"It makes a difference when you love what you do"

posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“It makes a difference when you love what you do,” said Amy Groen, farrowing department head at Sow 36. “We show up every day motivated to do better than we did the day before because pigs are our passion. We just love these animals.”

Amy leads the farrowing team comprised of day one lead Wendy Swarthout and technicians, Alex Nagel, Carol Thomas, Daphne Dobarganes and Hannah Langlois. Between these six people, there is certainly no shortage of determination, hard work and compassion at Sow 36. “This is more than just a job,” said Alex, a farrowing technician that has been with the farm since October. “When you’re here for more than a paycheck it shows in your work and production numbers.”

Together, the farrowing department oversees all aspects of birth-to-wean care. That care begins with monitoring sows closely as they are farrowing, keeping them comfortable and “sleeving” the sows if they are struggling, or if a long period have passed between piglet births.

Once the piglets are born, Amy and her team act quickly to get them warm and dry during this critical stage. Additionally, they keep a close eye on every single pig to ensure that within hours of birth they are suckling and receiving colostrum, an essential nutrient that plays a huge factor in the health and life expectancy of newborn piglets.

Sow 36 is currently in the top of the pack with an 83.41% total born conversion (TBC) in week 10, and a 12.3 average for piglets weaned per sow. TBC reflects the percentage of total pigs born (born alive, stills and mummies) that are successfully weaned and sent onto the nursery phase. Mother Nature never intended for large litter-bearing mammals—like the sow—to have every piglet survive and thrive, which is why high TBC’s are a strong reflection of the collective effort of the whole farm crew, especially the farrowing team.

During the farm’s transition process, this summer and fall, Sow 24 farm manager, Caleb Lidtke and Sow 33 farm manager, Kaci Pohlman both help Amy get her farrowing department trained and developed.

“This is a hard-working group of ladies who ask a lot of questions,” said Kaci, who has been back and forth between Sow 24 (her old farm), Sow 33 (her new farm) and Sow 36 for the past six months.
“They’ve experienced a lot of change this past year and rather than being apprehensive, it seems they’ve enjoyed having people come in and say, ‘Hey, let’s try it this way instead and see what the results are’. It’s required a complete shift in mentality for them, but it’s encouraging to see how much they have grown not just as excellent animal caretakers, but as leaders on the farm.”

As far as supplemental training goes, the farm doesn’t shy away from the importance of getting back to basics. “Sometimes it’s just walking through barns and checking to make sure that all of the heat lamps are working,” said Amy. “We know the importance of maintaining a warm, comfortable environment for these sows and their babies. From lamps and feed lines to waterers and ventilation – every little thing is important and plays a part in the big picture.”
The big picture Amy is referring to is producing nearly 100,000 weaned pigs in 2017 to contribute to the company’s #billionplus goal—10 billion, 57 million pounds of pork, to be exact.

And the team is pushing hard to keep improving. “Right now, the focus is on building a strong day one care team,” said Mark Lee, Sow 36 Supervisor. “Amy, Wendy and the entire team have done a tremendous job thus far and we’ve seen a lot of positive changes already within the department. We’re making tweaks every day and nailing down daily schedules and responsibilities. They improve every day and I’m proud of them.”

Farrowing technician Carol Thomas agreed. “Right now we’re focusing on getting our total born numbers up,” she said. “We meet twice a week to discuss our goals and ensure that everyone is on the same page. We all understand our roles and how we can make an impact on the numbers and we are willing to help each other out and hold each other accountable. At the end of the day, we feel most accomplished when we’re working alongside each other accomplishing our goals together, and I think that’s pretty special.” #billionplus