Jun 23, 2023 - Technology

Hot hogs beat the heat with new USDA app

Logo for USDA smartphone application featuring a cartoon pig

Photo: USDA

Whether you're a livestock producer in Brisbane, Australia, or Shiloh, Ill., there's a brand-new app to help shield your hogs from heat.

Why it matters: As farmers worldwide deal with the impact of climate change on livestock, researchers are increasingly turning to easy-to-use tech to lessen the burden.

How it works: HotHog predicts pigs' thermal stress tied to user locations. It uses open-sourced weather data coupled with behavioral and physiological swine research — effectively forecasting what temperature and humidity conditions cause a pig to become overheated.

  • "By the time you can actually see a pig suffering from heat stress ... oftentimes it's too late to start implementing cooling technologies," said Jay Johnson, a USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist who led the team that developed HotHog.

The backstory: The app was developed over a five-year period by collaborators at ARS, Purdue University and University of Illinois, with funding from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

What they're saying: Johnson told Axios the idea emerged from a lack of tools available for producers to help inform a preemptive livestock management approach to warming global temperatures.

  • "Our bigger concern is the increase in both the severity and the frequency of some of these high heat events that we see occurring in the Midwest, United States, and everywhere globally," Johnson said.

Zoom in: He noted the role of climate change in driving greater impacts of heat stress on pigs.

Between the lines: It's not the first app created to tackle the effects of climate change on livestock, or even specific to swine. Others have explored smart technologies for everything from feeding programs to monitoring animal welfare.

State of play: Heat stress threatens an animal's welfare, with consequences ranging from deteriorating health to reduced reproductive abilities.

  • This can lead to production inefficiencies that power economic declines. Accounting for inflation, heat stress on swine alone currently costs the U.S. an estimated $493.35 million in annual lost revenue, according to Johnson.

Yes, but: While it's free and globally accessible, the tool is English-only, which limits its reach.

  • The team behind HotHog told Axios they're working on a second version that will include Spanish and Chinese translations, as well as enable push notifications for temperature forecast alerts.

Of note: Agricultural economist Jennifer Ifft, who is unaffiliated with the app, told Axios in an email the tool should compliment efforts that livestock producers already take to improve animal comfort and production during periods of heat stress.

Go deeper