Barn Cameras: A Shepherd’s Saving Grace

By: Jacci Smith, OSU Extension Educator ANR/4-H, Delaware County

Just imagine: It’s the middle of February, minus 4 degrees outside, and 3:00 am. You roll out of bed, put on your coveralls and boots. Open the door to go check that ewe that wasn’t acting quite right at chore time. That bitter cold hits you in the face and boom you are wide-awake. Once you get to the barn, you look around and there is no lambing action. So you trek back to the house, take off your winter gear and try, and fail, to get back to sleep.

This is why the invention of barn cameras was so vital. Lambing season is a time of year that we all need to be on the top of our game. When you are run down without the proper sleep, this might not be the case. Barn cameras can be an amazing tool that shepherds can have if the right steps are taken.

Once you have decided that your operation will benefit from using this technology, there are some questions you should ask yourself before moving forward.

  1. Do I want to see it on my phone (remotely)? Or is just having it in my house good enough?
  2. Do I have good internet available to my barn?
  3. Do I need to record or is livestream enough?
  4. Do I want audio?
  5. What groups of sheep do I want to see?
  6. Are there solid walls in the viewing area that I need to think about?

“Do I want to see it on my phone (remotely)?” Or is just having it in my house good enough?”
This is the fundamental question that your operation needs to answer before purchasing any equipment. These days more and more folks want to view remotely, however, there are still some that do not mind only having viewing from the house. One mindset is why do you need to view remotely if you will not be able to go assist or pen up the ewe right away?

“Do I have good internet available to my barn?” 
This is normally the biggest hang up. Having internet access at the barn is crucial to viewing remotely. Not only do you need to have internet, it needs to be good and reliable internet. Be sure that you know the upload speed of your internet at the barn before purchasing equipment. In rural America, it is not always easy to find internet let alone an internet source that has enough upload speed for a barn camera system.

“Do I need to record or is livestream enough?”
This will determine whether you need a recording device or recording service, which may add extra cost. Do you want to go back and see how long a ewe has been trying to lamb? Alternatively, do you just care about the here and now?

“Do I want audio?”
This will determine the type of equipment you purchase. Some normal ewe movements are deceiving and could be mistaken for labor; pairing audio with video can give you a more complete understanding for what is really going on in the barn. Some more thoughts are: Do you want to hear what is happening, do you want to be able to intercom to the barn or is video enough?

“What groups of sheep do I want to see?”
This might sound like a dumb question. In most cases, you definitely want to see the ewes that are closest to lambing. But also think about if you’re interested in viewing the lambing pens or mixing area as well.  This will determine how many cameras or the type of camera you will need to purchase.

“Are there solid walls in the viewing area that I need to think about?”
This one seems obvious, cameras can’t see through solid walls. Think about solid panel gates, when you are walking through the barn you are not at the same angle as what a camera would be. Solid areas will increase the number of cameras you will need.

Once you have answered these questions then you can get to work. There are different systems that you can use. The first is a DVR with actual cameras connected to it; the DVR can then be hard wired to the house or some DVR’s can also be connected to internet to view remotely. The second option would be the plug and play cameras; this option only works if you have internet and can only be viewed remotely. Remember to check the DVR or the Plug and Play camera for a minimum upload speed and compare it to what the upload speed is at your barn.  Another option would be non-internet baby monitor that would not have remote view capabilities; this works well in situations where there is no internet or bad internet available at the barn.  Most of these baby monitors have 1,000 ft. distance rating.

Selecting cameras can be difficult. Be sure that the cameras you select have IR lights so that night viewing is possible. Extra IR lamps are available if more light is needed to see in the barn. The focal length and depth of field combine to determine the length and width of the area the camera can pick up. If you want audio be sure that you are purchasing a camera that also supports audio or an intercom system. Rotating cameras can be very helpful to cover a large viewing area with fewer cameras. Be sure to keep in mind gate placement and solid panels when purchasing the number of cameras.

Most any type of camera you select will need a power cable. Try to keep this in mind when you are placing your cameras. Most power cords that come with the cameras are relatively short, extension cords will most likely be needed. When using a DVR system, video/audio cables will be needed to supply the image/audio to the DVR. To keep things neat and organized electric cable clips help to control all the cables that you may have. Wireless video transmitters can also be an option in some cases to cut down on the cable clutter.

Barn cameras are amazing for checking your barn for ewes in labor, lambing pens and young lambs, but remember you have the system year round. Be sure to maintain your cameras. You can take them down and store them for the summer or you can leave them up and clean them prior to lambing season. Either way be sure they are safe from rodents and farm equipment.

The options are endless and can be overwhelming. The good news is that there are companies that can do it for you. Asking questions along the way can be helpful when you are trying to put all the information together in your head.

Lambing time can be so hectic; barn cameras can be such a great resource. Beware that systems can have blind spots, and as you can imagine the ewes certainly find those spots! Barn cameras may not save every lamb but they will give more rest to the shepherd.


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