“This farm has come a long way in the past year,” said Chris Nydegger, supervisor of Cadillac Sow 1 near Blairsburg, Iowa. “It’s great to see how much pride they have in their farm and how far they’ve come.”
Sow 1 has been the top performing farm at Iowa Select Farms for the past nine months, but things haven’t always been so great.
The end of 2017 was a period of change for the team at Cadillac Sow 1. They were just finishing up a four month depop/repop, a process that involves removing every animal from the farm to help mitigate disease and welcome a completely new herd. At the same time, they were trying to become a team, get to know their new manager, Rick Chamberlin, and figure out how to work together.
Three months after the repop, the farm broke with PRRS—Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome.
“It was tough,” recalled Shawn Kliegl, heat checking specialist at Sow 1. “We had worked really hard during the depop knowing we’d have a clean, healthy farm and that just wasn’t the case. It was pretty disheartening.”
In the months following the PRRS break, the crew worked long days, followed strict biosecurity protocols and implemented the McRebel system, a time-consuming and meticulous farrowing management technique that minimizes the risk of pathogen spread. It was draining—both physically and emotionally.
“PRRS can be very frustrating for a farm because they’ll work hard and do everything right, but still not see results,” said Chris. “Complications during farrowing rise, conception rates fall and mortality increases. It can really take a toll on farm staff.”
But, all that hard work paid off. By the end of the first quarter of 2018, the farm was officially PPRS-negative and they also managed to earn the number one spot in Iowa Select Farms’ SelectPride award system.
“I think PRRS made us stronger as a team,” said Hannah Holm, farrowing department head. “We know how bad it can be and none of us ever want to go through that again. Now, we’re very consistent with how we do things every day.”
While each day differs a bit from the previous, consistency is the name of the game at Sow 1.
“We know that we’re lucky to have a somewhat tenured team,” continued Hannah. “Because of that, everyone knows what’s expected and holds themselves accountable. We have daily meetings to review our numbers. If anything has dropped we’re hard on ourselves. You could say we’re a pretty competitive group.”
Quarter two brought another set of challenges to the farm—gilts.
“You could definitely say that was a shock for us,” chuckled Hannah. “Our farrowing numbers dropped and it was a hard adjustment. We had new animals who had not farrowed more than one or two times, so it created a lot of additional work.”
Gilts are female pigs that have never farrowed before, and they require a lot more time and attention from animal caretakers. It’s all hands on deck helping them farrow and providing their litters, which are typically much smaller, a warm, dry environment and ensuring every newborn piglet receives colostrum.
Thanks to positive attitudes, consistency and strong attendance, the team got through it and even earned themselves another first place spot in SelectPride rankings in the second quarter of 2018.
To motivate themselves internally, the farm has competitions and know the importance of celebrating small victories.
“Even if our numbers are good, we always want to do better,” said Stanley Weeks, breeding department head. “Last quarter we weaned 30,000 pigs and consistently had 96-97% PCP (pregnancy check positive), some of our highest rates ever, but we still think we can do more.”
Stanley’s talking about quarter three of 2018 and you guessed it—the farm earned first place again.
“This farm is really in a sweet spot,” explained Chris. “Beyond having a great herd in the height of productivity, Hannah and Stanley have learned so much from Rick, matured as leaders and followed through with what had to be done each and every day to be successful.”
“Everyone has bought in and that makes all the difference,” said Rick. “They all get it and are working towards the same goals. We work together as a team, not individuals. Everyone knows that power washing is just as important as breeding. No job on this farm is more important than another.”
Congratulations to the entire team at Cadillac Sow 1 for an outstanding 2018. Way to rock first place in Q1, Q2, Q3 and also a first place finish for 2018 overall!
The farm team consists of manager Rick Chamberlin, breeding department head Stanley Weeks, assistant breeding department head Luis Hernandez, farrowing department head Hannah Holm, breeding lead Gustavo Rios, heat checking specialist Shawn Kliegl, day one specialists Cielo Solis and Lena Powell, newborn pig specialist Mariah Lester and animal caretakers Riley Burke, Lane Carpenter, Kayla Flores, Blake Holdgrafer, SirDarius Moore, Baylee Nicholl-DeLong and Tyler Stolz.