A Second Set of Eyes

November 28, 2012 07:01 AM
A Second Set of Eyes

Security cameras help dairies know what cows, employees and visitors are up to

Day or night, Mike Veeman can see just about anyone or anything on his Colorado dairy. Whether it’s in his milking parlor, driveway, feed barns or other buildings, and whether it involves cows, employees or visitors, Veeman knows what’s going on—in real time.

With 20 video surveillance cameras stationed at key points on his dairy, Veeman has a tool he says helps him increase productivity, maintain a safe work environment, verify animal welfare and manage several levels of security and risk.

"I can be in four or five places at once," Veeman says. "Having a camera security system is cost-effective as well. It gives you an edge and peace of mind. It allows you to multi-task."

Video surveillance has come a long way since Veeman and Sons Dairy installed its first camera 40 years ago. Back then, the Veemans’ one camera operated on an analog system using videotape and often produced poor-quality footage. Today’s video cameras produce high-quality digital images that are viewed on computers, smartphones and tablets.

Veeman needs that second set of eyes to help him manage his family’s fifth-generation operation. The dairy milks 2,000 cows, employs 26 people and farms 1,300 of the operation’s 5,000 acres near Wiggins, Colo.

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"I’m looking at the screen all the time," Veeman says. "I see visitors, vets, employees, who’s in the high-flow areas, who’s outside of the office, who’s going into the parlor. I always know who’s on the place."

Dairies typically share common reasons for using video surveillance, says Manuel Perez, network video administrator with Valley Ag Software in Tulare, Calif. The company has installed camera security systems at dairies in several states.

"A camera security system addresses problems with theft, vandalism and employee management, and offers facility monitoring and remote accessibility," Perez says.

Dairy owners install cameras wherever security is paramount. "The milking parlor is usually priority No. 1," Perez says.

Other surveillance areas include tank rooms, calf barns, maternity areas, medicine rooms, commodity barns, break rooms, time clock areas, driveways, parking lots and high-
traffic areas inside buildings.

"Each producer has his own custom way of how he or she wants surveillance done," Perez says. "They may want to know what time drivers are showing up or whether they’re following correct procedures for filling up milk tanks. They may want to know who else is driving onto the dairy or what time people are coming in to work."

Today’s digital camera systems not only produce high-definition color images that appear in real time. They can also be viewed in play-back, fast-forward or slow-motion mode. Motion sensors can be set on cameras to send alerts—with a jpeg image of the activity—to a computer or phone when there’s movement in places like the medicine room or shop.

With remote accessibility, dairy managers can see what’s going on in the milking parlor, barns and pens while they’re at home or even on the other side of the world. Remote footage that’s sent over the Internet is encrypted and cannot be hacked.

Video cameras are usually set up on a network that extends from building to building or over many miles. During a recent presentation at the Elite Producer Business Conference in Las Vegas, Perez showed live video feed from a California dairy. He demonstrated how a camera mounted on the exterior of a building could zoom in on pens and cows, and even move in a 180-degree sweep to scan a broad swath of driveway, corrals and other property.

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A security camera mounted above the clock on the far end of the milking parlor helps the dairy owner spot whether cows are being dipped and milked properly, and how employees interact with animals.

At Veeman’s dairy, the camera system plays a big role in identifying training opportunities, ensuring that standard operating procedures are followed, observing team interaction and keeping an eye on equipment and machinery.

"We have a rotary milking parlor," Veeman says. "The cameras allow me to know whether it’s functioning properly. Is it running at proper speed? Is there a cow in every stall? Are employees working together as they’re supposed to? Are they doing dangerous things? That’s huge on a rotary. We want to make sure they don’t get hurt."

The cameras allow Veeman to watch how employees interact with cows. "Animal welfare is not just a flavor of the month on our dairy," he says. "It’s always been important to us. We don’t want unacceptable behavior. We want people working for us who want to work with animals."

Veeman also has security cameras at his commodity area. "We have a lot of investment there," he says. "Is feed being unloaded or scaled out correctly? If things disappear or we see someone who doesn’t belong, we have a better idea of what’s going on."

A camera security system can’t just be a record-and-ignore operation, Veeman cautions. "It has to be integral to your management scheme," he says. "If you don’t look at the footage, the system isn’t going to solve problems."

Because the camera security is so important to his dairy, and because the technology keeps getting better,Veeman plans to expand his video surveillance system.

"Producers around the country are discovering that a video surveillance system is no longer a luxury but a necessity," Perez says.

Video Surveillance Basics

The basics needed for a video surveillance system with remote accessibility are a computer, an external hard drive for digital information storage, the cameras and Internet access, says Manuel Perez of Valley Ag Software in Tulare, Calif.

Modern systems don’t require additional software or coaxial cable. Cameras operate with Category 5 cable, a "Power over Ethernet" technology.

The heavy-duty cameras recommended for dairies cost about $600 each. While every system is different, Perez estimates that the bill for a complete video surveillance system with eight cameras, including installation, can cost about $10,000.

Video footage can be reviewed as far back as six weeks. Footage can be downloaded and stored on a computer hard drive. A six-camera system might hold 4 terabytes, or 4,000 gigabytes, of digital information. Images contain a date and time stamp.

Where and Why Your Dairy Might Need a Camera Security System

Video surveillance expert Manuel Perez of Valley Ag Software lists the places and reasons he typically sees for installing a camera security system on a dairy:

Milking parlor:
Are employees following proper parlor protocols and procedures?
• Are they beating cows?
• Are the workers playing around or risking possible injury or workmen’s compensation claims?
• Employee management

Tank room:
• When is the driver getting there?
• Is he following the correct procedure?
• Is milk being weighed properly?
• Are drivers or employees cleaning up properly?

• Is the cow giving birth?
• Is someone tending to the calves?
• Is someone there feeding calves at proper times?
• Is the employee dipping navels properly and following all other procedures?
• Allows owner or staff to monitor calving, and then go out at the proper time instead of too early

Feed lanes:
• What time are cows being fed?
• Is feed being pushed up?
• Are the cows eating?

Feed commodities:
• Allows monitoring for theft
• Remote accessibility can provide motion alerts and an e-mail with an image of the scene

Medicine room:
• Who is going in and out, and at what times?

Shop area:
• To make sure employees are complying with dairy rules and workmen’s compensation procedures
• Theft monitoring
• Safety monitoring
• Who is there?
• Helps with insurance and lower premiums


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