Overseeing Some of Our Largest Breeding Projects to Date

posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Super. Human. Powers. We’re referring to the strong and resilient Monica Dodge, who has been the central coordinator of the breeding projects for Sow 32, 33 and 34. And for the last year her world has been in constant motion, overseeing some of our largest breeding projects to date, and coordinating a team of seasoned GDU managers, employees “on loan” from other farms, interns, and anyone else who has time to spare.

Before we get any further, we’ve got future stories on a few other super humans—Chris Bessman, Ed Fry, Doug Gillmore, Darren Fisher, Jamie Chaplin—a few of our pretty amazing gilt development managers who have powered through eight breeding projects in the last two years.

Monica has worked for Iowa Select Farms for 17 years, starting at Sow 12 as a technician. “I grew up on a dairy farm where we also had pigs and horses, and I have always loved working with animals,” said Monica. Soon after starting at the sow farm, she moved over to work in gilt developers with Bessman. While the work at those GDUs was challenging, it was also consistent and manageable as they provided gilts for just one farm—Sow 14.

The work began last November, when Monica was asked to coordinate the breeding of the 8,100 gilts needed to stock Sow 32 located near Derby. Her team was to be spread across ISOPork and Hunt gilt developers, two brand new filtered farms located near Ackley and Iowa Falls.

“Jumping into the breeding project with these managers was absolutely hectic but at the same time absolutely rewarding,” said Monica. “We had to learn how to run the farm, we needed to train several brand new employees and the sheer volume of animals and breeds we were responsible for was something we had never done. I had spent the last 16 years breeding 40-80 gilts a week, and now we needed to breed 375-425 a week.”

As the gilts began arriving at the farm, responsibilities were divvied up between the experienced managers and Monica got to work training. She patiently began teaching her new team members how to move the gilts, heat check, identify and document HNS (a gilts first heat cycle, recorded as Heat, No Service), artificially inseminate, ultrasound, monitor for health issues and most importantly, watch for pigs fighting—a big risk when housing gilts in open pens. “These pigs are our babies, we have to make sure bred gilts stay bred,” said Monica.

“Monica trained not less than 30 people so they could jump in and hit the ground running,” said Jeremiah Hall, Director of Gilt Development. “The production training was all second nature for her— it’s just the fact that it was multiplied 30 times. She took a tremendous amount of ownership in the project, in fact it was very difficult to convince her to take a break.”

As much as she owns it, Monica insists that every single person’s contribution to the breeding project was necessary for it to be successful. “There was a lot of work that needed done, and everyone shouldered a huge load,” said Monica. “Everyone pitched in on covering the little details just as much as the bigger jobs.”

“It wasn’t long before we could see the impact this breeding project team was going to have on the success of our future sow farms,” said Hall. “Her breeding project team was hitting a 94.3% PCP (confirmed pregnancies) average across 20 weeks, which is outstanding,” said Hall. “That’s two percent above company target for PCP rate. And later we would find out from the sow farms that those gilts from the breeding project were farrowing at 93 percent, three whole percentage points above target.

By July, Monica had been at it every single day for seven months straight. In fact, both Monica and Chris passed on holidays, vacation days, personal days, and neither took a sick day. “Leading into the 4th of July weekend, several of us got together and ran the farm for them, we just took it over,” laughed Hall. “We probably screwed a few things up, but they needed a break, and there was nothing we could do that Monica couldn’t fix when she returned.”

Monica admits that delegating at first was hard, but the experience really helped her grow as a manager. “When Chris and I ran the smaller farms, it was easy to be involved in every little detail, and we wanted to be,” said Monica. “But with this project, I couldn’t be part of every treatment, every service, every HNS (heat, no service observation). I learned to train well and began to trust in people to get the job done, and they did great.”

Jeremiah added that it was rewarding to see the tremendous leadership exhibited by Monica and the GDU managers throughout the duration of the projects, and also to see all of these employees gel as a team, something that everyone agrees makes the day go quicker.

“The fact that we all came together and worked as one cohesive team with no bickering—but plenty of joking around— is what made it all work,” said Monica. “I believe you have to enjoy your job to be successful, and I think we have done that!”