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Articles from 1998 In January

Hog Waste Treatment System Naturally Removes Odors

Most hog farms in North Carolina are tucked well back in the piney woods, adhering to an "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy.

That's not the case with Keith and Margie Barefoot's 2,880-head finisher in full view of a highly populated area of rural Johnston County. There are about 1,500 folks who live within a square mile of the Barefoot's Quin Deca Farms unit operated with son Brian. It's just a 30-minute drive due south of Raleigh.

Despite the population density, no one is complaining about the hog smell, says Keith. And, even though his house is within a few hundred yards of one of the waste holding ponds, Keith has no complaints either.

"Since we put this system in, most neighbors don't even realize there's a hog operation here," Keith says. "And the people who do realize it is here, want to know why all of the hog farms in the area can't be like this one."

The manure nutrient management system in use at Quin Deca Farms utilizes a series of ponds to stabilize odor-causing compounds and produce a soil-like material called BionSoil.

BionSoil can be blended with various plant by-products to produce soil-like products for use on things like home gardens, landscaping, golf courses and nurseries.

Changing Times When the Barefoot's contract finishing operation was built six years ago, it featured a single, anaerobic lagoon for handling wastes, recalls Keith. It smelled terrible to the neighbors, he admits. There were some complaints.

"But now the wind can blow directly across the system, into your face and you won't smell it," says Keith. In fact, a neighbor's newly married daughter recently left San Diego to return to the "good life" in rural North Carolina. She and her husband are building a house not far from the Barefoot hog unit. "If those hog houses smelled, that lady would never put a home here," he stresses.

The New System The original waste handling system was retrofitted 211/42 years ago with a system that treats both solid and liquid wastes, designed and installed by Bion Technologies, Inc.

Waste flushed from the buildings is first treated aerobically in a "bioreactor." The firm explains, "The bioreactors are designed to be high-intensity, microbial action zones that contain aerobic, anaerobic and facultative bacterial populations." This action, under water, serves to suspend solids and odors, explains Tom Stevens, Bion Technologies Inc. representative from nearby Smithfield, NC. Wastes are broken up and exposed to intensive microbial action using 5-hp. floating aerators, he adds. That action keeps odors from escaping to the surface and fouling the air.

For further treatment, waste trickles by standpipe into a long, shallow, earthen pond called an "ecoreactor." It serves as a holding cell where solids are biologically converted into BionSoil. When dry, they can be harvested for use as fertilizer or soil product. While the first ecoreactor is curing in preparation to be harvested, a second, identical ecoreactor fills and treats wastes, says Stevens.

Swine effluent is further treated in a second, aerated bioreactor and recycled back to the buildings for pit recharge and flushing via a 2-hp. submersible pump.

A third bioreactor treats excess wastewater and rainfall.

The Barefoot hog operation was the first in the state to be approved for construction and operation of the BionSoil NMS system, says Stevens. Just recently, a second, 9,600-head finishing farm in Nash County was permitted, the Denver-based company reports.

Unlike a lagoon, which is a temporary waste-holding facility, the Bion Technologies system is "a living, breathing system, an aerobic waste-processing system," says Stevens. Wastewater from the Barefoot operation's finishing houses undergoes a series of microbial assaults, reducing the total nitrogen load from approximately 1,200 parts per million (ppm.) in the first-stage bioreactor, down to less than 100 ppm. in some cases, lower than levels in some nearby rivers and swamps, points out Stevens.

Still, the effluent contains enough nitrogen and other nutrients to serve as crop fertilizer, though it probably will have to be irrigated at higher levels. The Bion Technologies animal waste management system reduces land needed for application by 30-70%, he notes.

Never A Spill The ponds designed by Bion engineers at the Barefoot hog farm vary in holding capacity and overall size. To ensure structural soundness, they all were built starting with a compacted, 24-in. clay liner, explains Stevens. Water level is regulated by the standpipes, mostly maintained at maximum depths of 7-8 ft. in the bioreactors, about half of that in the ecoreactors. The original lagoon is used as a temporary water-holding facility for extra rainfall and wastewater.

"This system has withstood three, 100-year rain events, including two hurricanes and a tornado in the last 24 months," says Stevens. "In 1995, we had 80 in. of rain, compared with a normal amount of 48 in. Even so, there were no breaks or spills in the system."

Service Contract The service contract set up by Bion Technologies was one of the key elements that sold Keith Barefoot on the agreement. "They come out here about every three weeks to test the ponds," he says. The end product is a top drawer, totally organic product which is natural and has been produced without any chemical additives," stresses Stevens.

Reducing odors and waste problems without the use of chemicals in your tanks, pipes or ponds is a great asset for the system, explains Barefoot.

Bion Technologies also supervises the microbial process to keep it running smoothly. They maintain analysis records and do harvesting of the product, all as part of the waste management contract that growers sign, says Stevens. Harvesting takes place every six months. Proceeds from the end product are split between grower and the company.

So far, the soil-like product is being tested for sale as a bagged product. Before bagging, several different medians are being tested to be mixed with the biosolids to produce the BionSoil product, including composted pine bark, chopped bermuda grass, pine shavings, peanut hulls, etc. It is a chemically slow-release product, making it a good choice for potting soil for plants.

The final product is a natural source of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and trace minerals. The product has an earthy sort of smell, but there is absolutely no hog manure nor odorous smell to the product, maintains Stevens.

Additional Benefits North Carolina pork producer Barefoot has realized a few other benefits of the nutrient waste management system that he didn't anticipate, such as:

* Less salt buildup in the pipes. "It used to be a big problem here and we used to use a product that reduced salt buildup in the pipes, but I don't think we even need it anymore," he says.

* Much improved environment in the hog houses for man and pigs, mainly less ammonia and other gases. The shallow pits are flushed four times daily.

* Use of medications is way down.

* Weight gains are up significantly. Whereas before, Barefoot was getting just over two turns of the finishing groups, he is now getting about three turns per year.

* Death losses have decreased, losing only a handful out of each group in each of the four, curtain-sided finishing units.

The knock on aeration systems has always been that the electrical charges make the system cost-prohibitive. Barefoot admits his electrical bill runs $400/month.

However, the system is over-sized. As built, it could handle four more hog houses. But recent changes in the state's environmental regulations for livestock operations means more houses cannot be added to the site, says Stevens.

That oversizing adds to the cost of aeration. Of course, the system really does a lot more than aerate. As stated, it turns swine effluent into a odorless product and separates out solids to be recycled as a horticultural product.

The final part of the Bion program is known as a "polishing ecoreactor," a wetlands program containing water typically created in the Bion aeration system, explains Stevens. Basically, it is a flooded, vegetated area in which nutrient-rich plants and/or organic soil may be produced. It becomes a wetland habitat for wildlife and presents a positive environmental image, Stevens says.

Double-wide wean-to-finish facilities

Despite all the prodding from two, long-time veterinary consultants to convert to wean-to-finish, Ken Maschhoff stood firm. He went ahead with plans to build an 8,500-head nursery.

That was about a year ago. "In spite of some of the successes of other operations, we were very reluctant," Maschhoff explains. "We just didn't think it would work as well as everybody indicated."

Change of mind

But even before the huge nursery facility was finished, a vivid image suddenly flashed into his mind. He counted about 3,800 truckloads of feed, pigs and supplies coming and going through Maschhoff Pork Farm's various sites near Carlyle, Ill.

So the decision was made last winter - even before the nursery complex was completed - to build wean-to-finish units.

Declares Maschhoff: "I think the overriding factors were with all of the feed hauling, pig movements and finishing hogs going out, it would become a nightmare to coordinate.

"It's just the sheer movement of the animals, being able to put them in one place and not mess with them for about six months that was appealing," he adds.

Ken Maschhoff, along with brother Dave and father, Wayne, own and operate an 8,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.

The wean-to-finish decision was sealed when Maschhoff learned that employees in those units were happier because of less labor, yet pig performance is improved dramatically. So far on 30,000 wean-to-finish spaces, mortality has run under 1.5 "percent".

He hopes those positives will also add to success of future finishing contracts. In late 1995, the Maschhoffs started several contract production arrangements to reduce overhead and increase return on investment.

The 18,000 nursery spaces at Maschhoff's Pork Farm Inc. will continue to be used, says Maschhoff. But he vows to never build another nursery, and predicts they will become extinct. He is already looking at a near-term goal of raising 60 "percent" of production in wean-to-finish units, 40 "percent" in conventional nursery and finishing buildings.

In less than a year of building, the Maschhoffs have turned to wean-to-finish in a big way. At last count, they have 16, 2,400-head, wean-to-finish double-wide barns, with a bunch more on the way. A double wide is a 2,400-head building, consisting of two, attached, 1,200-head units under one roof, but operating totally independent with separate ventilation controllers, separate pits and load-out chutes. There is a solid, center, concrete wall dividing the 82-ft.-wide, 240-ft.-long buildings.

Why build a double wide? It's a matter of economics. The price of the double wides substantially beats the cost of two, comparative, wean-to-finish buildings.

A single unit with an 8-ft. deep pit, loading chute and the works is running $142/pig space. Add the road rock and dirt work around the buildings, the total comes to $151/pig space. Building a double-wide, wean-to-finish unit cuts about $13/pig space off those facility costs, he says.

It's common to build two, 2,400-head buildings on one site at a time. That's 4,800 head. With a $13/pig space savings, the total savings comes to about $62,000 ($13 x 4,800). That's roughly $31,000/double-wide building less compared to building two, separate 1,200-head barns on two sites. The contract producer putting up wean-to-finish barns saves a bundle, says Maschhoff.

"For the producer who is contracting with us to raise our pigs in his facility, it makes the cash flows on these operations the difference between night and day, cutting that much off the principal payment. We will make the exact same payment for using that facility whether it's two, 1,200-head buildings or one, 2,400-head barn (double wide)," he points out.

Under the contracts, the producer puts up the building, the Maschhoffs supply feed, management and the pigs.

Maschhoff explains the side-by-side, connected units are tunnel ventilated, which means air is moving in one end and exiting the other, year 'round. "There is no reason why the two buildings can't be side by side because the curtains are only there on the sides of the buildings for emergency situations."

The double wides also afford the luxury of taking split-sex feeding a step further. Barrows and gilts are split by sex shortly after farrowing, during crossfostering. Then at weaning, when they are moved to the double-wide, wean-to-finish units, barrows are fed out on one side of the building, gilts on the other side.

That makes marketing a lot easier, too. Faster-growing barrows can be shipped while not disturbing the gilts next door.

Wean-to-finish facilities ease manure handling chores. "We've only got about 60% of the manure production that we would have in a conventional barn because you've got pigs coming in at 10 lb., going to 260 lb. twice a year, instead of pigs coming in at 50 lb. and going to 260 lb. three times a year. That cuts your total manure production by an estimated 40%," Maschhoff observes.

With wean-to-finish barns, producers also load out a third less pigs compared to conventional finishers, have a third less wash time and a third less labor involved in bringing in pigs.

Special designs, management

The Maschhoffs, who do all their own building construction, added a few special touches and management ideas for their wean-to-finish units.

The bottom rod on pen dividers is only 11/2 in. off the floor to keep pigs from squeezing under the rods.

Feet and legs of penning are all stainless steel to extend its life. Maschhoff reminds that buildings will only be washed every six months instead of every four months as would be the case in a typical grow-finish facility.

The Aqua Tube Feeder provides nutrients. There are two boxes on top, each holding 25 lb. of feed. They are used to hand feed pellets during the pigs' first three days in the facility. Then pigs rely on self-feeders for pellets or meal; water cups are adjacent. The feeder is located just 19 in. from the front of the pen so that employees can easily lean over the penning to make critical adjustments. Twenty separate rations are fed, 10 rations each to barrows and gilts. Four nursery rations and six grow-finish rations are fed.

One-half-inch thick, 4x6 ft. rubber mats under a single heat lamp centered over the mat provide plenty of warmth, comfort and space for the first critical two to three weeks the pigs are in the barn, says Maschhoff.

Industry perception

The double-wide, wean-to-finish system provides another, largely unrecognized benefit to the pork industry, declares Maschhoff. It reduces the number of buildings on a site, quieting critics. Maschhoff says that is another big reason his family has gone to the new, double wide barns.

And of late they've even taken that stance a step further by building what are probably the industry's first two 3,000-head, wean-to-finish units.

"When a guy puts up two buildings, it sounds a lot better than five or six buildings, and it doesn't look as big as six, individual 1,200-head buildings would either," he observes.

If all else fails

And finally, he admits one big reason the family was willing to adopt wean-to-finish philosophy - if the system fails, they will work quite nicely as conventional finishers. "You can go into them with 50-lbers and there is no reason in the world why they can't be used for the next 25 years as grow-finish buildings."

But if you were building strictly grow-finish facilities, it's pretty tough to switch them back to barns where you could start off a 9-lb. pig like we do in our wean-to-finish barns, he points out.

Pyridoxine Helps Weanling Pigs

Kansas State University(KSU) researchers conducted two trials to evaluate pyridoxine or thiamin in weanling pig diets. Thiamin and pyridoxine are two B-vitamins that are abundant in grain-soybean meal diets.

Recently several breeding stock companies and vitamin manufacturers have suggested adding thiamin (vitamin B1) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) to diets to achieve maximum growth potential. The KSU researchers set out to evaluate the effects of added thiamin or pyridoxine on weanling pig growth performance by conducting two experiments.

The first experiment utilized 180 weanling pigs (initially weighing 11.02 lb. and 21 days of age). Each treatment (in both experiments) had six pigs per pen and six pens per treatment.

All experimental diets were fed in meal form. Diets fed from day 0-14 after weaning contained 1.6 "percent" lysine, .44 "percent" methionine, .90% "percent" calcium and .80 "percent" phosphorus.

Diets fed from day 14 to 35 contained 1.35 "percent" lysine, .38 "percent" methionine, .85 "percent" calcium and .75 "percent" phosphorus.

The control diet contained a standard vitamin premix without added thiamin or pyridoxine.

Experimental treatments were provided by adding either thiamin mononitrate (2.5 or 5.0 g/ton) or pyridoxine HCL (3.5 or 7.0 g/ton) to the control diet. Pigs were fed the same experimental vitamin concentrations throughout the 35-day study. Pigs were weighed and feed disappearance was determined weekly after weaning to calculate average daily gain(ADG), average daily feed intake(ADFI) and gain/feed(G/F).

ADG increased from day 0 to 14 after weaning with increasing pyridoxine. Pigs fed 3.5 g/ton of added pyridoxine had the greatest ADG.

ADG decreased then increased for pigs fed thiamin. ADG decreased for pigs fed 2.5 g/ton of added thiamin, but was identical between those fed the control diet and 5 g/ton of added thiamin.

ADFI increased then decreased with increasing thiamin and pyridoxine. However, F/G decreased then increased with increasing thiamin. This appeared to be a result of the high feed intake and poor growth of pigs fed 2.5 g/ton of added thiamin, according to KSU researchers. Feed:gain ratio was unaffected by increasing pyridoxine.

Added thiamin or pyridoxine had no effect on ADG or F/G from day 14 to 35 after weaning. However, ADFI increased with increasing pyridoxine.

Pigs fed 2.5 g/ton of added thiamin had decreased ADG for the period from day 0 to 14 after weaning. Pigs fed 5 g/ton had similar ADG to those fed the control diet.

Pigs fed increasing pyridoxine had increased ADFI from day 0 to 35.

Although ADG and F/G were not significantly improved, ADG was numerically highest for pigs fed the diet containing 3.5 g/ton added pyridoxine, reflecting the response from day 0 to 14.

Based on the results of the first experiment, the KSU researchers conducted a second study to determine the pyridoxine requirement of weanling pigs. The second experiment used 216 weanling pigs (initially 13.6 lb. and 21 days of age). This experiment helped determine the optimum level of pyridoxine to maximize growth performance.

The control diet was identical to that used in the first experiment. The experimental treatments were formed by adding pyridoxine at 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 g/ton. As in experiment 1, pigs were weighed and feed disappearance was determined weekly after weaning to calculate ADG, ADFI and G/F.

Feed samples from both experiments were collected and analyzed for concentrations of thiamin (experiment 1) and pyridoxine (experiments 1 & 2).

Increasing pyridoxine increased then decreased ADG and ADFI from day 0 to 14 after weaning. Pigs fed 3 g/ton of added pyridoxine had the maximum ADG and ADFI. The increases in ADG appeared to be a result of increased feed intake, because increasing pyridoxine had no effect on feed/gain.

Increasing pyridoxine had no effect on pig growth performance from day 14 to 35 or 0 to 35; however, ADG and ADFI tended to numerically increase with increasing pyridoxine.

The researchers conclude the results suggest adding thiamin had no positive effect on growth performance of weanling pigs. However, adding pyridoxine improved ADG and ADFI of pigs from day 0 to 14 after weaning.

Researchers say the data suggest a requirement of 2 - 3 g/ton of added pyridoxine in diets fed from day 0 to 14 after weaning. For practical applications of this research, the segregated early weaning (SEW) and transition diets should contain 3 g/ton of pyridoxine.

Researchers: J.C. Woodworth, R. D. Goodband, J.L. Nelssen, M.D. Tokach, R.E. Musser, J.A. Loughmiller, S.A. Moser, G.S. Grinstead, and P.R. O'Quinn, Kansas State University. Phone Goodband at (913) 532-1228.

Feeding Wheat In Nursery Diets Oklahoma State University researchers recently conducted two growth trials to evaluate Karl hard red winter wheat in nursery diets. The wheat was used as an energy and protein source for 144 early weaned pigs in Phase 2 (day 10 to 38 postweaning) nursery diets.

The study demonstrated these pigs could effectively use hard red winter wheat as a substitute for corn at a level of 50 or 100 "percent" of corn in the diet.

Pigs were weaned at 17-21 days of age and averaged 13.7 lb. at weaning. They were divided in two groups based on initial weight in each trial.

All pigs were fed a common Phase 1 diet containing 1.5% lysine for the first 10 days postweaning. The pigs were housed in an environmentally regulated nursery in pens (4 ft. 11 in. x 5 ft.) with woven wire flooring.

During Phase 2, pigs (18.8 lb. body weight) were fed one of the following diets: a corn-soybean meal control diet, a diet with wheat replacing 50 "percent" of corn, or a diet with wheat replacing 100 "percent" corn.

Experimental diets were fed for four weeks and contained 1.40 "percent" lysine, .90 "percent" calcium and .76 "percent" phosphorus.

Average daily gain and gain:feed increased with the increasing amount of wheat in the diet during the first week of Phase 2. During the second week, no treatment effects were observed.

Pigs fed the diet containing 50 "percent" corn and 50 "percent" wheat had higher gains than pigs fed only corn or wheat as the grain source during the third week.

Feed intake decreased as the amount of wheat increased in the diet, this resulted in a linear increase in gain:feed as the amount of wheat increased.

During the fourth week and during the overall four-week period, average daily gain and gain:feed increased with increasing the level of wheat in the diet.

Researchers: B.Z deRodas, W.G. Luce and C.V. Maxwell, Oklahoma State University. Phone Luce at (405) 744-6058.

Correction: In the story "Pit Additive Tested" published on page 38 of the Dec. 15, 1997, issue of National Hog Farmer, one nozzle/pen was used to spray the product.

Doc Allison's Insight

In the beginning, Jim Allison was a veterinarian. Fresh out of college in the 1950s, he dove enthusiastically into his veterinary practice of treating sick pigs. Soon, the bloom wore off.

"I didn't like veterinary medicine," he recalls. "It was salvaging the perishable. We were just putting out fires."

The Kansas veterinarian discovered, instead, that offering well-needed counsel was much more rewarding, especially when the advice was taken and implemented with success.

What grew from this discovery was one of the first swine consulting practices in the country. Gradually, Allison turned his veterinary practice into a full-time consulting business, which he maintains today.

Allison was virtually alone in his business until the 1970s when swine consulting caught on and has grown to a major profession today.

Allison must be one of the busiest consultants, travelling 325 days a year from his Corsicana, TX, office. He won't call this job work, however, because it is his love.

"My ambition from the beginning is to be able to assist people and help them become profitable in their venture," he relates. "And that's always been the driving thing behind what I do. I know that is not very modern, but that's what made me enjoy this, seeing people grow and prosper."

Instead of just a veterinarian, he also takes on the role of a teacher. He says education is really his main business with his 50 full-time clients around the U.S. After visiting the hog units and poring over their PigCHAMP records, Allison sits down with the clients and staff to help them plug the holes in their operation. This educational process takes time, and Allison relishes it. Often, he pulls in other advisors for financial, genetic or engineering help.

Allison's education must work. He has had one client on his roster since 1953 and many others for 20-30 years. Most are independent producers who Allison has helped stay viable through some tough hog markets.

In his extensive travels, Allison has a unique window on the hog industry. What does he see? Here are a few of his insights:

Biggest Limiting Factor "Besides environmental issues, I would say the availability of qualified people is the biggest limiting factor," Allison says. "The personnel thing has been a problem from the beginning. It doesn't matter if I'm in Florida or Minnesota, I hear the same thing. Producers have problems finding qualified people.

"I don't know if there is a solution," he adds. "It's a growing industry. (My clients) are reaching out and bringing in people from the local community who know nothing about pigs. Incidentally, a lot of these people are becoming good hog production people."

Some hog operations expand to keep their good employees. "If the hog farms are at 1,200-1,400 sows and are bringing in good people, they have to grow to keep them," Allison says. "You see these units growing all the time.

"In my opinion, that's why you see the mega farms," he speculates. "They face the same thing. They attract these young people from all over the country. They want to keep the good employees, and to do that, you have to keep growing your business. It's just like increasing sales."

Allison's clients have had to learn good employee management. "They can't work them from sunup to sundown," he says. "And these employees have to be well compensated. There is no such thing as cheap labor in efficient pork production."

He sees great opportunities ahead for young people entering the hog industry.

Change Allison has had to help his clients work with change in the fast-growing hog business. Changes in handling personnel, handling money, and business partners have all occurred.

Often, a producer's attitude gets in the way of responding to change. "When the subject of change comes up, they hesitate and say, 'Why should we change? We're doing all right now,'" he relates.

"Changes are occurring around us all the time. We have to look at change as opportunity and not with fear. I have seen in producers a lot of fear as they read what's going on with the big farms, etc."

Networks, for example, represent one big change for his clients with a silver lining. He works with three networks and finds them good for the producers.

Family Farm Future "I feel there is definitely a place for the family farm and that is not a new thought," Allison says. "I have not witnessed anything on the mega-farm level that makes me think otherwise."

Allison believes some of the very large hog operations will decentralize in the future. "We will see them lease sow and pig units to some of their better qualified people in the units," he says. "These people will become independents. Some of that is going on now and I think it will pick up.

"What some corporations are beginning to find out, and the same thing the family farm has found out, is that there is a need to use an independent (consultant) to give them a different critical viewpoint."

For a family farm to survive, it must keep up with accepted business practices and be capable of changing with technology, Allison adds. "But as long as they produce a good quality product efficiently and at a volume required to sustain their level of living, then I think you will see family farms for many more years."

Rebuilding Ahead "The whole infrastructure in the Midwest is going to have to be rebuilt," Allison states. "I've said that for 10 years. In my opinion, a lot of buildings being built are not based upon the good environment we have to have for these pigs.

"The buildings don't have to be fancy, they just have to meet the basic ventilation requirements." Allison wants manure removed from buildings, too. He believes pits under buildings hinder a good environment.

And good buildings must be managed correctly. Teaching people how to manage ventilation can be a slow, arduous process, Allison admits.

Learning the limitations of ventilation can be difficult for him, too. For many years, Allison struggled to minimize a seasonal breeding slump through ventilation.

"Four years ago, a seasonal slump hit 98% of my clients from the East Coast through the Midwest and Southwest," he says. "It got my attention. After many hours of studying my database, I finally figured it out. There is a seasonal slump in breeding animals that is normal and can't be prevented through environment. We kept thinking it was the grain, or the vacations people were taking, and all these things."

Now he plugs in a seasonal fallout. He did find purebred stock is affected more severely. Crossbreds are less affected and three-way cross animals even less. But the seasonal slump will still hit them all.

The lean, low-backfat animal is here to stay. But the trend for extreme leanness has tapered off, Allison says. Reproductive problems were developing with the extreme animals.

"I think there will always be a need for purebred animals," he says. "We're going to have to maximize heterosis. Those breed people who control that and don't have the foresight to engineer their breed will then fall by the wayside.

"There's going to be room for the private seedstock supplier. They will grow and become networks, as they are already doing."

Nearly all of Allison's clients generate their own genetics with help from a genetic consultant.

"One basic philosophy I have is I feel a producer should control everything that they possibly can," he says. "They don't have to be experts at it, but should know enough about it that they can sift through the information and determine if it is right or wrong."

Mental Discipline "One thing I've seen for many years is we have lacked mental discipline," Allison says. "This is the ability to focus and concentrate on learning the methods of modern swine production. We're living in a society today with lots of people and we have to network and communicate with each other," he continues. "Yet there are very few people who are willing to think on their own.

"After going over production records, lots of young men and women with college degrees will say, 'Gosh, this is hard work.' I don't laugh because it is hard work. I've done it for all these years and I'm not ashamed to say I'm exhausted every evening when I go back to that motel."

He says producers must do this mental exercise of learning and challenging the conventional. This will keep a farm on track. Instead, many people in hog organizations build "security blankets" to protect themselves and their positions.

Allison sees his role as rocking the boat in these hog operations where he sees change is necessary to improve and build for future success.

Sepcialization Of Products Allison believes hog farms will soon produce pork designed for a specific product or market. He has some clients producing hogs for market niches.

Poised To Compete

Bob Dykhuis is proof that an independent pork producer can grow and thrive in the fast-changing hog industry. He's also proof that expansion is possible, even in environmentally sensitive areas.

The Holland, MI, producer started in pork production 20 years ago with a new, 100-sow farm he and his father built. A few years later, he went on his own and gradually expanded to 2,400 sows. He is now expanding his to 5,550 sows.

Dykhuis accomplished this growth in Michigan, a state known for its strict environmental lobbies. His ability to mesh hogs with the community was shown last summer when he notified neighbors of his plans to change and expand a 3,000-head finishing site into a 2,750-sow unit. No opposition was voiced from the neighbors.

Today, Dykhuis could safely be classified as a mover and shaker in the hog industry. His can-do attitude allows him to look ahead and take advantage of new technologies and opportunities. Technologies like phase feeding and artificial insemination (AI) have increased his production efficiencies. Separate-site production and contract finishing have fueled his expansion. Now his herd size allows other efficiencies like producing enough weaned pigs a week to go all-in, all-out on finishing buildings. This alone saves him $2,100/finishing unit/year.

Combined, these factors have added up to a hog operation poised to continue growth well into the next century.

"You do business for different reasons," Dykhuis says. "I really feel called to do this business just like my brother who is a Christian Reformed pastor felt called. I think hog production is fun. It is a dynamic industry where we can provide interesting jobs. And I think it is more exciting than ever."

A Growth Path Growth has always been a key to Dykhuis' hog operation and will continue to be important. In 1978, he had just completed two years in college when he and his father set up the 100-sow farm. To earn extra money, Dykhuis built bins for a local equipment dealer.

He learned he loved working with hogs. Throughout the early and mid-1980s, he honed his hog production skills, sold his share of the original hog farm to his father and then built his own hog operation. Dykhuis sold feeder pigs.

By 1987, he had developed a 700-sow unit and sizeable crop acreage. In 1988, he created a closed nucleus herd to produce Pig Improvement Company (PIC) stock for his operation. Finishing units were built for the offspring.

In 1990, his father retired and sold Dykhuis back the original hog operation. Dykhuis continued to sell feeder pigs, but tried some contract finishing.

Two years later, he built finishing units for 3,000 head. The buildings were all tunnel ventilated. "We couldn't believe how nice that went," he recalls. "We kept records on feed batches. The hogs were leaner and feed conversion was better."

Feed conversions ran between 3.0-3.2 lb. for pigs in lot-type facilities with bedding. When the pigs were moved into the new facilities, conversion rates improved to 2.6-2.8 lb. Recently, Dykhuis says the conversion rate on 6,000 market hogs averaged 2.58 lb.

With the feed conversions in new facilities clearly better than in older facilities, Dykhuis started offering contracts for finishing in new buildings with tunnel ventilation. This decision allowed him to expand his sow herd without adding finishing buildings.

In 1995, Dykhuis converted his main farm operation from 700 sows to 2,400 sows, farrow-to-wean. One site of finishing buildings was converted to an off-site nursery. Another new, off-site nursery was built. In addition, he still maintains the closed nucleus herd of 200 sows for producing PIC breeding stock.

In the meantime, other facilities Dykhuis owned on other farms were changed and switched over the past few years, according to the farm's changing needs. A gilt development farm became gestation. The original hog farm was remodeled into a gilt development farm. An on-farm boar stud was added.

Now Dykhuis is switching a 3,000-head finishing site into a 2,750-sow farrow-to-wean complex. The pigs will be contract finished. Dykhuis hopes to line up new wean-to-finish units for contracting.

When completed, this new sow herd along with Dykhuis' other sows will produce 2,200 weaned pigs/week. After sorting out the bottom pigs, Dykhuis will have enough to fill two 1,000-head finishing units.

The ability to fill a finishing unit in one week instead of two saves Dykhuis $2,100 a unit per year. A contract finishing units costs him $100 a day. With three turns a year per building, he figures that reducing the fill time from six weeks to three will save $2,100 a unit.

Filling two finishing units/week will allow him to fill one with barrows and the other with gilts. Barrows grow one week faster than gilts. So this reduces Dykhuis production costs even more.

He plans to produce 1,100 pigs/1,000-head unit. He hopes to sort the small pigs off and move to a more traditional nursery and finishing unit, under contract. His goal is to do everything possible "to make those finishers hum like crazy," he adds.

Contract Finishing Pluses Dykhuis' growth is closely tied to contract finishing. "With this new sow unit, we won't have a finishing hog in any of our buildings," he says. "We will be all contract finishing."

Right now, he works with seven contract growers in the Michigan area, paying monthly on a per pig space basis. He fields a lot of calls from other people interested in contract growing.

"Contract finishing is a win-win thing because we need those off-site units for all-in, all-out production," he explains. "And community-wise, contract finishing is good. It gives guys a chance to get involved in an operation.

"It's not our goal to own it all," he adds. "Our challenge is to keep enough money in the chain so that the contractors get paid well."

Without the need to invest in finishing facilities, Dykhuis also has the ability to grow his herd larger, faster. This in turn, increases his efficiencies.

"That's the industry we're in," he adds. "We almost have to cooperate or get just so large. I think that in the future, you will need to have one week's worth of pigs in one finisher to be efficient."

The downside to offering finishing contracts is the financial risk in times of a low market. "Every month, we need to pay those finishers," he says. "That means when prices get below our cash flow breakeven, we either have to have cash reserves or we have to have operational borrowing capacity, or a packer deal. " Now that Dykhuis believes he is reaching a size for good efficiencies, he sees market access as the next roadblock. He wonders what must be done to assure access. At his current size of 2,400 sows, he holds an agreement with a packer to market the hogs. In the future, it may well take many more animals to tie in with one packer.

He describes this growth process of finding more roadblocks like climbing a ladder. Each time a certain goal is achieved, he climbs a little higher and sees more ahead. Fortunately, the climbing comes easier now, he adds.

Employee Focus Growth will continue to be primary in the Dykhuis operation. "We need to stay dynamic, we need to keep expanding," he says.

He also feels he must keep growing to keep good employees. "For a person going into the hog industry, to move up, they need to go into an organization that is expanding or big enough so there's more opportunity above."

Growing to his current size, Dykhuis has had to learn how to manage employees and depend on them. He has 19 full-time employees.

He has a three-point strategy to keep employees. "First, we have to be the best hog farm in Michigan so it is a place where people want to work," he says. "Second, we take care of our employees' physical needs." Employees receive a range of benefits including medical, disability and life insurance plus paid vacations. Some positions include a company vehicle. Employees work alternating holidays and weekends.

Third, Dykhuis says he must give the employees good tools to work with, including a good building and environment.

Employees are pulled into the decision-making process, too. Weekly meetings between all the managers handle concerns and problems.

Dykhuis' location also helps keep employees, he says. People like to live there, just a couple hours from several major cities, yet close to many recreational areas like skiing and fishing.

"Michigan is a great place to live," he says. "So it's important to have a sow unit set up so it gets along with neighbors."

Michigan was one of the first states to clamp down on large hog units for environmental reasons. So Dykhuis is very careful to follow environmental rules. He also is careful to locate his units in hidden areas away from close neighbors.

"We've always tried to maintain a clean operation," he says. "We've always knifed in our manure. We try to put buildings back in the trees. And we try to maintain a good rapport with people."

Big Milestones Since Dykhuis began raising hogs in the late 1970s, the hog industry has vastly changed. In retrospect, he can see which of the changes made the biggest impact on his bottom line.

1. Genetics - "PIC gave us a sow that would come in heat in a gestation stall," Dykhuis recalls. "That sow and the gestation stall were so key in the early '80s. They gave us the ability to set up production and organize sows by weeks, which made things like vaccination so much easier." It also helped producers keep farrowing, nursery and finishing units full.

Lean genetics represented the next wave of technology to sweep the hog industry. Carcass quality improved and led to more consumer demand.

2. Feed Regimens - Split-sex feeding and phase feeding created big strides in feed conversion, according to Dykhuis. They feed five nursery rations and seven phases in finishing.

They also stock all barrows in one building and gilts in another, in both nursery and finishing. 3. Record keeping Programs - Today's computer records have become indispensable management and information tools, Dykhuis admits. They use PigCHAMP in their operation and for tracking feed use in contract finishers. He finds the system very user friendly.

"We live by the computer and the ability to manage these large databases," he says. "We're starting to do a lot of analysis on the sow herd now."

4. Pig Separation - Dykhuis says the use of all-in, all-out (AIAO) technology, which moved to off-site finishing, three-site production and contract finishing have produced great leaps in production efficiencies.

"We've eliminated the evidence of mycoplasma pneumonia with AIAO," he says. "Back in the early 1990s when we started AIAO nurseries, we saw more consistent growth and less treatment."

Dykhuis says AIAO along with separate-site production also shut down the spread of pseudorabies. "The ability to place pigs in off-site facilities and have them all take off and grow is a big improvement," he explains.

5. Improved Environment - "We use tunnel-ventilated buildings and I think they are fantastic," Dykhuis states. "Ventilation is constantly improving. It is something that puts dollars in our pockets through consistent performance."

6. AI - "I think we produced 20 lb. more pig on the same amount of feed in the same amount of time when we went to AI," Dykhuis claims. Their average daily gains jumped from 1.80-1.85 lb. to 1.98-2.0 lb. with AI. AI reduced genetic lag so they were able to reproduce the more efficient animals faster.

"In addition, AI has made the life of a breeding herd manager palatable," he says. "AI has made it a job where you don't get stepped on, and it's all positive contact with the animal. You can work in teams. That's been good."

The Future Dykhuis already looks to a bright future in the hog industry. He talks excitedly about feed rations that will make manure a non-issue, environmentally. He believes animal biotechnology will continue to make great genetic strides.

But immediately ahead, the drop in hog prices means efficient production, cost control and quality will be very important. "It won't be the least-cost producer to survive, but the producer with the most net," he states. "Unless you happen to be both least cost and most net."

One thing is for sure, Dykhuis intends to be among the survivors.

"I think the window for a guy like me is tied to the community," he says. Because of his community ties, he is able to successfully operate a hog farm near a community.

"I don't have to go to places like Oklahoma," he explains. "So that gives me cheaper grain. And I have a long-term, sustainable manure plan that gives us a niche in the Midwest."

Health Problems Feeding SEW

Segregated early weaning (SEW) is a technology that has been used on both large and small farms in recent years. Piglets are born relatively free of disease and are protected by colostrum from their dam. As piglets become older, the colostral protection begins to decrease. The piglets then become more susceptible to common organisms normally passed from sow to piglet.

In early work, SEW was used to describe the technique whereby pigs were weaned prior to days 14 to 16 of life. We commonly see pigs represented as "SEW" today that can be up to 24 days of age. The likelihood of getting "clean" piglets with older weaning is greatly diminished.

Medicated early weaning (MEW) utilizes the SEW concept along with antibiotic treatments to decrease the chance of significant transmission of organisms to the piglets. The antibiotic program is dependent on each farm's disease concerns and antibiotic sensitivity testing. This is dependent on the sow's immunity and how each organism species invades the piglet. This would include: Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia, Pasteurella multocida and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

We also know some organisms get past SEW programs. These include Haemophilus parasuis, Streptococcus suis, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), Actinobacillus suis and Proliferative enteritis (ileitis). These organisms are transferred very early in life and/or piglets do not develop good protection from the sow.

In nursery settings, the most common concerns we see are Streptococcus suis and PRRS. On many farms, an incubation time of 10 to 14 days post- weaning with Streptococcus suis is common. At that time, managers see an increase in the mortality due to septicemias (sudden deaths) and central nervous system signs (down, paddling pigs). Some units have had good results with the use of autogenous vaccines. Others have chosen strategic times for water medication (purge medication). The timing and choice of antibiotic medication depends on each farm's history and antibiotic sensitivity. Units with consistent problems medicate before anticipated outbreaks. Units with water meters may medicate on the second day of flat or declining water intakes. Individual pigs are treated with injectable antibiotics as needed.

Severity of PRRS in the nursery is related to the strain of the virus, environment, secondary organisms and management.

Disease concerns such as Actinobacillus suis and acute ileitis have become more of a problem with SEW. Both organisms can cause multiple, sudden deaths in a group overnight. On some farms, mortality rates are only slightly less with SEW because the death loss occurs in flurries. The SEW still results in less weight spread in a group and limited numbers of underweight pigs at market time.

On some grandparent farms, replacement gilts must come back to the existing "dirty" herd. This leaves the dilemma of how to acclimate gilts to get them into the herd with the least risk.

Case Study No. 1 This unit purchases weaner piglets from a 3,000-sow cooperative. Sows are weaned twice a week. Pigs are received every eight weeks in groups of 600 on Monday and 600 on Thursday. Age spread at weaning ranges from 12 to 16 days. These pigs weigh 8-10.5 lb. average. Pigs are moved into a flat deck nursery at weaning and remain there for eight weeks. The pigs are then moved all-in, all-out to double-curtain-sided, full-slat finishing facilities. The pigs are moved while maintaining pen integrity.

We were called to this unit to perform postmortems on numerous sudden deaths during the night. The pigs were in good condition and weighed approximately 200 lb. A postmortem was performed on six pigs. All pigs had similar hemorrhagic pneumonic lesions in the lungs. Culture and sensitivity yielded an Actinobacillus suis from numerous pigs. Individual pigs were injected with penicillin and the group was started on broad-spectrum antibiotics in the water, pending lab results. This group responded well. Subsequent groups have yielded only an occasional Actinobacillus suis.

Case Study No. 2 This unit receives weaned pigs from a local farrower who farrows in a group system. These pigs arrive every eight weeks in groups of 400. Average weight is about 10 lb. Average age is about 14 days. These pigs come into a converted barn with raised decks and plastic flooring. From the nursery the pigs are moved all-in, all-out to the finisher. Pigs are commingled and sorted as they go to the fully-slotted, double-curtain-sided finishing building. Pigs in this unit would often break with a Streptococcus suis type 7 septicemia around 14 days post-weaning. Multiple deaths would occur over a one-week period.

This farm elected to purge medicate because of labor concerns with injection of individual pigs. From culture and sensitivity results a water medication was administered for three days, then off for seven days, then on for three days again. This has nearly eliminated the previous Strep problem.

Laboratory workups are essential to understanding disease concerns. From there, you can work out an intervention plan that is best for your farm.

Evaluating Wean-To-Finish Profitability

Wean-to-finish technology shows promise. This relatively new management concept has the advantage of only moving pigs once. Improved production is possible and some costs may be lower. But others may be higher than more traditional production methods.

Is wean-to-finish the "silver bullet" we've been looking for?

A computer program is now available to calculate how wean-to-finish compares to more traditional nursery, grower-finisher approaches.

Although the profitability of any change in technology depends on the details, our calculations show that expected changes in production with the wean-to-finish technology can boost grow-finish profit.

While traditional nursery-finisher technology uses two (or more) facilities during the grow-finish phase, the selling point of wean-to-finish barns is the idea of using one facility from weaning weight (9-13 lb.) to market weight.

New Computer Program A new computer program, the Lease Rate Model, was developed to help producers make decisions based on varying performance levels, input costs and, of course, profitability. The program, marketed by Farm Business Systems, Aledo, IL (309/582-5628), calculates the profitability per pig space of grow-finish facilities.

Using pig space as the unit of production being analyzed allows the Lease Rate Model to be used much as other programs would analyze crop production on a per-acre basis. Pigs, feed, labor and other variable inputs are combined in this unit of production - utilizing actual production data - to analyze the profitability of the grow-finish pig space.

The model can also be used to calculate a fair lease agreement for a barn on a per pig space basis.

The data required for this analysis can be taken from a good closeout report. Panel A of Table 1 provides an example of such data.

Evaluating Wean-to-Finish Here's our working scenario: A producer has an opportunity to bid (lease or contract-feed) on a new wean-to-finish barn. To make a decision, he will need to compare the budgeted profitability of the wean-to-finish barn with the nursery and finisher he currently owns.

Panel A of Table 1 compares the production and cost data of the two systems. Our producer is currently using 1,600-head nurseries and finishers (Column A). In column A, the nursery closeout data and the finisher closeout data have been combined. The mortality rate of 5.08% reflects the mortality for the entire 176 days, from the time the weaned pigs enter the nursery at 13 lb., to when they are marketed at 246 lb.

Similarly, the average daily gain (ADG), the feed conversion (FC) and the cost data are all combined nursery-finisher data. In column B, there is only one closeout. Note that labor/management cost, utilities cost and lease cost change from column A to column B. In column B, the decreased utilities cost might have been offset by increased lease cost.

Note also that the budgeted production improvements of the wean-to-finish barn include:

* A 0.1 improvement in average daily gain;

* A 0.1 improvement in the feed conversion ratio;

* A 1.0 "percent" lower mortality rate, and

* A 0.5 "percent" reduction in the percentage of cull hogs sold.

Using the assumptions of panel A, the Lease Rate Model generates the results found in panel B. The big changes from column A to column B are the increased levels of production and sales and the lower cost per cwt. of hogs sold.

"Pounds of gain" is up 7.1 "percent" (32 lb./pig space) in the wean-to-finish barn and "pounds of hogs sold" is up 7.2 "percent" (34 lb./pig space), compared to the traditional nursery-finisher management shown in column A.

Note also, that feed cost of gain is lower (3.8 "percent") in column B because of the better feed conversion.

Total cost of production is 3.4 "percent" lower, about what we would expect from the improved production numbers.

In panel B, the profit advantage per pig space of the wean-to-finish barn increases from $8.12 to $8.95 as feed price per ton decreases from $173 to $133. (Three alternative feed prices were evaluated.) This is because more feed is used to produce more pork more efficiently.

Also, note that an added "lease cost" of $4.50/pig space is already budgeted in the wean-to-finish cost. This means that if both grow-finish systems were owned and there were no cash lease cost, the profit advantage per pig space of the wean-to-finish barn would range from $12.62 to $13.45 as feed prices range from $173 to $133.

The effects on cost and profit of small changes in feed conversion, average daily gain, mortality rate and percentage of cull hogs sold are shown at the bottom of panel B. Note that:

* As the feed price per ton increases, the cost of a 0.10 slippage in feed conversion increases. Likewise, the cost of a 0.10-lb. deterioration in average daily gain decreases much more rapidly.

* A small deterioration of any of these production numbers has a 6.9-18.0 "percent" larger negative effect on profit in column B than on column A. In the wean-to-finish barn, there is more to lose.

* As the market price of hogs increases, the positive impact on profit is 7.3 "percent" greater for the wean-to-finish barn, reflecting the greater quantity of hogs sold.

Therefore, the greater productivity of wean-to-finish barns raises the profit potential and increases the "cost" of poor performance.

Watch Out For The Details Early adopters of wean-to-finish technology are generating positive results. There are cases, however, when traditional nursery-finishers outperform wean-to-finish in side-by-side trials. It is clear that wean-to-finish is not a "silver bullet" for all operations.

Like all-in, all-out or multi-site production, some producers will exploit wean-to-finish technology better than others.

Before adopting the relatively new wean-to-finish technology, here are a few cautions:

1. Pig flow is everything. Are adequate pig supplies available to fully utilize the system? 2. Figure out the answer to "overfilling." Overfilling is when the wean-to-finish barn is initially stocked at 150-300 "percent" capacity and then, when the pigs hit 55-65 lb., the "overfill" (or excess) is moved out to conventional finishing. While this practice reduces building cost for small pigs, some pigs experience an extra move; all pigs are disrupted, and, there may be a problem with the efficient utilization of the extra finishing space while the wean-to-finish barn is overfilled. Because this situation is different for each operation, conclusions regarding overfilling are difficult. 3. Know your optimum selling weights. 4. Know your current production numbers and use realistic projections for wean-to-finish. 5. Search out the best building design. Nail down the building cost and figure out if it will pay.

Synthetic Liners Come Of Age

Concerns about manure seepage from self-sealing lagoons and even clay-lined lagoons are driving the market for new synthetic membrane liners. The liners, widely used in other containment applications, are now being installed in lagoons on some hog farms. The liners are being used in addition to, or as an alternative to clay liners.

Synthetic Liners The most common type and most effective material for a lagoon liner is high density, polyethylene (HDPE). This same liner is also suitable for slope erosion control. Lining only the slopes will only provide erosion protection above the water line. It does not protect groundwater from leaks.

HDPE liners are also available with rough (textured) surfaces to help enhance slope stability where the liner will be covered with soil. The liners may also be used in conjunction with clay or doubled up to provide assurance that leaks can be detected before extensive contamination can occur.

Smooth HDPE liners have been formulated, tested, and demonstrated to provide resistance to chemicals, ultraviolet sun rays, and thermal aging. Membrane life expectancy in excess of 20 years can be achieved for most applications.

HDPE lining materials are available with thickness of up to 0.1 in. or more. Many animal or agricultural waste applications to date have utilized a liner thickness 0.04 in. even though a thicker HDPE geomembrane may be a more dependable and economic selection for long-term life expectancy in areas where the clay content in soils is lower.

The surface to be lined is prepared and rolled smooth. Any sharp objects are removed. A geotextile or drainage composite under layer may be necessary or desirable to protect the liner and vent underground gas in some installations.

The liner is then laid out in panels typically in excess of 22 ft. wide and as long as necessary. Each panel is heat welded to the next. Pressure checks are conducted on each weld to assure that the seams do not leak. Additional layers of protection are placed below all discharge pipes, pumps or other equipment that might rest on the liner. After the entire liner is completed and tested, 6 to 12 in. of water or soil is placed on top of the liner bottom for protection and to stabilize the liner position.

Puncture Potential Though liners are resistant to rupture by the same natural causes that affect clay liners, they may be subject to mechanical damage. For economic reasons, the thinnest material possible is desired to line lagoons. Protective measures may reduce the chances of puncture or tear to an acceptable level.

The potential benefits of synthetic liners outweigh the potential damage factors. Membrane liners offer the advantages of dependable containment with lower permeability, long life expectancy, faster installation and easy maintenance.

Achieving Zero Leakage A few producers like Iowa Select Farms, Iowa Falls, IA, are using designs that allow immediate detection of leaks. They are using a multi-layered, synthetic liner system.

The liner is manufactured and installed by GSE Lining Technology, Inc. of Houston, TX. It includes a layer of liner membrane separated from the clay subgrade by a geocomposite drainage layer. The drainage layer allows detection, collection and disposal of leaks that might be caused in the primary liner and minimizes leakage loss even if the liner is punctured. The composite layer acts not only as a second layer of protection against leaks; with the installation of a collection sump and pump, it also drains fluid from any possible leak into a collection pipe so that integrity can be monitored. Digestion of the organic matter contained in the waste water and unacceptable odors caused by the products of decomposition can be controlled by floating covers manufactured from the same or similar membranes as the containment liner. In some cases anaerobic digestion of waste in a covered pond can generate sufficient methane to allow economically viable collection and use of the methane.

Revealing The Truth

Production and Financial Standards will be adopted in the pork industry when "apples to apples" comparisons are valuable to all participants.

(Editor's Note: Commitment is the major challenge facing the adoption of the "Production & Financial Standards for the Pork Industry" first introduced in a National Hog Farmer Special Report published March 1, 1997. National Pork Producers Council task force members have spent the past several months checking and double-checking the proposed standards and formulas. A two-year program of education and training involving all facets of the pork industry will begin about mid-year, includes a national satellite broadcast in October, 1998, and wide distribution of the "unabridged" production and financial standards about a year from now. But, the first step toward capturing the wealth of information the "Standards" offer is a commitment by those responsible for keeping the records that drive them. Canadian Farm Management Specialist Charles Grant offers an "outsiders" thoughts on that challenge.)

It will take three keys to unlock the potential of the industry-wide Production and Financial Standards for the Pork Industry introduced nearly a year ago:

* Adoption of a solid foundation of common terminology, chart of accounts and reports;

* A five star software product; and

* A convincing presentation to the users.

Number one has been nicely looked after by the task force called Joint Committee on Industry Standards assembled by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The foundational work was published in National Hog Farmer's March 1, 1997 Special Report.

Numbers 2 and 3 are the challenges that remain.

The best place to get started meeting those challenges is to identifying the users, describe the benefits the Standards offer, then outline how the Standards deliver those benefits.

The beneficiaries of the Standards will be those who use them - barn workers, production managers, consultants, financial managers, investors and bankers.

The "Rock" And "Engine" Barn workers are, in static terms, the "rock" on which to build the program or, in dynamic terms, the production data-collection "engine" that drives the program. Without their day-to day, disciplined data collection, implementation of the Standards, at any site, is destined for failure.

Recognize up front that it is tough to convince barn workers to adopt a rigorous data collection procedure solely to make the accountants' jobs easier.

But, if it makes it easier for them to accomplish their production goals, they will likely buy into it.

There is an age-old frustration of frontline workers - management does not understand or appreciate their daily struggle to get the job done well, on time and within budget. Most often, the problem lies in their ability to communicate.

The Standards will help barn workers and production managers communicate better. Now they can speak the same language, use the same terms, and discuss production issues within a common analysis framework.

Before the Standards, a young female pig was loosely referred to as a gilt.

Now, using the Standards' definitions, she is either a gilt (a female pig kept for purposes other than breeding), or a "prospective breeding female" (a female pig kept for future entry into the breeding herd), or an "unmated breeding female" (a female pig entered into the breeding herd but not yet mated).

These tighter terms lead to clearer instructions for barn workers and smoother production flow.

Often, the hardest thing about doing something right is knowing what to do. Now, using standardized terms, instructions to barn workers can sound like this: "Eartag 20 prospective breeding females in pen #10. Use the red ear tags starting at number 40. Reclassify the prospective breeding females as unmated breeding females and move them to pen #6."

Contrast that with the instructions using the old, loose definitions: "Move the 20 gilts, ready to be bred, from the end pen to the pen across the alley and up three. Identify them with the red ear tags. Start with number 40. Change their classification in the records to show they are now part of the gilt pool and ready for breeding."

The difference is not all that revolutionary but the Standards do make the communication system more efficient.

The Standards also enhance bilateral accountability - barn workers accountable to management, management accountable to barn workers.

So, if the barn worker analyzes the enhanced data and clearly shows management that a current, low breeding herd replacement rate and an aging set of breeding females are driving down farm profitability, plus chewing into their production bonuses, the management should listen.

The message to management: "Find the money to get some younger breeding females into the barn."

If the Standards help deliver those messages, barn workers will support use of the Standards.

Clear, daily "to do" lists and week-to-date, month-to-date, and year-to-date progress reports enhance barn worker productivity and confidence. The software introduced with the Standards can provide these detailed lists and reports.

Production activities are largely time-driven. Once an activity is completed and recorded the timing of future activities is set.

Daily activity lists can be generated complete with checkoff boxes to show their completion. Barn workers pick up their lists when they start their shift, know exactly what activities they are expected to complete during their workday. The daily activity list comes complete with a progress report from the previous day. The details of production bonus calculations are clear.

Activity lists can only be generated when data is collected, recorded and processed daily. Yes, it requires more attention from the barn staff, but in such a complex biological system, human memory quickly becomes a limiting factor. Data gaps may be quickly filled with human memory records but any time delay will make the gaps permanent.

The "Sprinkler Of Sand" There is an old story about a prosperous farm family who, generation after generation, maintained a tradition of sprinkling sand at all four corners of their vast vineyard, every day. The family believed that the sand-sprinkling tradition was magical and brought them great luck. Their vineyard was beautifully managed by their laborers and they enjoyed bountiful harvests.

A closer look would likely show the bountiful harvests had more to do with the daily patrol of the vineyard and observance of the laborers' work than the act of sprinkling the magical sand.

The tradition was an early version of "management by wandering around" - a concept many modern business strategists advocate.

A five-star computer program developed with the Standards as its foundation can facilitate the electronic sprinkling of sand by the production manager at all corners of the barn. As herd events are recorded, daily, with more precision, the production manager knows what to expect before inspecting any room.

Audits of record accuracy and barn performances become routine. Barn workers know "big brother" is watching with an intelligent eye, trying to catch them doing something right. When they do, they'll pay the bonuses they deserve.

The Standards sharpen communication lines among production managers, nutritionists, veterinarians and engineers who share information. Integrated production and financial data encourages bottom line decision-making by quantifying how specific changes in production practices affect profits.

Robust software with the Standards as its base can be flexible enough to facilitate the management of the biological system and all its quirks, yet rigid enough to facilitate the full integration of the production and financial systems. It can be simple enough for ease and accuracy of data entry yet complex enough to handle the most rigorous of analyses.

There is a soccer term with the acronym t.o.d. (technique on demand). It refers to a player's arsenal of techniques, largely hidden, which can be called into service at any instant to deal with a certain field situation. Sometimes a simple groundstroke is all that is required; other times it's a bicycle kick off a corner cross. Powerful software is like that. One moment it generates a simple report on the past performance of a particular sow. The next, it is addressing the complex question: "If we reduce farrowing room temperature by 15 degrees, yet provide a warm micro-climate for the piglets, how will it impact growth rate, mortality, feed consumption, and hydro (electrical) usage?"

Software applications of the Standards enhance communication between the production manager and upper management too. Ready measures of productivity and profitability provide a focal point for discussion and an opportunity to get the bosses involved in decision-making.

Systematic campaigns armed with facts will help production managers acquire the resources needed by their production team to chase and capture production bonuses. They may even be able to convince the management to buy those young breeding females the barn workers have been asking for.

Profits Beyond Consultant's Bill. Consultants love to sell their services using the argument that their advice leads to greater profits.

The overriding message of the Standards is that they are designed to reveal the truth. They raise the level of accountability of all players, including consultants, by measuring efficiency, productivity and profitability of the various profit centers. Presented in the form of benchmarks, an "apples to apples" comparison becomes possible.

The profitability affects of acting on the consultants' advice becomes transparent with the comparisons and the value of their advice can be assessed.

The effectiveness of the consultants should also be enhanced along with their opportunity to prove their worth. Production and financial data at the stroke of a key is a dream come true for consulting nutritionists, veterinarians and engineers. In-barn research projects are facilitated by the system so that energies can be concentrated on investigative thinking rather than the mechanics of data assembly.

Music To A Financial Manager's Ears Too long left in the dark, integrated production and financial records can now show financial managers what's happening in the barns. And, finally, they are able to assign costs to the respective profit centers and measure profitability by location. In-barn economic studies are facilitated with test-group procedures to weigh one alternative against another. Accurate across-barn comparisons become possible when Standards are used in multiple locations.

Financial managers can approach meetings with bankers and investors prepared to address any questions that might be posed on financial performance of the barn. The Standards and the related software give them the power to look back at past performance, measure their present position and forecast future performance. An early warning system sounds the alarms when returns below breakeven levels threaten. Solid information helps ensure appropriate action.

The Standards also raise the level of accountability of all participants in the barn. Farm suppliers are monitored, matching invoiced quantity and price against actual delivered quantity and price - before any checks are issued. Hog numbers are quantified daily. Barn audits investigate mysterious disappearances.

The Standards allow financial and production managers to analyze the same data set, knowing they're using the same terms of reference. The views of the data may be different from the financial and production sides, but they are viewing the same data.

In this way, the software engine is a little like the moon as it is viewed by people at different earthly locations. Their eyes are pleased with what they see and they really don't care about the view from the other side.

If the concept of integrated production and financial records is music to the ears of financial managers it is ecstasy to bankers and investors. Finally they are able to review their accounts with the facts presented in a standardized way. It's a system that promises no unwelcome surprises. The acceptance of the Standards will flow more capital to the industry.

Easier To Do Excellent Job Here's the guiding principle that will drive implementation of the Production and Financial Standards for the Pork Industry - it will be implemented in earnest:

* If they make it easier for all participants in the production and financial system to do an excellent job, and

* If they can enjoy the glory that comes with operating in the upper echelon of their peer group.

When a new polymeric pole allows an athlete to consistently clear the 20-ft. mark in the pole vault event, all other participants must either have one or remove themselves from the competition.

When the players in the production and financial hog systems see the Production and Financial Standards for the Pork Industry and its related software as the new polymeric pole, the implementation hurdle will be cleared.

(The author acknowledges the contributions of ideas by John Maltman, swine specialist and Erik Wallace, management software expert.)