Barns and the equipment within them are a major capital investment. It makes sense to invest time in maintenance, repairs and attention to detail to ensure the longevity of structures. Additionally, this positively impacts animal well-being and health. The Pork Quality Assurance Plus Site Assessment evaluates multiple items within the Indoor Facilities section. Questions address whether items are "in a good state of repair."
- Is the penning appropriate for the phase of production and in a good state of repair and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the animal?
- Is the flooring appropriate for the phase of production and in a good state of repair and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the animal?
- Are the chutes, if located on site, in a good state of repair and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the animal?
- Are the alleyways in a good state of repair and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the animal?
- Are the feeders in a good state of repair to allow for unobstructed feed delivery and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the pigs?
- Are the waterers in a good state of repair and positioned to allow for unobstructed water delivery and not causing or posing an imminent threat of injury to the pigs?
This article will outline three steps to manage these assessment criteria year-round, serving to protect pig well-being as well as limit the stress during your next PQA Plus Site Assessment.
Step 1: Schedule time to identify repairs
- During daily observations — Within the written standard operating procedure for observing animals daily, also explain any specific tasks and items to be observed with regards to facilities. Afterall, if employees are walking through all these areas anyway, it makes sense to consider adding a quick glance for items needing repair. Determine how you want these observations to be recorded daily so it is not burdensome to already busy employees. Determine a manageable way to handle the daily technology "notifications" or "alerts" from equipment within a barn, such as electronic feeding systems or waterers.
- Assign weekly or monthly — Assign one person the job of walking all facility areas to identify a list of repairs. Alternatively, you could assign certain items (e.g. penning, flooring, chutes, alleyways, feeders, waterers) to certain individuals and they only look at that item as they make their list. This technique could be accomplished by assigning each area to a specific day of the week/month and employees focus their attention on one particular item during the day.
- During internal site assessments — Facilities are expected to complete internal site assessments on the facility, animals, caretakers and records as part of another PQA Plus Site Assessment standard. Breeding sites need to be assessed quarterly and non-breeding sites need to be assessed semi-annually.
- After each turn of pigs — Many grow-finish barns routinely plan maintenance tasks immediately following the emptying of the barn. The facility is cleaned and walk-throughs are simple since no pigs are in pens. Grab a clipboard or notebook and document the repairs. This is especially helpful if a contracted crew is involved or multiple employees are involved. If one person is responsible for everything, simply fixing each item as it is identified can be more efficient.
Step 2: Record maintenance needs
- Use existing records — The daily observation sheets can be used to record any maintenance and/or repair items. All PQA Plus materials, including template forms, are found here in English and Spanish.
- Use a pocket notebook — Each employee carrying a pocket notebook may be convenient. Notebooks are good for noting repairs as they are identified or any other pertinent information the employee is responsible for. One challenge to notebooks is the risk of them being dropped in a pit or lost. Determine the best way for employees to compile all their note pages in the office for clear communication of the repairs.
- Send text messages or instant messages — Employees can send text messages to office staff with repair notifications directly from the barn location. A mobile application like the simple Notepad function may be more useful if employees are permitted to have cell phones on the job.
- Maximize equipment notifications — Technology has advanced, and equipment sends electronic notifications or alerts to mobile devices and emails. The equipment maintains logs of notifications or alerts sent. Review equipment logs regularly and determine how it may be incorporated with other recordkeeping methods or if it is best kept separate of other maintenance and repair schedules.
- Use a Google Doc — Employees can simultaneously update a list of repairs from multiple devices using cloud-based documents. This option may be useful if one office or maintenance crew is responsible for multiple-barn sites.
Step 3: Establish repair priorities and timelines
Once the tasks of identifying and recording repairs is complete, the last step is to prioritize when each repair will be completed. Recall the PQA Plus Certification training related to feeders, waterers, penning, flooring, chutes and alleyways. Repairs that pose injury to animals or people or limit water/feed intake are No. 1 — fix the problem if you are trained to do so or find someone who can fix the problem immediately. Additionally, repairs around ventilation, heating/cooling or manure pit safety would also be critical.
Whomever is responsible for prioritizing and establishing timelines must then communicate it to the individuals carrying out the job. Detail-oriented individuals may prefer checklists, while others may prefer simply being told the few items that need to get done today, or for the week.
Establishing repair timelines does not need to be complicated, but it is necessary for accountability that the task will get done. Older facilities may have a daunting list of looming repairs to manage strategically as finances allow, while newer facilities may have minimal items to address. However, it is imperative to prioritize any problems that could impact pig well-being or personnel safety.
Note on equipment notifications
In today's pig barns, electronic notifications and alerts come from many types of equipment, such as electronic feeders and ventilation just to name two. These notifications and alerts are critical to proper function but can lead to people experiencing "notification fatigue." Notification fatigue is when a person gets desensitized to or overwhelmed by incoming electronic alerts from equipment and they begin to ignore them or view them as lower priority.
Using electronic feeders as an example, notifications regarding maintenance and repairs can be varied. Here are examples of notifications or alerts from electronic feeders (varies by brand, list not all-inclusive).
- Calibration — the time between calibrations was too long and task should be scheduled
- Malfunction — equipment not operating as programmed and needs immediate attention to identify specific issue
- Out-of-feed event — requires immediate attention to determine exact cause; may be bins are bridged, sensor malfunction or actual feed outage
- Group feed station unused — a station was not used by animals for an extended amount of time and further investigation is warranted
Producers and barn managers should work closely with equipment representatives to review notification meanings and ensure sensors and alert thresholds are set to meaningful levels to minimize notification fatigue. Another option for managing notification fatigue could be dividing equipment alerts among multiple trained employees so everyone receives fewer alerts and can focus on a single piece of equipment. Obviously this doesn't work for barns with one employee/manager although larger facilities could find benefit.
Many technologies in barns permanently record notifications and alerts. Periodically run reports and evaluate whether additional repairs or maintenance tasks should be scheduled. Again, reach out to equipment representatives for guidance and further training.
Hog producers pride themselves on their commitment to the We Care initiative and affirm their obligation to protect and promote animal well-being each day. The importance of maintenance and repairs of facilities and equipment can get overlooked during busy days of feeding, breeding, farrowing, transporting and cleaning. Take time to determine the best way for your barn team or you to consistently identify, record and prioritize repairs.