Working Together And Working Smarter at Davis Sow Farm

posted on Friday, March 2, 2018

“Our motto is work smarter, not harder,” said Lawra Mathes, manager at Davis Sow Farm near Murray. “Some days it feels like you take two steps forward and four steps back, but I suppose that’s the nature of the beast. You just have to keep jumping the hurdles and take things one day at a time.”

After breaking with PRRS, most days seem like an uphill battle at Davis Sow Farm, but Mathes and her team are working hard toward cleaning up things up and getting back into the SelectPride Top Ten.

Mathes, who is fairly new as a manager, began her career with Iowa Select Farms nearly five years ago as an entry-level technician. After spending time at a GDU in Murray, Mathes transferred to a nearby sow farm and alongside Manager Philip Barncastle, Mathes learned about breeding, heat and pregnancy checking, body condition scoring, farrowing, colostrum management, and many other important production practices. And whether she knew it or not, Mathes was also being trained to become a manager someday.

“When I was training her, Lawra was a sponge-like employee who soaked up as much new information as possible,” recalled Barncastle. “She wanted to understand how and why we do things the way we do and had very high expectations to be the best.

“She’s a very competitive person, but I will always be better,” joked Barncastle, acknowledging the sibling-esque bond he and Mathes share. “Lawra’s like my sister, and even with her current team now she tries to establish a family-type atmosphere. She is very competitive, but at the end of the day truly wants nothing but the best for those around her.”

As a new manager Mathes says when it comes to making mistakes, she is her biggest critic. But the important thing is that she is always learning and growing. “It’s tough being in charge and not always having another person right next to you making timely decisions,” she explained. “When you are short-staffed, the manager part of my job goes away and you become an entry-level technician again. That is how you keep a team going -- they see you’re not afraid to do what they do every day.”

For everyone at Sow 21, it’s all about respect and supporting one another. The most important goal for the farm right now is to be healthy and get back to full production. The farm has their sights set on their pre-PRRS break production numbers, including an 89.2% farrowing rate and pregnancy loss of only 2.7%.

“Commitment and follow through would best describe Lawra and her team,” said Mark Lee, the farm’s current Supervisor. “I have no doubt they will get things back on track. This is a very hard working crew.”

“Lawra is very committed to the farm and ensuring that everything gets done correctly every day,” echoed Dan Dean, Senior Sow Supervisor. “She does a good job of training her people and building a team that is successful.”

Mathes says her team works hard, and they don’t like to see that hard work be taken away overnight. With the recent PRRS outbreak and working hard to “clean” the farm up, they now understand why biosecurity is so important. “Since breaking with PRRS my team pays extra attention to biosecurity,” said Mathes. “We followed the steps before, but now that the health of our farm depends on it, everyone goes above and beyond to make sure we’re following every single protocol the best way possible.”

And when things get even more tough, Mathes isn’t afraid to reach out to previous coworkers for support when things get tough. “I have two managers from previous farms, Phillip (Jones Sow Farm Mgr) and Doug (Derby Sow Farm Mgr), that I still call when I have questions,” Mathes continued. “They are always willing to help. As a manager, you also have to have a good bond with your supervisor. They have been my savior, especially when I first started in this position. Iowa Select Farms is a family and everyone is here to help.”

It hasn’t been an easy year for Sow 21. In addition to breaking with PRRS and having a staff of only eight people with no department heads, everyone ends up working long days and take turns working every other weekend. Goals are not being hit and there hasn’t been enough time to fully train the newer team members. “We take each day as it comes.” Mathes says. “We stay focused and positive and know things will turn out okay.”

Sow 21 has a lot of goals that they plan to get started on right away once the farm is PRRS-negative. One of the most important goals is to be (and stay!) a healthy farm so they can find their way back into the top production rankings of the company. The second most important goal is to become fully staffed and have two department heads. Also on the list of goals are to meet all targets provided, pass audits and have no accidents. “Most of all, I want to make sure we continue having a happy crew,” Mathes said with a smile. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have a great farm.”