'Going green' breeds new facility management systems

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A combination of forces are currently redefining the construction of buildings, homes, barns and businesses.

A combination of forces are currently redefining the construction of buildings, homes, barns and businesses. The economy dictates that any and all methods be used to save costs both in the construction phase and, equally as important, in the long-term operation and maintenance of the structure itself.

Reducing energy waste, eliminating unnecessary work and making facility management more efficient all favorably impact the bottom line. This type of proactive thinking is being adopted by operations trying to ride out the current economic storm, and it applies to equine barns and veterinary facilities as well.

A global view: This smart barn system is using satellite imagery to keep watch on this farm. Other video tools are helping veterinarians observe patients and make medical observations remotely. (Photos: Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth L. Marcella)

The Tax Code of 2006-2013 provides tax credits and/or deductions for improvements in managing energy in commercial equine businesses (barns, breeding facilities and veterinary clinics). These credits can be as high as $1.80 per square foot of facility space. That's almost $260 for every 12-ft-by-12-ft stall or more than $1,100 for a 25-ft-by-25-ft treatment room. The numbers add up quickly.

The current "green revolution" has increased awareness for better, more efficient use of electricity, water and heat. So much so, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has become a sought-after distinction when developing a "green" property. This certification initiative was launched in 1993 by the National Resources Defense Council and addresses eight major areas of building design, construction and management that encompass elements of light pollution, water use reduction, cooling and heating efficiency, air-quality management and other aspects of environmentally friendly structure use. Substantial incentives and financial benefits are available for those who go green.

Entering the digital age: Barns have never been technologically or environmentally efficient. But a new breed of technology aims to change that. Smart barns are attempting to integrate standard barn operations, the Internet and even medical records into one efficient package.

In a 2003 report to California's Sustainable Energy Task Force, Greg Kats and Associates evaluated the costs and financial benefits of green buildings. The firm stated that an initial upfront investment of 2 percent (in energy management-related design features) yielded 10 times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building. Many local governments have moved to incorporate LEED incentive programs into their building codes and regulations.

Smart design, new automation

Barns and equine veterinary facilities have never been seen as models of efficient energy use. These large facilities are often difficult to heat or to cool. Horses by their very nature, both in a barn or in an equine hospital, generate large amounts of waste, use large amounts of water for cleaning and drinking, have a substantial impact on air quality (ammonia content) and make daily operations less than efficient. Additionally, the vast amount of information (patient records, feeding and training programs, show and work schedules, farrier records, daily treatment plans and so forth) necessary when running these operations makes them ideal candidates to benefit from the new breed of interactive management systems currently available.

The ability to more efficiently manage information and to both save money and generate incentives by better energy management makes systems such as BarnLogix and BARN-E the first of a likely new wave of dynamic, point-of-use management tools. Management software for the veterinary clinic or equine facility is certainly not new. In fact, these programs can operate from a desktop or laptop computer and allow veterinarians and managers to track vaccinations, patient medical histories, farrier records and other horse-specific information and to generate invoices and perform most recording and accounting functions.

BarnLogix and BARN-E, however, have taken these functions to an entirely new level, and they represent the next generation in this area. BARN-E (Barn And Ranch Next Evolution) from Charter Solutions International and the BarnLogix automation system encompass all the standard accounting and information management systems we've grown to rely on, but they add in-barn, point-of-use interactive features, remote information exchange, language transcription, greater integration of radiographs, video and other multimedia information and extensive physical plant control that far exceeds what has been previously available.

Bringing technology into the barn

These two new systems come from very different beginnings.

Dee Hayes, the developer and president of BarnLogix, is a commercial engineer with more than 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. Her expertise is in the areas of waste-water management, chemical reactors, water filtration and satellite control. She is a horsewoman and "originally designed BarnLogix for the person with too many things to do and not enough hours in the day to do them." Because of her background and expertise, the BarnLogix system is consequently weighted toward physical plant monitoring and management.

Thomas Pfeffer, developer of BARN-E, is an IT expert with equine connections. He was amazed at the vast array of information in the average barn or equine facility.

"I saw notes written on each stall door, a dry-erase board in the feed room, one in the tack room, more notes for the farrier, the vet, the various trainers. I knew there was a better way." Because of his unique background, BARN-E was designed to create efficiency "by combining the steering of daily work process, communication and information management."

But just what does all of this engineering and IT jargon mean in terms of the day-to-day operation of a training barn or veterinary hospital?

The beauty of both of these systems is that they function from a touch-screen monitor located at one or more locations in the actual barn or clinic. These monitors can be recessed in a wall or in a kiosk work station. One touch prompts screens that can allow barn workers, technicians, related professionals or managers access to all types of information. BarnLogix can provide a technician in a treatment area or barn aisle information on all aspects of a particular's horse's care, feeding, shoeing, vaccinations, etc. Allergies, medication alerts or treatment reminders are all immediately displayed. Radiographs, ultrasound exams, thermography scans or any other type of medical information can be included in the horse's record and made easily available at stall-side. Information can be retrieved or entered so record keeping is immediate, accurate and complete. It can eliminate the problem of updating records on products used, drugs or even dosages when you finally make it back to the clinic. You simply enter the information as you treat your patients, and it should translate into better recordkeeping, better patient management and better economics.

This system can monitor water intake; control the fly-spray system; turn on and off all types of lights (arena, barn, security) on individual schedules; turn individual fans or heaters on and off based on temperature or other user preferences; monitor air quality (ammonia, particulate matter or other individual criteria); control exhaust fans and ventilation openings, heating and air-conditioning units and humidity levels; monitor fire and smoke-detection devices; oversee emergency notification procedures and aid in barn bird prevention with audio controls. Most management or information management functions can be incorporated into these systems and controlled at the point of use. The efficient use of heating, air conditioning, lighting and ventilation represent the four areas that determine how much tax savings a facility is eligible to receive. The reduction in physical labor needed to perform all these monitoring tasks represents an additional benefit.

A touch of a screen in a BARN-E facility initially generates a weather map of the local area with a five-day forecast. This can be helpful when determining turn-out and training schedules in areas with varying weather patterns. Another screen displays a satellite-generated map of the facility with all pastures and turn-out areas outlined and identified. BARN-E is Internet-integrated and allows users to access this weather and satellite information as well as language transcription and e-mail. Many facilities in differing areas of the country experience language barriers between barn workers and trainers or managers. BARN-E allows a manager to type in a task request or list of specific instructions, and the system translates those instructions into the language of choice and displays that information on a screen for a specific worker to review. The employee can then type in comments or responses in his or her own language. The system immediately translates it back again. It reduces the chances of miscommunication and breaks down language barriers to benefit the care and management of the horse.

All of this can be done remotely as well. A veterinarian on the road attending to a foaling mare may now receive lab results on his or her cell phone. The veterinarian can even send BARN-E an e-mail changing the afternoon treatment protocol for that horse. Veterinarians can access information from BARN-E confirming accomplished tasks including notes from the technician or barn worker. BARN-E can integrate multiple parties into a communication regarding treatments, procedures or tasks through e-mail. This feature helps ensure that appointments are not missed, all relevant participants are present for specific procedures and owners are kept updated on their horse's care and progress. This feature can be especially useful in practices with multiple doctors.

Remote video monitoring of individual horses is also possible with these systems and can be an important feature for veterinary clinics, breeding/foaling operations and facilities where owners want the same access to their horses that people expect from human daycare centers. The ability to remotely monitor horses after surgery or while they are receiving intravenous fluids allows a veterinarian more flexibility with time management and can help lead to improved patient care, better compliance and greater practice efficiency. Insurance and security concerns are addressed by the system's ability to monitor video remotely too.

"BARN-E can be configured via a specific user interface to fit any individual needs concerning record tracking," Pfeffer explains. "This way," he adds, "you tell the system what to focus on and keep track of. You are not limited to simply what the system can record." BarnLogix caters to individual needs and as each new feature has been added, there has been tremendous effort to "keep it simple and user-friendly," Hays explains.

These programs are evolving to meet the needs and challenges of an industry that has been forced to be more efficient. The economic pressure and the environmental push to "work green" will continue to help refine information and management systems. Time will only tell what new innovations in "smart facility" design are on the horizon. It is certain, though, that systems like these will forever change the way equine professionals work, communicate and process information.

Dr. Marcella is an equine practitioner in Canton, Ga.

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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