“Farm security” used to be synonymous with “watchdog” or maybe “shotgun,” but farms have gotten a whole lot bigger than even a big dog or a light sleeper can protect. And farm equipment and inventory haven’t gotten any cheaper to replace.
For that reason, I have long been a proponent of using cameras for both farm operations (e.g. being able to see what’s going on in a livestock barn while you’re in bed) and farm security.
For operational use, IP cameras are easy (as long as you have a network). Just hook up a camera, find its IP address on your router, and use a phone, tablet, or computer to take a look any time you want. If you want to see it when you’re off your network, port-forward to the camera from your router.
For security use, however, you want to watch it all the time. Staying up all night staring at the computer screen is not really practical, but there are some good alternatives. My favorite one is a program called “Sighthound.” It runs on your Windows PC or Mac, it’s reasonably priced ($250 as I’m writing this), As long as you have a machine that’s on 24×7 (like my desktop machine), it’s a great solution.
Sitehound has a number of attractive attributes:
- Runs on either Windows or Mac
- Works with a very broad variety of cameras
- Very easy to set up and use
- Object-based motion tracking instead of just motion detection
That last point deserves some explanation – simple motion detection (like the built-in detection on inexpensive IP cameras) just looks for pixels to change from frame to frame, and they “alarm” if a certain percentage of the pixels in the picture change. The problem is that a lot of the pixels change any time the lighting changes (sunup, sundown, sun going behind the clouds, etc.) so you get a lot of false alarms. Better systems allow you to specify “zones” for motion detection, so you are only considering the part of the picture you are actually concerned with. This reduces, but does not eliminate these “false positives.” But Sighthound uses a much more accurate (albeit processor-intensive) method to identify and track moving objects in the picture. In the picture here, Sighthound is tracking the dog walking through the living room – you can see the dog in the yellow box near the bottom of the screen. This video was recorded automatically from the moment the dog moved until she went out of sight. However, even on a day when clouds are crossing the sun and the light coming through the window is almost constantly changing, it doesn’t record unless the dog (or something else) moves.
Sighthound has a number of really nice features, including a built-in webserver which allows you to view it from another computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can port-forward to your computer and access Sighthound from anywhere on the Internet.
Sighthound is, of course, no better than the cameras and computer you are using – if they are poorly set up, unreliable, or have poor connections to the network, Sighthound will fail to work properly. But, if your computer, network, and cameras are reliable, Sighthound can provide outstanding monitoring and alerting for your farm or ranch.