Metrics: the key to success

posted on Thursday, February 11, 2016

Our first leg of the finishing journey is a glimpse into how we set goals, measure the outcomes and make improvements on our finishing farms. Any pork producer will tell you that good health and good care directly equates to good performance of an animal raised for food production. And when we measure performance we don’t mean the results of the 400-meter race, in swine production we are constantly collecting, sharing and analyzing data and information to guide the course of action of our caretaking teams and overall business.

Our first round of information is collected when each day our caretakers walk the pens to observe the animals. They use their senses and technical training to assess the barn environment, the behavior of the animals and identify sick or “fall-behind” animals. Those observations and actions become part of the farm records and are logged daily into the “Tools” web application.

Tools refers to an innovative data collection system that allows us to have real time access to farm information such as feed orders, treatment records, pit levels, water usage and inventories. Developed by Iowa Select Farms’ information technology team and paired with high speed internet and computers at all 700 farms, the Tools application gives site managers the ability to quickly communicate to support teams and the production leadership team, all working together to troubleshoot problems and respond quickly if problems are surfaced.

To further enhance the information collected in Tools and other data input areas from our farms, we transfer data to our production analytics provider, MetaFarms. MetaFarms helps complete the story on their health, nutrition, growth and overall performance. MetaFarms is a powerful analytics tool that provides record keeping, production indexing, benchmarking and analysis to over
500 pork producers.

While there is an enormous amount of data flowing through Tools and MetaFarms on any given day, there are some key metrics that help us set and achieve goals.

When pigs come into the nursery stage of finishing they are referred to as weaned pigs, and the first metric we capture is the average start weight, which in 2015 averaged 13 pounds*. Nutrition is extremely important throughout the entire pig’s life, which is why we measure average daily feed intake, or simply put, how much each pig eats in a day. In the nursery stage daily feed intake is ideally 1.45 pounds* of feed, in the grower phase it’s 5.28 pounds* of feed a day—a huge jump!

If the pigs aren’t eating, then the caretakers start troubleshooting. The barn could be too warm, the feeder settings too tight, or the ventilation needs adjusted to allow for more or less air flow. Daily observation plus the metrics help determine the course of action for the caretaking teams.

Tied to nutrition are two more metrics—average daily gain and feed conversion. Average daily gain is simply the number of pounds a pig gained in one day (on average this is .93 pounds* in the nursery stage and 1.88 pounds* in the grower phase), and feed conversion is the amount of feed it took for one pound of gain (1.65 pounds* in nurseries, 2.81 pounds* in the grower phase).
The biggest metric in finishing is one we talk about relentlessly. Our teams talk weekly, daily and hourly about this subject, banning together as veterinarians, supervisors and farm managers to beat this metric down to the lowest possible percentage. We hate that it happens, but it’s a reality for all livestock farmers whether it’s cattle, sheep, turkeys, goats or hogs. We’re talking about mortality. And while mortality has decreased considerably over time thanks to better genetics, management and treatment options, it still exists.

According to MetaFarms, average mortality for 2015 was is 3.12%* in the nursery stage and 3.94%* in the finishing stage.
And for the final stage of the journey, we look at market weight. Our goal for this year is 280 pounds. Keep following our billion pound journey to learn more about finishing, and what we are doing this year to reach our goal. ‪#‎billionpounds‬

*All benchmarking metrics provided by MetaFarms, Preliminary 2015 Benchmarking Nursery, Finishing and Wean-to-Finish Closeouts, for all 500 producers in US and Canada