Alberta Pilots Traceability Project Using PigCHAMP® Mobile


By Susan Joyal, M.Sc.

Over the past 3 years, PigCHAMP has been actively involved in several government-funded projects in Canada to help provide efficient, low cost solutions for producers to help comply with animal traceability regulations. The following article, prepared with the cooperation of The Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, provides the results of one of these projects. It shows that traceability compliance does not have to be costly and time consuming, and that with the right technology, you can actually provide better efficiency and time savings throughout a farm’s operation.

To help preserve markets and sustain consumer confidence, Canada continues to develop and enhance food traceability initiatives. Growing Forward is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative that co-sponsors programs to achieve common national and provincial goals. One such program was the Traceability Pilot Project, which urged prospective applicants “to evaluate and recommend ideal traceability technologies for key links in the supply chain that are practical and cost effective.”

Verus Swine Management Services, which currently manages large-scale investor-owned hog operations totalling 18,000 sows in Western Canada, submitted a proposal to do exactly that. With the financial support of Growing Forward and the commitment of their technology partner, PigCHAMP, 9,000 sows were dedicated to the project. Pinnacle Swine Inc., one of the investor-owned hog operations in the Verus system, led the pilot project, which got underway September 2011 and ended October 2012. Highlights are reported in this article.



  1. Evaluate the practicability of using existing electronic data capture and transfer technologies (RFID tags and readers, companion software).

  2. Understand and report on the costs and potential benefits of using electronic data capture and transfer technologies (RFID tags and readers, companion software).


  1. Characterize Current Record Keeping System – For the month of September 2011, staff at each 3,000-sow barn tracked the minutes spent recording data on-farm, correcting data mistakes and faxing data sheets to a remote bureau service for data entry. To determine the impact of electronic data capture on recording time, the exercise was repeated near the project end-date for a seven-day period.

    At the start of the pilot project, each of three farms reported a weekly average of 25.4 hours (Dynaporc 1), 14.4 hours (Pinnacle 1) and 12.3 hours (Pinnacle 2) on data recording, correcting and faxing. Dynaporc 1, a gilt multiplication farm, took longer because it records more detail than the other two commercial farms. Depending on the farm, between 9% and 23% of the time was spent correcting mistakes and faxing data sheets.

    Six months after PigCHAMP Mobile had been installed and in use, farms spent about one-third fewer hours each week on data recording. With few exceptions, it took less time to record all data event types on-farm; also, there were now very few corrections to make and no longer any need to fax data sheets. Those saved hours were valued at just over $16,000 annually, which was more than the additional cost of operating electronic data capture for all three farms, estimated at $12,820 per year in this 9,000-sow system.

  2. Implement Electronic Capture and Transfer System 
    1. Tag breeding herd sows and gilts with RFID tags
      In less than a month, and averaging just over one minute per sow, a total of 9,142 breeding herd females had an RFID tag in one ear.

      Install software and tracking systems
      Hardware and companion software were installed on all three farms in March 2012. In the 9,000-sow system, the initial cost was $8.54 per sow, which included equipment, RFIDs and companion software. Annual operating cost thereafter was estimated at $1.42 per sow (replacement RFIDs, companion software.)

      Several months into the project, farm managers asked if it would be possible to extend the reach of handheld readers so that they could read an RFID ear tag while carrying out work at the back end of the sow (e.g. A.I., pregnancy checking.) An external antenna ($370) that plugged into the handheld reader and extended its reach proved to be a great remedy.

    2. Conduct employee training
      On each of three farms, a PigCHAMP trainer spent one day instructing farm staff in the use of PigCHAMP Mobile. Workers were excited about trying out a new system that would allow them instant access to a sow’s information and to make decisions while staying in the barn.

  3. Electronic data capture - on-going
    1. Record RFID tag failures
      RFID ear tags proved very reliable. Each farm reported a dozen (or fewer) problems reading RFID tags (~0.25%) over the term of the project.

    2. Random subset of RFIDs
      A validation exercise was conducted to ascertain that data captured and stored electronically was, in fact, accurate and true. Farm managers were asked to verify that real-life information on a subset of 180 randomly selected sow IDs (from a pool of 14,000+ IDs) matched what was stored in PigCHAMP. It did, each and every time.

    3. Producer / suppliers work with Alberta’s Swine Movement Database:
      Currently, the province is still developing capabilities that will allow Alberta’s Swine Movement Database to accept e-manifests documenting livestock movements. That said, an Alberta Swine Movement Database representative confirmed, “It appears that they (PigCHAMP) would be able to provide all the required information from their system.”


PigCHAMP Mobile proved a practical and cost effective traceability technology for large-scale hog operations. Demonstrated advantages included:

  • Improved capability and capacity for animal identification
  • Improved capability and capacity to quickly conduct age verification
  • Improved ability to track livestock movements
  • Improved accuracy and ease of inventory management
  • Improved decision making capabilities owing to quick access of real-time data
  • Compliance with Alberta Swine Movement Database traceability requirements


Twenty-three (23) farm workers, all of whom had worked directly with the handhelds, were asked how they’d rate this new system of electronic data capture. Their ratings ranged from OK (26%), through to GOOD (52.5%) and VERY GOOD (22%).

The best testimony likely comes from Martin Bowman (Director of Production, Verus Swine Management Services), who added, “in the next year or so, we are considering converting another 6,000 sows to PigCHAMP Mobile.”


In the event of a possible disease outbreak or food recall, traceability can help sort through the chaos, identify the source of a problem and help to restore consumer confidence, both at home and abroad. In Canada, mandatory traceability systems are already in place for cattle, bison and sheep and the process is underway for pigs.

This pilot project demonstrated that it is possible to complement existing traceability initiatives by adopting modern technologies such as PigCHAMP Mobile to enhance data management capabilities and comply with Alberta’s Swine Movement Database requirements, and ultimately, Canada’s. It’s a forward step in this challenging business of modern food production.

SUSAN JOYAL Susan Joyal earned her bachelor’s degree in 1982 and a master’s degree in 1985 from the University of Guelph and has worked in the livestock industry since. Susan has worked as a research associate (4 years) and geneticist (17 years) with National Pig Development (Canada), Smithfield Foods (USA) and GAP Genetics. Most recently, Susan has worked as an independent consultant and is based in Cochrane, Alberta.

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