For security on sight
Lights, camera, action! Miniature cameras are moving into the farmyard for a range of different uses. Peter Hill looks at the systems available and suggests some pointers for potential buyers
THE use of closed-circuit television may be in its infancy on farms. But improved technology is bringing more capable, versatile, user-friendly and cheaper systems to the market.
Potential uses fall neatly into three categories: Monitoring farm livestock, improving farm security, and machine operation.
The simplest – and often cheapest – route into remote monitoring is to buy a ready-made kit. The single camera "Egg" system from Telepresence, for example, costs £195 and will transmit sound as well as pictures over a distance of 200m (660ft). Medivets Minder, with infrared-enhanced camera, comes in at £249, while Tanton Engineerings Farmcam, with camera housed in a steel outdoor case, kicks off at £299.
All are designed to plug into a video recorder or television, and are simple to install.
Before buying, it is worth taking time to think through what is wanted from the surveillance system and under what conditions the equipment is likely to be working:
• Indoors or outdoors?
• Is there sufficient lighting, and of what type?
• Is the image good enough to be recorded for security analysis?
• Would continuous or sensor-activated recording be best?
• Would colour provide usefully more vivid and informative images?
Using closed-circuit tv (CCTV) to watch over livestock, particularly pregnant animals near to giving birth, has the most emotive appeal because it can save having to turn out at unsociable hours in unsociable weather merely to check that all is well.
Relatively simple equipment is usually adequate for this task provided it offers a sufficient field of vision and sufficient clarity. Low light levels and the particular characteristics of infra-red lamps and fluorescent tubes may render some cameras inadequate.
Medivets Minder and the Tanton Farmcam have built-in lighting said to improve picture quality in such situations.
Sound adds another dimension with the "Egg", Minder and Philips systems.
Deterrence is the most valuable feature of a CCTV system, suggests Paul Gibson of Scottish Communication Systems.
"Its better to discourage crime in the first place, so we always advise clients to give their cameras a high profile and use the printed warning signs we supply," he says.
The Perth-based independent installer sells Vista and Tevecom kits but warns that while these may be perfectly adequate in the deterrence role, buyers who want security recordings to help recover stolen goods or prosecute the perpetrators need a professionally-specified and installed system.
Round-the-clock recording, or for however long premises are unoccupied, is advised over infra-red sensors which, says Mr Gibson, are all too easily tripped by innocent foxes, rabbits, dogs and cats – even by falling leaves. And rather than using a domestic video recorder, buy a specialist machine, he suggests.
"An industrial video recorder will compress 24hr recordings onto a 3hr tape and withstand long hours of use," says Mr Gibson. "And use a different tape for each day of the week so that you always have seven days-worth of recordings in hand."
With higher-specification equipment and professional design and installation, such systems inevitably cost more than a simple kit: Probably £500 to £600 for a monochrome camera that adjusts itself to different light levels; £750 to £850 for video recorder; £200 to £300 for a monitor; plus cable and up to £150 for installation.
Safety and efficiency are the key roles of CCTV on machinery for which robust equipment capable of withstanding vibration, moisture and dust – even the occasional knock – is clearly essential.
Roland Wood of Derwent Measurement & Control emphasises the safety aspect of using camera and monitor as an extension to rear view mirrors on large machinery such as wheeled loaders and combines. Cameras can be activated when reverse gear is engaged to avoid distraction during normal working, and monitor screens can carry distance markers as a meaningful guide for drivers.
A more common application, however, is to monitor crop flow on potato and sugar beet harvesters, as John Farmer of Mitsubishi sole distributor, Vision Techniques, explains.
"Potato harvester separation equipment in general, and roller systems in particular, need to be constantly monitored so that working speeds can be adjusted to achieve maximum efficiency and work rate with minimum damage," he says. "This is difficult when the driver is seated some distance away, unless he has a monitor."
Robust systems suitable for use on equipment such as potato harvesters typically cost between £1000 and £1200.
• Derwent Measurement & Control (01332-834141). Vehicle rear-view monitoring.
• Medivet (01423-870866). Medivet Minder housed-camera monitoring system with infra-red picture enhancement.
• Philips Communication & Security Systems (01223-245191). Surveillance/security camera with optional two-way intercom.
• Scottish Communication Systems (01738-639885). Bespoke and kit surveillance camera systems and installation.
• Tanton Engineering (01233-712948). Farmcam housed camera for internal/external use.
• Telepresence Systems (01226-770699). "Egg" single and multiple camera systems.
• Vision Techniques (01254-679717). Mitsubishi systems for static and vehicle mounting.
• Record bulling activity
• Monitor stock due to give birth
• Monitor sick animals
• Deter would-be thieves in yards and farm shops
• Record criminal activity for property recovery/prosecution
• Monitor crop flow on potato/beet harvesters
• Provide rear view for safer machine reversing
• Monitor rear-mounted implements
A two-way intercom can be added to the Philips Observation System, which includes a camera and 12in monitor for about £400.
Tiny Telepresence "Egg" camera kicks off DIY-installed systems at £195. Up to eight can be connected to a single monitor or TVset.