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The well-being of his animals is the top priority for farmer Daniel Woestmann. To identify diseases early, he has upgraded the pig pen with technology.

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Eavesdropping in
the pig pen

When pigs cough, there is something in the air – or they are seriously ill. Boehringer Ingelheim and the Belgian start-up Soundtalks hang up microphones in the pen to fight infections as early as possible.

A s soon as Daniel Woestmann enters the pig pen, things liven up. The animals grunt and squeal; they throng around the feeding area and play around with the cotton rope that the 22-year-old circulates around the pen to collect saliva samples. It is smelly and it is warm – a dry 24 degrees, just the way pigs love it. Above all, however, it is noisy. A cough would not be noticeable here, and so a potential early symptom of a serious illness easily goes unnoticed.

“If a pig coughs, as with people, it doesn’t mean that you need to worry,” says veterinarian Gudrun Finger. If it is dusty, pigs can quickly get a tickle in their throats. “But if coughing occurs more frequently, it’s a red flag, and further examinations are advisable.”

However, for a farmer – particularly one like Daniel Woestmann who produces his own fodder – there is not enough time to pay such close attention to the pigs with so much work to do on the farm. This is precisely where a long-term cooperation between Boehringer Ingelheim and the Belgian start-up Soundtalks comes in: acoustic measurement of the animals’ coughing sounds.

“The major advantage is that we can identify danger at an early stage and can help the animals more quickly.”

Dr. Joachim Hasenmaier,
Member of the Board of Managing Directors with responsibility for Animal Health

Wireless in future: The new microphones that Soundtalks and Boehringer Ingelheim will launch on the market this year will communicate via the internet.

One black microphone is hooked up for four compartments in Woestmann’s pig pen and hangs in the air some two metres above the pigs. It records the sounds of the 130 animals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An algorithm filters a crucial factor out of all the noise: the coughing. Datasets are thus created that veterinarians can analyse and link to findings from diagnostic samples. A graph shows the number of coughs in a certain period. High levels of coughing are immediately noticeable. Once a critical level is reached, the programme sends a message to the veterinarians and farmers. “The major advantage is that we can identify danger at an early stage and can help the animals more quickly,” says Dr Joachim Hasenmaier, Member of the Board of Managing Directors with responsibility for Animal Health. It also makes it possible to obtain objective measurement of the coughing and perform continuous monitoring.

The latest microphones that Soundtalks is putting on the market this year can communicate wirelessly – and, in addition to the pigs’ coughing, can analyse the ambient temperature and humidity level. A “health monitor” for pigs is what Soundtalks head Dries Berckmans calls his tool, which could not have been developed without the cooperation with Boehringer Ingelheim. “We are combining expertise from two different worlds here: the sound engineers and developers on one side, and veterinarians on the other,” says Berckmans.

Pig farmer Daniel Woestmann has long been convinced of the merit of the partnership, and he will continue to use the technology. After all, it is in his interest that his pen remains a hive of activity in the future, too – thanks to strong and healthy animals.

Veterinarian Gudrun Finger can now give better targeted help to pigs - thanks to digital analysis.