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Caregiver checking piglets National Pork Board

Employee training directly impacts pig welfare

When team members are properly trained there is less margin for inadvertent mistakes.

Employee training is one of the simplest ways to improve pig welfare. That being said, many leaders find employee buy-in proves to be the most challenging component when implementing/improving a training program. Data collected over a five-year span by Swine Safety Designs, has uncovered three key elements to employee engagement, resulting in better buy-in. 

  1. Training must be meaningful to their jobs. Employees should easily be able to see how it can be implemented and improve their farms. Some individuals are visual learners -- they'll need see it in action. Some prefer factual data proving it's worth pursuing. Being armed with both proves to be beneficial when presenting a new idea or change.  "Explaining the why" is critical. Why are you proposing this? Why should we buy in?   
  2. Training must be engaging to the audience. Keep it interesting and thought provoking. The best length per session is 12 to 15 minutes of material covered, with five to 10 minutes of follow up discussion. There will be times when all the vital information can't be squeezed into that time frame. SSD suggests breaking the topic up into a few subtopics that are five-to-six-minute intervals. Add some type of activity in between each subtopic to keep everyone engaged.   
  3. When training is complete, monitor its implementation at the farm. Make it worth everyone's time and effort to participate in training. If your team members aren't taking what they've learned back to the farm, they'll likely develop a passive attitude about being forced to attend training. Performing regular audits in an unintimidating manner is an effective strategy in documenting and showing teams the first hand results of implementation. 

In addition to the three elements, keep in mind influencing factors that may have an effect on employee buy-in, such as the time of day training is presented. Doing it first thing in the morning or at the conclusion of the work day are not favorable. First thing in the morning everyone will be eager to get in the barns, so their attention will be focused on their to-do list. At the end of the day your teams have worked all day, they are worn out, and ready to get home. 

The best time to have training is to schedule it during a coffee break, two to three hours after showering in. This time works great because everyone has had a chance to open barns to check air, feed and water. However, they haven't exhausted themselves for the day. When planning a training session, it's also best if you are able to take training to the farms. Requiring everyone to shower out, commute to/from, then shower back in is time consuming, as well as, a huge inconvenience for them. This will definitely play a part in their attitude toward training. 

Also consider day of the week. Mid-work week are the most opportune days. For most operations Tuesday through Thursday is when all staff are present. Weekend workloads are already hectic enough with rotating weekends to allow everyone time off. Monday doesn't work well because either you've worked all weekend or need a day back to get an idea of what the week will look like. 

Offer another reason for them to be excited to attend. For some that involves offering a monetary incentive for achieving the highest scores. Create friendly competition and bragging rights among teams by printing off certificates of completion to hang on the wall. SSD's technique to motivate teams is free food. Not many people will turn away homemade goods. The teams I regularly work with know there is a promise of anything from breakfast burritos, barbecue pork sliders, cinnamon rolls, to my signature sugar cookies. (Yes, the very same ones I bake for trade shows.) 

Other examples are knowing when it's a busy shipping/receiving/vaccinating day. Taking into consideration when care takers are battling disease challenges, which requires above-average physical labor. Even room temperature of the training space may influence the team's attitude about training. Aligning all of these elements perfectly is difficult, however, leaders/training personnel need to look at training sessions as what's best for the team, not what's best for their personal schedule. 

The final thought on getting staff buy-in is, never, under any circumstances, should the person presenting training and/or the team leader make negative comments about the training. Remarks such as, "it's inconvenient," "it's boring," "it's a waste of time," etc. are counterproductive. These types of comments breed a widespread negative attitude. Which will, at the very least, guarantee a specific session won't be absorbed. Worst case scenario, teams will put up a wall against all training. Both will result in zero buy-in.   

How to implement training has been covered. Let's discuss "why?" The simple answer is animal welfare is improved when effective training is delivered. When team members are properly trained there is less margin for inadvertent mistakes. Individuals will have a heightened sense of awareness while checking barns. They'll understand food/water/air conditions are the first items to notice when walking into a barn. Habitually checking all three upon entering may alleviate issues with basic pig necessities being overlooked by the inexperienced swine technician. 

Animal performance both in daily gains and reproduction have the potential to improve when handlers are trained about warning signs to look for during individual pig evaluations; meaning disease detection happens at the first sign of trouble. This has a domino effect. Team members who are being diligent in pig evaluations identify issues early. Because challenges are identified early and solutions are executed quicker, mortality decreases.   

Every caretaker knows that animals that are well cared for (normally) show better performance, whether it's feed conversions to average daily gains, accurate vaccination placement, or sows producing healthy litters. Swine technicians play a huge role in orchestrating the circumstances that lead to good pig welfare. While training, explain that good feed conversion means properly set and flowing feeders to maximize average daily gains. Vaccinating should be carried out at the appropriate time frame for maximum immunity. Gilts/sows properly cared for will give birth to more live pigs. She will produce the appropriate amount of milk for her piglets. 

Finally, it is a well-known fact that biosecurity plays a large part in animal welfare. Therefore, handlers trained in biosecurity are less likely to breech because they know the risks to the herd.  Biosecurity assists producers in keeping the risks of disease potential to a minimum. If the pigs are protected from getting sick in the first place, it can be directly translated to decreased death loss.  

Need more convincing that employee training is worth the effort? Accurately executed training enhances biosecurity to prevent pigs from getting sick. Early identification means higher probability of treatment being successful with first treatment; therefore, making treatments more economical. Properly set feeders guarantees feed is not being thrown into the pit, lowering feed costs. When those are lowered profit margins per pig increase. Sows producing more per litter means more market hogs out the door. All of these are positive attributions towards excellent pig care. 

In conclusion the evidence is overwhelming. No matter the age, size or type of pig, the quality of swine technicians used within that system will have the greatest impact on the welfare of the animals. 

Source: Samantha Marais, Swine Safety Designs, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns 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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