How to improve your production numbers in 2022?

Focus on “LEAD” measurements more than “LAG” measurements.

November 15, 2021

6 Min Read
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The pork industry is outstanding at measuring and internally and externally benchmarking key performance metrics such as average daily gain, feed conversion, livability, farrowing rate, total born, and number weaned and marketed. However, all these key performance metrics are all historical “LAG” measures. There is nothing you can change about those numbers. You can improve the next group, quarter, or year, but those numbers will stay in whatever record database you are using forever.

Now, it is true that the best predictor is past performance, and you can use past performance to coach and improve. But if you want to improve your sow, nursery, finishing, and overall performance, instead of always focusing on the performance of the previous gilt group, batch group, finishing turn, etc., you should place more emphasis on “LEAD” measures such as caretaker engagement, boar exposure, feed outage events, feeder pan coverage, number of times through a barn, pull and treat success rate, etc.

Definition of “LEAD” and “LAG” measurements

Franklin Covey defines “LAG” measurements as metrics that show if your goal has been achieved or not. For example, we often set benchmarks for average daily gain, pigs per sow per year, market weight, and livability. A “LAG” measure is the win-loss column. Did we succeed, or did we come up short? “LAG” measures are known for being slow.

For example, a pork producer may notice that our wean-to-finish feed conversion on our closeouts was worse than projected. Thus, we collaborate with our nutritionists, feed mills, growers to correct and to improve feed conversion. However, that closeout wean-to-finish feed conversion took over six months to be generated. First, the reason for the high feed conversion may no longer exist. Second, if the reason still exists, how many more pigs could have also had a greater-than-expected feed conversion because it took six months to generate the metric to identify the issue? Third, wean-to-finish feed conversion can be influenced by many different factors. If you have no or poor data on feeder adjustment settings, feed spills, micron size, and deviation, ingredient nutrient information, etc. How are you supposed to determine the correct factor or factors to focus on to improve?

On the other hand, Franklin Covey defines “LEAD” measurements as metrics that indicate whether you are likely to achieve the goal. A pork producer could use “LEAD” measurements such as corn micron size and deviation, feeder pan coverage or how often are feeders being adjusted, and late finishing mortality to indicate if feed efficiency is going to be on target or worse than expected.

I recently learned the terms “LEAD” and “LAG” measurements. It was an “ah-ha” moment that helped me understand separating ourselves, our feeding program, the pigs we are taking care of, and our production systems comes by placing way more focus on “LEAD” measurements instead of always focusing on “LAG” measurements.

How to objectively measure “LEAD” measurements?

The reasons “LEAD” measurements are not used in pork production often or effectively is first they are often subjective (an opinion) versus objective (an actual measurement). The second reason is that while our “LAG” measurements are often stored in a database and easily accessible, “LEAD” measurements, if recorded, might be stored on a personal excel worksheet at best.

It is important to make “LEAD” measures as objective as possible. For example, avoid describing body condition of a sow based on an opinion of thin or ideal. Instead, use a caliper to objectively measure body condition. Another example would be instead of giving a subjective grade on a grower or caretaker on how you might think they start pigs on feed. Instead, make objective measurements of how often pigs were gruel and mat fed, what percentage of the pigs were pulled and or treated, or how many times each caretaker is getting through the barn per day. At the very least, use “yes” or “no” categorizations when answering questions like: was the barn heated properly before pigs were placed, is the air speed and quality adequate, are pigs being properly sorted and cared for.

It is vital to decide which “LEAD” measures you want to track and use as improvement tools?  What objective units will be used to measure, and how often will the measures be taken? 

How to scorecard and coach “LEAD” measurements?

The biggest hurdle we have as an industry in using “LEAD” measurements is having the ability to record, access and summarize them. As previously mentioned, most “LEAD” measurers are not taken objectively, recorded, or accessible system-wide. This hurdle makes using “LEAD” measures as scoreboards and coaching tools impossible. Thus, systems must find ways through open sharing, Teams, SharePoint, etc. to record, access, graph, and summarize these “LEAD” measures. It is also important for benchmarks to be set and used as coaching tools.

The key to using “LEAD” measures as an improvement tool is using them as coaching aid to improve your “LAG” measures. For example, if a farm wants to improve its farrowing rate (the “LAG” measure), then a farm and their leadership teams should record and scorecard the following “LEAD” measurements: boar exposure, heat no services, body condition caliper score, semen quality, questionable breeds, breed technician training, and retention, etc. If a farm improves these “LEAD” measurements, then the “LAG” measurement of farrowing rate is very likely to improve as well. Thus, do not just state your farrowing rate needs to improve and end the coaching conversation. Instead, measure, record, summarize, scorecard and coach the daily actions that impact farrowing rate.

How should managers, growers, and caretakers focus on “LEAD” measurements?

The true advantage of scoring and coaching “LEAD” measures is that it places more focus on the daily actions of people and their effectiveness. If used correctly, “LEAD” measures can improve pig production and decrease variation and improve employee and grower engagement and retention.  It is important when using “LEAD” measures that they are used as a positive tool to show that each person’s actions can and will make a significant difference.

In summary, our industry is outstanding at measuring and benchmarking traditional “LAG” measurements. However, these measurements can be slow to generate and change. On the other hand, there can be several varied factors that can change a “LAG” measurement.  This multi-factorial influence can make improving “LAG” measurements frustrating and time-consuming.  If we want to improve as pork producers, we should place more emphasis on improving objective single factor “LEAD” measurements which will ultimately improve “LAG” measurements going forward.

Sources: Dr. Trey Kellner, AMVC Nutritional Services, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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