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Jake Barrow and BarnTalk Gateway

Overcoming Alarm Call Center Labor Shortages

May 2, 2023

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Michael Hansen


In 1994, Jake Barrow built his first farm, Square One, in Green County, North Carolina. “In those days, all the farms were close to the farmers houses, the barns have curtains, not tunnel fans, and we relied on a landline-based alarm system to tell us when something was wrong,” said Jake. Over the years, many functions of that alarm system had been disconnected due to wiring issues and a high number of false calls.

In 2014, Jake started building a new facility, and as of 2019 he completed three different sites: a 2,600-head sow farm, a 4,000-head finishing site and a 1,000- head finishing site all within 15 miles of each other. A new facility meant a new alarm system. Jake installed a cellular alarm system supported by a call center that is hard wired to monitor primary and backup power (with automatic transfer switch), as required by his integrator, Smithfield Foods.

Jake Barrow BarnTalk Site Barn

The Human Factor

While the hardware of Jake’s alarm system ran efficiently, the reliability of the system was called into question because of the human factor.

“I’m supposed to get an alert and call anytime there is a power interruption, but one time on a Friday at 3:30pm, the power went out and the call center didn’t alert me to the outage until 9:30am the next morning.”

Luckily, Jake’s backup generators had sufficient fuel and kicked on when the power failed. When Jake contacted the alarm company to inquire why no call had been made. The answer? Staffing shortage. “I was told they were short on labor and it just took a while to get to us. We didn’t get to you yet isn’t an acceptable answer when animals are involved.”

The First Step

“Everything has gone to tunnel ventilation and we now have a sophisticated brain in the barn with the new controllers. But you can’t access the data if you’re not in the barn, so we’d get a lot of false alarms. At that point, you don’t have any choice to drive out to the farm and make sure everything’s ok.” And while the new computer systems installed on new builds give you remote access, the cost is “pretty extreme.”

Jake installed BarnTalk on his 4,000-head finishing site last summer to get hands-on experience with the system and quickly learned it provided “good checks and balances against the computer system sensors.” He’s currently tracking power with a dry contact, water consumption, inside and outside temperature and outside humidity.

“Easy, remote access and the flexibility to set our own parameters is great and BarnTalk really gives me peace of mind.”

“I tell people that BarnTalk is a more cost-effective option for new builds and really great for retrofits as opposed to spending a bunch of money of fancy controllers.” Best of all, it eliminates the uncertainty caused by labor shortages.

“What makes BarnTalk so good is the simplicity of it. It eliminates the labor issue and meets all our needs.”

New Generation Alarm for Next Generation Farms

“All around me I’m seeing things change. Before, alarm systems weren’t as important as knowing you had a backup generator. But now with more investment groups running larger farms with multiple sites, the need for remote check in is becoming more important.” That said, even family farmers can’t be everywhere at once and Jake sees the value of BarnTalk at all his locations.

That said, even family farmers can’t be everywhere at once and Jake sees the value of BarnTalk at all his locations.

“I installed BarnTalk at the one finishing site about seven months ago and now I’m working on transitioning the sow operation, too.”

For Jake, installing BarnTalk at this second location gives the extra benefit of reducing communication costs, saving time and improve the quality of data transfer. “For years, we faxed documents to the main office from the sow operation. As I transition to all internet-based communication systems, I’ll be able to eliminate that cost and streamline the process. It really makes my life easier.”

Easy, Flexible, Reliable

Transitioning to BarnTalk has been easy for Jake. “Training was easy, the system is accurate and reliable. I’ve only had to call tech support twice and both times it’s been simple and user friendly.” What about the cost?

“I’ve been really pleased with BarnTalk. The up-front cost is low and the system continues to give me more value.”

The Gateway can accommodate up to 24 sensors, which allows users to gain full benefit of the system. “BarnTalk just gives me more flexibility to do things.” “BarnTalk just gives me more flexibility to do things.”

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