Resilient Team at Clarke Sow 20 Earn "Most Improved" in Q2
"This farm went through one of the toughest, most unexpected PRRS breaks I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around for a while,” said Mark Lee, a sow supervisor who has spent nearly 30 years working in the swine industry, six of those at Iowa Select Farms. “From a production standpoint, this farm was at ground zero.”
Mark is talking about Clarke Sow 20 near Murray, Iowa. Managed by Melissa (Missy) Hunsucker, the farm experienced an unforeseen setback in early 2018 that resulted in production numbers and morale plummeting. But since then, they’ve regrouped and maintained a steady uphill climb. The farm was even recognized as the “Most Improved Sow Farm” in quarter two of 2018.
“To say it’s been a tough year is an understatement,” said Missy. “Weeks would pass and we’d wonder if things would ever get better. Luckily they have, but we weren’t always so sure.”
After breaking with PRRS on January 1, 2018, neither Missy, Mark or Dan Dean, director of sow production, knew what to do. Not only was Sow 20 located in an area that historically avoided PRRS, but the particular strain that the farm contracted was one they had never seen before. At the same time, the farm had animal caretaker positions available, no department heads and a crew that was very green. Simply put—they had their work cut out for them.
Missy, Mark and the farm team—Alfonso Torres, Raul Mora, Gabriel Mota, Mateo Bernal, Octavio Hernandez and Mayra Alarcon—didn’t miss a beat and got back right to work.
“We were working long hours and weekends,” recalled Missy. “Fourteen hour days weren’t uncommon. We’d joke how much we missed seeing the sun rise and set. We were tired, but still managed to laugh a lot.”
In between the laughter; however, there were also tears.
“When you’re working as long and hard as we were and still not seeing the results you want, it was frustrating,” said Missy. “It was hard to keep the tears back when you’re not weaning the number of pigs you’d expect.”
Throughout quarter one of 2018, the farm stayed consistent with their breeds, treatments, daily chores and observations, record keeping, heat and pregnancy checking. Their weekly mummies (fetus that did not survive early gestation) decreased from 28.5% to 8.9% (company goal is 2.8%) and their total born conversion increased from 38.4% to 70.1%.
“We latched onto every ounce of success we had,” recalled Mayra. “We knew we weren’t hitting company-wide goals and it was hard to stay motivated, so any little increase in our production was a win.”
At the beginning of quarter two the farm had their first litter with twelve pigs born alive.
“That was when we really started to believe things were working,” said Missy. “We were still in survival mode, but there was definitely a sense of hope.”
More than a year later, the farm still struggles with herd health, but they continue to see improvement. Their current 10-week average is 15.2 total born (TB) and 13.8 born alive (BA). A drastic improvement from quarter one, when they averaged 14.1 TB and 9.2 BA.
“If there’s a word to describe this manager and her team it’s resilient,” said Mark. “Missy really pulled up her boot straps, dug in and led a brand new crew through a difficult situation. They all showed how tough they were and I’m extremely proud of them.”
For Missy, it’s been one of the most trying experiences as a manager, but has also made her stronger and taught her the importance of motivating her team.
“My advice for other managers going through a similar situation is to let your team know how much you appreciate them,” she said. “I value my employees so much and know that we wouldn’t be where we are if they didn’t stick through it with me.”
Congratulations to Missy and the entire crew at Sow 20 for your true grit in 2018 and for receiving the “Most Improved Sow Farm” award in quarter two. Keep pushing!