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How a Wireless Farm Alarm System Can Complement Your Building’s Controller

June 3, 2022

BarnTools Maddy McGarry Headshot

Maddy McGarry

Product Marketing Manager

All state-of-the-art controllers like Maximus, Edge, Rotem, Chore-Tronics, and Fusion, are awesome examples of how advanced our industry has become. Many of these systems are on their 3rd or 4th generation. These computers have evolved in the last 25-30 years and can do amazing stuff when they are set up properly and working well. They are truly the brains of the building controlling temperature, ventilation, feed, water, air pressure, curtains, misters, and more. There isn’t anything they can’t measure and control.

If you have one, you’re familiar with their capabilities. You’re probably also all too familiar with their challenges.

A watchdog is a subsystem that monitors whether the main system is working normally. If it detects something outside expected conditions the watchdog takes some action, such as notifying appropriate personnel. For this to work, the watchdog must be outside of the main system, not just a software process within it.

For years building controllers have been designed with an “error” wire to be wired into an external device like a “dialer”. The dialer is the watchdog. Originally, pre-internet days, these dialers used a phone line to notify you or a remote call center.

The times when they don’t work are most critical and that’s why you need to have a backup alarm or a watchdog to assure you know if something is wrong.

There are a number of reasons why having an independent, watchdog system should be used in conjunction with your building controller.

First, many integrators, banks, and insurance companies require it. Farming is a business with significant assets and protecting those assets, which include not only the animals but also the buildings which are used to raise them and keep them safe.

Second, it’s cheap insurance. Installing a reliable alarm system is much cheaper than pulling dead animals out of your building. Its also peace of mind during high-risk events like storms.

Third, an alarm system should be designed and built for that singular purpose-to be an alarm. Getting just one email or text message is not an alarm, it’s like reading about a tornado warning in the paper. When there is an emergency, you need to know now, not only that but you want more than one person to know and you need that sucker to keep contacting you until someone responds.

Anything less simply is not an alarm system.

Fourth, a watchdog is a simple device whose purpose is dedicated to notification. A controller is a powerful computer designed to monitor and control complex systems, getting visibility and remote control of the controller on your PC or phone or tablet is a great advancement, but knowing how to set it up and respond to errors or changes at 2am is not as easy as it sounds.

The more complicated the controller, the better the internet connection needs to be to interact with it properly. Reliability and usability are directly related to complexity. The more things your controller can do, the more likely it will be to fail and the harder it is to learn and use.

The characteristics of a great alarm system are exactly the opposite, it should be 100% reliable and simple to use.

It’s clear that an alarm system cannot replace a controller, but it should complement the controller system you have. If your farm or system has multiple different types of controllers and you can employ an alarm system that is controller agnostic, meaning the alarm system works with any controller, then with one interface you can easily monitor and protect all your facilities without needing to know the ins and outs of multiple systems.

One of the most common places where a watchdog is used is the sump pump system. Thousands of homes are equipped with a watchdog sump pump that is battery-powered and takes over if the main system fails. Why? Because it’s likely that you need your sump pump most when the weather is storming, but stormy weather could take out the power and then you’re pretty much screwed. The watchdog pump is there just in case.

Your hog barn or chicken house controller has the same risk profile. When it’s all working there is no need for a separate alarm system. However, should something go wrong with that controller you need to get notified immediately so you aren’t left in the dark.

If you have a $500,000 asset full of live animals and you spent $25,000 on a state-of-the-art controller, why wouldn’t you spend a few hundred dollars more to make sure you know when something goes wrong? It’s way better than showing up there in the morning and needing to deal with mortality.

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