From farm to market

posted on Thursday, February 25, 2016

On this finishing journey we’ve talked about how we care for animals, how we measure performance and how we work together as a team. And because we raise animals to feed a hungry world, when they grow to 280 pounds it’s time to transport them to market (the packer, our customer), which is why our final post on the finishing journey explains the last step, fittingly named “marketing.”

All of the care and hard work put into getting the pigs to market weight can be quickly diminished without a good marketing plan. You see, our goal is to deliver the hogs as close to 280 pounds as we can. Think about when you visit the meat case at the grocery store or go to a restaurant, most meat managers and chefs alike want to provide their customers with a high quality, wholesome pork product that is consistently-sized every time. Our efforts during the marketing time period are critical to delivering hogs that have a consistent weight and size.

You learned earlier that pigs take approximately six months to grow from 12 pounds to 280 pounds, and at month five the marketing effort begins with supervisors previewing sites, identifying the heaviest pigs and turning in loads.

To establish the estimated load dates, the supervisor uses a formula taking the start weight (i.e. 12 pounds) and the site’s feed consumption data to trigger a suggested date to take the first cut. When the date draws close, the supervisor visits the site to assess the animals, turns in the loads via Tools (our web-based data collection and information system) and then a week later goes back to the site to begin marking pigs.

Depending on the size of the site and overall growth/age variance, the supervisor will organize four or five cuts—a first cut, two or three interim cuts and then the close out. The first cut is approximately 20 to 25 percent of a given population, which could range from 180 pounds to 300 pounds. Good training and experience gives each supervisor the ability to visually identify the biggest animals and then “marking” their backs with a soft color stick or color spray.

First cuts allow us to sort the biggest pigs out of each pen, opening up more space for the remaining pigs to grow over the course of the next three weeks. Those marked pigs are sorted into their own pens and then loaded onto the trailer which is bound for our customer, the packing plant.

Seven to 10 days later the first interim cut is taken, the next largest 20 to 25% of the population. At this point the supervisor makes a decision to take an addition interim cut, which normally happens, or skip one week and close the site. Seven more days pass and the supervisor again visits the site to mark a cut.

Approximately four weeks after the first cut the site is prepared for close out, which means all remaining pigs are counted and the number of markets, lights and culls are turned in via Tools. Pigs that are smaller (170 pounds to 225 pounds) are transported to a “light farm” to keep growing, and a small number of pigs are sent to a cull market.

Once a week the entire supervisor team gathers on a conference call to review the number of loads they are planning, then those numbers are relayed to both our customer and transportation department. The transportation team creates a schedule, assigns drivers to each load and the final schedule is produced.

The marketing process cannot happen without the dedicated people who sort, load and transport our hogs to our customer. Sort crews are specially trained to pre-sort the marked pigs out of the pens and consolidate into separate pens, then load crews safely move those designated pigs onto the trailers with as little stress as possible.

Crew members take four or five pigs at a time to the trailer, where they driver is positioned to count them and navigate them into sections on the truck. Once the sections are full and the truck is loaded (170 pigs per load) the driver is headed to one of two plants where the pigs are processed. Anywhere from 410-470 loads are delivered each week, with over half delivered during the night.

To meet our billion pound goal we will need to average 19,250,000 pounds a week, which is approximately 405 loads per week, or 68,750 pigs per week. With everyone’s efforts, we will make the billion pound goal in 2016. ‪#‎billionpounds‬