By Ann Marie Ames
You’d have to look hard to find a guy more dedicated to his pigs than Jacob Wolf. Twice a day — before and after class — Wolf walks his employer’s three wean-to-finish barns in eastern Iowa. His pride and enthusiasm in his work are visible from a mile away.
“I have learned how important my daily chores are, and how my work every day makes a difference in our pigs’ performance,” says Wolf, 19, of Independence, Iowa. “How they grow reflects on how well we take care of them at our site, and I’m proud of that.”
Even the most dedicated employee needs an assist sometimes, especially when he’s working with 3,600 pigs. One of the people on Wolf’s team is Pat Donnelly, a Purina Animal Nutrition livestock production specialist at B&B Farm Store in Jesup, Iowa.
“It’s not that I do anything different than Jacob does, but when you’re in the same barn every day, sometimes the details start to blur,” Donnelly says. “Someone with a fresh set of eyes can see something you might have missed.”
How long has it been since you’ve had a fresh set of eyes in your barns? Are you missing details someone else might see? What would you tell someone to look for if you were teaching him or her to walk your barns? Here are some reminders from Wolf and Donnelly to help you keep your barn-walk routine fresh.
Environment is king
Small changes can have big impacts on how well pigs perform, Donnelly says.
“The barn environment is the No. 1 thing affecting pig performance, and a lot of factors make up that environment,” Donnelly says. “If an animal’s not comfortable, it’s not going to perform.
“If you and I were asked to sit in an office that was 40 degrees or 110 degrees, our work would not be real productive, either,” he says.
Get every pig up
“Before I get too far into the barn, I quietly observe how active the pigs are,” Donnelly says. “Then I walk the pens to get them up and moving. It’s important to get all the pigs up every time, because the problem pigs are usually the ones hiding in the back corner.”
The best way to see the most pigs is to move slowly through the entire pen, Wolf says.
“When you move through the pen, you can see small groups of pigs moving past you,” Wolf says. “You might not get eyes on every single pig every day, but you should see things that stand out. And then you start to see patterns between pens. Those little details add up to a big picture.”
Keep feed moving
Consistent feed availability is key at any growth phase, Donnelly says.
“Any break in feed intake can cause setbacks that impact current performance and can exponentially impact future performance,” he says.
Wolf checks the feed, the feeders, and the waterers twice per day because so many things can interrupt feed intake. For example, moisture could get in feed lines and spoil feed. Feed could bridge in outside bins, or a motor could overheat, stopping flow into feeders. Water pressure could be too high or too low.
“All these things could lead to pigs being out of feed or water,” Wolf says. “That’s a good reason for me to check on pens every morning and night, even when the pigs are getting close to finishing. If you only check pens once per day, you have a longer period when things can go wrong. With so many moving parts in these barns, there’s a lot to keep track of.”
Taking the time to check on pigs twice daily and being thorough about his checklist is what makes Wolf successful, Donnelly says.
“It all comes down to being willing to pay attention to the most basic details, even when it feels boring,” Donnelly says. “Time spent getting the basics right will keep your pigs performing and your facilities working the way they should.”
Ames works for Filament in Madison, Wis. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for the little things
1. If there are multiple barns at a site, look at them as you drive in. Do you see any differences from the outside?
2. How are the pigs positioned in the pen? If they’re spread out and not touching, they’re probably too hot. If they’re starting to pile up, they’re too cold.
3. Before pigs start moving, what do you hear when you stand still and listen?
4. Walk the pens and get the pigs up. Listen for coughs or sneezing.
5. Take your time in each pen, and be sure every pig gets up. If one doesn’t, find out why.
6. Check feeders. The goal should be 50% pan coverage. More than that could lead to wasted feed. Less could mean pigs aren’t getting enough.
7. Check the feed. Is it fresh and flowing?
8. Walk by air inlets and be sure you feel adequate airflow. Visually inspect fans.
9. Check waterers. Is the water flowing fast enough? Is it spraying too fast?