#5 Better Early Pig Care and More Pigs Saved

posted on Sunday, January 8, 2017

“It’s been all hands on deck, and I couldn’t be more proud of what the team accomplished in 2016,” said Allen Whiley, Director of Finishing, referring to fact that caretakers successfully turned around the health of 70,000 more “challenged” pigs compared to 2015, adding an extra 19,250,000 pounds of pork to the billion pound journey.

“We got really serious about what it was going to take to push the needle on reducing finishing mortality, and everyone put in a lot of extra time and effort into making an individual impact and helping each other out,” said Whiley.

The highest rate of finishing mortality happens in the nurseries when pigs are newly weaned and learning how to adjust to their new food, new pen mates and new environment. Most pigs identified as “challenged” by the health services staff, supervisors and caretakers are commonly diagnosed with respiratory-related diseases, strep, staph, mycoplasma, PRRS and TGE or rotaviral diarrhea, are small in size or they become injured from fighting amongst themselves to establish a pecking order.

“Communication was a big part in what made the difference,” said Shannon Loyd, finishing supervisor for Iowa Select Farms. “We had more people in the barns with their eyes on the pigs, worked more closely with health services, worked harder to plan and prepare for the weaned pigs, and had a faster flow of data coming back to us which allowed us to respond quicker with a treatment regimen when it was needed.”

“I try to make it to all my weaned sites three times a week to join my growers and caretakers who are walking the pens daily.” said Nick Langel, Finishing Supervisor. Both Nick and Shannon said being “plugged in” and there for all of the site managers is one of the biggest and most important responsibilities of being a supervisor, along with keeping in close contact with the health services team.

Shannon said the first thing he does to prepare for a load of newly weaned pigs is to work with the site managers to get the barn set up right. That means they check the brooders and tips to make sure they supply heat, check the curtains and fans, test the heaters, set out the water bars, prepare supplies and products that encourage eating and aid in hydration, and then complete the fill plan.

“The fill plan is the most important tool we have to prepare for a challenged flow,” said Shannon, referring to flows that come from PRRS or myco-positive sow farms. When managers and supervisors get a notification they will receive pigs, they work with their vets to create a custom plan based on the sow farm they came from, their health status, the number of pigs and what vaccinations they already have.

“I look hard at the sow source mortality at previous sites to see how they are doing,” said Nick. “If I am getting pigs from Sow 24, I look up the data of finishers that previously received pigs from Sow 24 to give me a glimpse of what to expect.”

“It’s a teamwork philosophy,” said Shannon. “The site manager and caretakers are in the pens observing the animals every day, supervisors visit every site twice or three times a week and the veterinarians and senior supervisors are in and out of the farms also. Everyone is working together, sharing information and responding.”

“Our teamwork is the best it’s ever been in the 20 years I’ve worked for Iowa Select Farms,” said Tom Boge, Finishing Supervisor. Everyone brings something to the table, and whenever I have questions my team members jump in to help, we all do that for each other. Boge, who served for 17 years in the Iowa Army National Guard says he always goes back to his military mentality of Together, Everyone Achieves More (TEAM).

“Our support service teams also play an important part in contributing to our success,” said Boge. “They and are always fine tuning their systems for supply ordering, maintenance work tickets and human resource processes to make things go easier and faster so the supervisors, managers and caretakers on the 'front lines' are able to spend more time looking at our pigs.”

Shannon said caretaker crews are also quick to help each other out. “If I have some employees whose nurseries are a few days out from being filled, they go to other farms to help.”

Nursery manager Barb Conger said saving pigs is all in the details. “You have to start them out in warm, dry barns and use the brooders and heat lamps for extra warmth, then sort out the small ones right away and get them grueling.”

She also sprinkles feed on the mats (also called mat feeding) twice a day to make sure they get up, walk around and find the feed and water. “The newest pigs get creep feed in the feeders and gruel bowls to entice them to eat.”

“After that we walk the pens for fallbacks, weans that are not finding the water or feed or are sick,” explains Barb. “We move them to a special pen and get them restarted. It all makes a big difference.”