalks.com/paper/using-sound- based-monitoring-of-respiratory-health-status-to-improve-grow-finish- production-performance-in-commercial-pig-farms/. Accessed March 10, 2023.

SoundTalks is a registered trademark of SoundTalks NV, used under license. ©2023 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Duluth, GA. All Rights Reserved. US-POR-0049-2023

Dale Polson

Dale Polson, DVM, MS, Ph.D., is part of the Global Integrated Health Management team at Boehringer Ingelheim, where he works to bring technology-enabled solutions to support a holistic approach to optimizing swine health and performance. Dr. Polson joined the Boehringer Ingelheim team in 1994 and has prior experience working at the North Central Veterinary Center. Dr. Polson earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, a master’s degree in integrated food animal management systems from the University of Illinois, and a Ph.D. in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Carmen Alonso

Dr. Carmen Alonso graduated from the Complutense University of Veterinary Medicine in Madrid in 2003. After working as a wine practitioner in Spain, she became a researcher at the University of Minnesota where she completed her MS and Ph.D. studies from 2010 until 2016. Dr. Alonso has worked in different companies internationally including her own independent data analysis consultant business that served the swine industry. Currently, she is working for Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany, as part of the Global Integrated Health Management division. She is responsible for the technical support and data analysis of BI precision livestock farming technologies and their field implementation.