"We support each other every single day"

posted on Thursday, March 16, 2017

“We support each other every single day,” said Sawyer Hrdlicka, the breeding lead at Sow 36. “We know our responsibilities and what’s expected of us, but we try to help out whenever we can. I think when you reach that point with your job— when you generally want to help each other and grow together as a team—that’s when you’ve really succeeded.”

With the Sow 36 farm acquired last July, several members of the breeding department chose to remain at the farm and work for Iowa Select Farms. “It’s been a really positive experience so far,” said Sawyer. “This team has grown a lot in a short period of time. It’s kind of crazy to look back to last summer and think about all of the new things we’ve learned.”

Sawyer’s breeding team includes Josh Parker and Tony Thomas, but it’s not uncommon for the members of the farrowing department to be found helping out on a daily basis. “It’s not something we really think twice about,” said Carol Thomas, a farrowing technician at the farm. “We’re like a family. We help them out and they help us out.”

Breeding teams are responsible for overseeing the health of the gilts and sows through good care, proper nutrition and monitoring health and body condition closely. They also oversee the breeding and reproductive cycle which includes heat checking, breeding the sows and then ultrasounding to confirm pregnancy.

Quality gilts and healthy sows—paired with good breeding techniques—drive farrowing rate, total born and born alive and the Sow 36 team is succeeding is all of those areas. They are currently hitting a 91.39% farrowing rate (the percentage of “confirmed pregnancies that result in litters) which is well over the company target of 88%, as well as a 14.6 total born (company target is 14.4 total born) and a 13.1 born alive (company target is 13.2).

Sawyer and his breed team have worked hard to maintain and improve their results by changing insemination techniques and even altering how they heat check. Leading the training effort was Caleb Lidtke, soon-to-be manager of Sow 24 and Lindsay Larson, Breed Lead at Sow 23. Both committed to leaving their farms near Riceville to help develop the new team at Sow 36, agreeing to a 30 day relocation…which ultimately led to six months at the farm.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” said Caleb. “Lindsay and I were going through the company’s Production Leadership Program and this was an opportunity to step outside of our comfort zones and implement everything that we had been learning in a very realistic setting.”

Specifically, Caleb and Lindsay focused on training Sawyer and his team on heat checking protocols and post cervical artificial insemination (PCAI) techniques, along with creating daily schedules and record-keeping. This meant learning how to input records and maneuver through Tools and Metafarms, Iowa Select Farms production software programs.

Lindsay, who helped trained the team on PCAI, said Sawyer and his team were great to work with. “Nearly everyone on the farm had prior experience and were proficient in traditional artificial insemination,” said Lindsay. “Once they started to see the benefits and efficiency of PCAI, they were definitely on board and committed to what they were learning.”

Simply put PCAI, or post-cervical artificial insemination, is a breeding technique that Iowa Select Farms utilizes which involves a “rod” that passes through the cervix and places semen further into the uterine track. “It is a more efficient, accurate breeding process that requires less semen,” said Lindsay. In addition to changing up the heat checking methods, PCAI was one of the first techniques that Caleb and Lindsay taught the group.

“Working with the two of them has been really helpful,” said breeding technician Tony Thomas. “Before they came to the farm, we had never even heard of PCAI. Once we started to see how much time we were shaving off our daily tasks, I think that’s when it really clicked. We’re a pretty competitive group so when we realized we could be more efficient and effective, that was pretty cool.”

“Looking back, I think we’re so glad we took the opportunity that was presented to us,” explained Caleb. “It was rewarding leaving the farm for the last time thinking about all that they had accomplished and how much the team at 36 grew. I’m proud of everyone’s hard work, patience and willingness to work alongside of us. This is going to be a big year for them, I can’t want to see what they do.”

To say it’s been a busy couple of months for Sawyer, Josh, Tony, Daphne and the entire team at Sow 36 would be an understatement. “It’s a great team,” said Mark Lee, Sow Supervisor for the farm. “The sow herd is very strong, everyone is working together and focusing on hitting their production goals—they’ve certainly found their groove!”

Mark, who keeps pushing all of his teams to keep improving, says Sawyer and his crew will soon start increasing their breeding targets by 20/week. “We’re competitive and aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon—under the leadership of Rogelio, Amy and Sawyer, Sow 36 is going to go places it never has before.” #billionplus