#4 Training, Auditing and Certification

posted on Friday, January 13, 2017

“As a company we are changing how we do things, and how we audit and continuously improve animal well-being and biosecurity is one of them,” said Rick Chamberlin, Farm Manager for Sow 1. “When the Production Well-Being Department was founded five years ago, I think we took it the wrong way, because nobody cared more about the farm and the animals than myself and my team, but we’ve come a long, long way.”

Rick is referring to 2011, when Iowa Select Farms formed the five-member Production Well-Being (PWB) Department comprised of four specialists and one director. The PWB team verifies all 700 farms follow the practices and protocols set in place to ensure all animals are getting the proper care.

Utilizing the National Pork Board’s Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA), which was the outcome of feedback sessions involving a broad number of producers, packers and customers, the PWB team enhanced it to develop their own unique assessment tool.

“The internal assessment tool developed by our team covers everything in the CSIA, but has been tailored to go more in-depth and align with company production practices and expectations,” said Cassandra Jass, DVM and Director of Production Well-Being. “In addition to our own internal auditing system, we rely on third-party CSIA audits to verify our work and give ourselves a report card to ensure our internal audits and training is meeting or exceeding industry expectations.”

In addition to creating the custom assessment tool, the new department took on biosecurity compliance, the responsibility of key training pieces, animal well-being training for new employees, annual Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus certification for every single employee and contractor and Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) certification for drivers.

While it may seem like a small team, the PWB specialists completed 971 animal well-being and biosecurity audits in 2016. “The PWB team has transitioned from being just auditors to connecting with caretakers and standing alongside of me during my staff meeting as we have an open dialog about things that matter and will make this farm better,” said Rick, who recently left Sow 3 to take over the reins of Sow 1. “Our biosecurity auditor, Brian Hermann, is excellent. He is honest and up front, and to become better as a farm and as a company that is exactly what we need. Our audits here (at Sow 1) keep climbing up, and that’s what makes my job fun.”

“In fact, just the other day we had an intense discussion on the cleanliness of transition rooms (buffer areas that Iowa Select Farms established in an effort to reduce the risk of disease entering the farm),” said Rick. “The team had cleaned it, but Brian is a perfectionist, and perfection is what he expects. We all walked out to the transition room and he showed everyone how to do it the way he expected as an auditor. And they were all on board, because they know the job they do cleaning can make an impact on herd health.”

“The cooperation is at a level that I have never seen before,” said Jeff DeWeese, PWB Specialist. “I am lucky in that every day I see a new farm, a new set of pigs, and a new team of people. I get to see first-hand how hard they work and how much they care. At the end of the day, we’re another set of eyes looking at not one thing, but everything. Our farm managers appreciate the objective and measurable feedback and we all work together on a training plan to improve; everyone is engaged and driven to better because it’s the right thing to do.”

Many of the sow farms also have cameras installed capturing round the clock footage of the people, animal, supply entry points, the main hallways where animals are moved and the farrowing rooms. “We started out routinely assessing the footage for biosecurity breaches and issues with animal handling, an area that causes the most safety issues for employees,” said Jeff. “If we see someone trying to move too many sows at a time or without a sort board we can do not one but two things—retrain the employees to make moving animals easier for them and also help save a sore knee.”

In his role, Jeff has gone one step further by receiving CSIA training from the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), a well-respected organization that is the leading authority on certifying auditors to evaluate the well-being of animals used for agriculture. In fact, Jeff was one of the first livestock animal well-being auditors to go through the training and is now authorized to help administer CSIA curriculum.

In 2016, the Production Well-Being, Health Services and Production teams all worked together to create a broader training program complete with educational materials for new practices and protocols introduced to the farms. Topics such as properly identifying a treated animal with paint sticks (color, placement) all the way to how to record propane tank readings were collected and pushed out in a “Best Practice” bulletin along with a log for managers to use as a training record.

“Our caretakers are truly the foundation of animal care and strive to make sound decisions and do what is best for the pigs in their care every day,” said Cassandra. “We are here to help train, educate and give them as much support as we can make sure our pigs are getting the best care possible, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”