A New Year Challenge: Developing your swine production team

Focusing on the barn level to help reduce costs 

January 18, 2016

3 Min Read
A New Year Challenge: Developing your swine production team

Cash hog prices, still in the low $50’s, continue to drag with the Western Corn Belt base price for lean hogs.  Some improvement is likely following the month of December when we saw several record weeks for pork production and ended with challenges getting pigs processed due to holiday disruptions. Based on the December 1 Hogs and Pigs Report, expectations are that slaughter numbers will run 5 percent over January of 2015, before tapering back to a more manageable 2 percent over prior year February.  While domestic demand remains strong and exports are better than last year, the amount of pork produced in recent months and in early 2016 is challenging to move through the channels.

Based on futures outlook and the challenges that lay ahead to make a profit in the coming 12 months, we tend to put more attention on lowering costs and making the most of the situation.  We talk a lot about how to reduce costs in terms of inputs, I wanted to focus on the barn level for this article.  I hope that what follows is at least one idea that you can use to improve the Quality, Productivity or Cost of raising pigs.

Empower workers

Your employees are the ones who are immersed in your production processes on a daily basis, so empower them to develop ideas for improvement.  Let them detail their daily activities and perform the analysis.  Once they look at how they spend their time, ask for ways they would recommend to perform tasks faster and eliminate waste.  Also, if they work together to solve issues and improve processes, they will become better teams and engage more readily in the work.  

Eliminate valueless processes

Are there processes that are inefficient or provide little or no value to the operation?  Maybe it is a task that is repetitive or overlapping another’s job responsibilities.  I don’t think that we have many valueless processes in this industry, but maybe the timing in which we focus on tasks causes us to redo all or part of the task.

Improve training

Improve training of employees may help eliminate poor production and increase costs.  Investing in proper training for new hires can eliminate mistakes that are costly and ensure that the work is being done right the first time.  If the unit manager is not the best trainer, find someone in the organization with the experience and talent to train others in the production process.  

Establish goals

Establish both productivity and quality goals for the employees.  To help keep them focused, have them posted on a dashboard in the barn office and kept up-to-date so that the entire team understands how they are impacted by the daily work.  Goals should be specific and measurable and include more than productivity targets.  Make sure the employee understands how his or her function impacts the goals (this is often wrongly assumed).

Implement gradual changes

This is usually difficult for many owners / managers who want to make massive changes when things aren’t going as planned.  Rapid, wholesale changes can frustrate employees or cause them to worry they won’t be able to adapt.  An abrupt change can also significantly reduce productivity due to the effect of the “learning curve.”

Recognize success

Follow the process and recognize those who are taking the lead to help reduce cost, improve process quality, and provide training and motivation for new employees.  In our busy work-day, it seems like those opportunities have to be looked for in order to provide positive feedback and recognize those employees who are dedicated to success.

This past week I was in a farm that had room in the office for a foosball table.  Not a big deal, but the owner decided that it would be an opportunity to build teamwork in a small way, and it has worked to do that.  The goal needs to be to create an atmosphere where the employees are proud to come onto the farm and work with people they enjoy spending the better part of the day with.  If accomplished, turnover goes down, motivation goes up, and ultimately cost of production is impacted.

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