I tell my teams to take care of the animals and facilities and they will take care of you
We asked Shawn a simple question, “How do you approach improving a farm?”
With every farm working to hit daily and weekly production targets—which are then rolled up into the SelectPride recognition program and the results are pushed back out to the farms weekly—farms at the top of the list are working to stay there, and farms on the bottom of the list are trying to climb their way up...which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Health, genetics, seasonality, sow parity and team culture all play a role.
“Oftentimes we ask experienced farm managers to oversee a second farm, or help troubleshoot, provide training or simply lend their expertise,” said Dan. “Even though the teams at the farms are highly competitive, we also have a tremendous culture of ‘selfless service’, and I can’t think of a time when any manager hesitated to jump in and help another team get better.”
With over 20 years of experience in sow production—12 of those managing a farm and more recently managing both Sow 12 Kielsmeier and Sow 13 Miller—Shawn is just one of those managers whose strengths include production troubleshooting, developing and training teams and establishing a culture of accountability, all in an effort to improve the results of the farm. Shawn shared just a few ways he approaches helping a farm get back on its feet.
Crosstrain, crosstrain, crosstrain—As you walk through either of Shawn’s farms the most apparent thing you’ll notice is how fluid the crew is and their ability to cover for anyone, any time. Even Shawn has no problem jumping in to help heat check or dry off newborn piglets. He’s mastered every job on the farm and helps his employees do the same.
Set production expectations and challenge each other — “This is a metrics-based business, all measuring the performance, health and care of the animals,” said Shawn. “Everyone has to understand the numbers and how they get improved, and then convince every single person on the farm of how much of an impact they truly have—because they do.”
Farms need really strong leads—a lot rests on the shoulders of farrowing and breeding department heads and day one and breed leads. “Work to get these guys and gals to be the best they can be,” said Shawn. “We’ve always been a company that has developed leaders from within, and we’re all accountable to help each other out. It’s what makes the farms strong.”
Stay focused on pig care, and make sure everyone’s doing it the right way— “It’s okay to look at yourself or ask someone, ‘am I doing this right?’ There’s 1,000 things to do in a day, but the pigs are always the main focus, always. Things like heat checking, AI’ing, hot boxing, checking for colostrum and adjusting heat lamps are all critical and have to be done right, every time.” Which leads into the next point…
Sometimes you need to retool and retrain— If the numbers aren’t there, go back and retrain your teams. “Go back to the SOPs and review step by step,” said Shawn. “Take the time to explain why these steps are important and make sure you’re working smarter and not harder in your everyday work. Always be prepared and have what you need without backtracking or wasting trips or energy."
Shawn also moves people around until he finds the right fit. “He assesses talent, develops people and gets then in the right spot on the farm,” said Dan. “Not everyone is cut out to be a department head, but they can be a dang good technician in breeding or farrowing. He makes sure he understands what people want and where they want to go, and gets them engaged at all levels.”
Come together as one team—Every farm has a farrowing department and a breeding department, but one cannot operate without the other. “The crews at Sow 12 and Sow 13 are awesome,” said Shawn. “If anyone calls in sick or takes a day off it’s not a huge deal because they all have each other’s backs. It’s not ‘this side or that side,’ or a title. They are efficient, reliable and hardworking and know what they are doing on both sides of the farm.”
Celebrate when hard work pays off—Before recent disease struggles, Sow 13 Kielsmeier was climbing. “I tell my teams to ‘take care of the animals and facilities and they will take care of you,’” said Shawn, who said it’s fun to watch production numbers climb and watch the crew realize the impact they are making. “We went from weaning 25,000 pigs a quarter on a farm to 32,000 a quarter (target is 31,240) and it was a tremendous accomplishment for the team. It proves that hard work pays off and it’s been rewarding to watch the team be enthusiastic.”
“Shawn is a builder,” said Dan. “He builds plans, builds teams and more importantly, can build a culture where everyone on the team believes they can get that farm to the top of the list—because they can.”
Shawn has been with Iowa Select Farms for 20 years, first starting as a technician at Sow 12, them moving up into the farrowing and breeding department head positions. In 2005 he took over as farm manager of Wright Sow Farm (Sow 25), then was promoted once again in 2015 into a multi-site farm manager role overseeing Sow 12 and Sow 13. “I really enjoy being a dual site manager because it’s two completely different cultures, but I love to see the farms working together and being successful.” #billionpounds