Krantz: Prioritize people to improve pre-wean mortality
Today’s sow farms are highly efficient production systems, yet pre-weaning mortality can remain a challenge. A lot of time and effort is directed toward fixing the problem — finding reasons for and solutions to address pre-wean mortality rates. But Seth Krantz, DVM, Tosh Farms, believes that “reasons can be distracting; they become excuses.”
Instead, he advised concentrating on enriching the human factor. “Pre-wean mortality is sometimes less about the pigs than it is the folks taking care of pigs,” Krantz told Pig Health Today. “We have a lot of opportunity in how we manage, develop and motivate our people…that’s really the key component of lowering pre-wean mortality.”
The foundation of piglet management in the farrowing house is to provide a warm, dry, draft-free environment; ensure each piglet gets an adequate dose of colostrum; and address health challenges. But to maximize performance and minimize pre-wean mortality, “you need people to care about pigs,” Krantz said. “We think raising pigs is important, and we think treating our people well is important too.”
All workers should be able to expect grace, respect and safety on the job, Krantz said. But it’s easy to forget that workers may be facing struggles in their personal lives. “At Tosh, we try to make sure our culture is a priority,” he noted. “And that includes how people feel about working on those farms…how we address their individual issues.”
Sow farms are laden with protocols outlining what, how and when various tasks need to be completed, and in the process it’s easy to forget that people need encouragement.
“Sow farms are intense environments, and I think we transfer that intensity onto our people; we should have high standards, but sometimes we can be unforgiving when people make mistakes,” he added. “There’s more than one way to do something.” The important thing is that the tasks get done and piglet care is addressed.
Turn mistakes into learning opportunities and search for ways to improve. “We all make mistakes. I want people to know they can tell me when they do,” Krantz said.
The same applies to employees providing feedback. “We encourage both our managers and staff in the barns to be open and speak their minds,” he added. “Otherwise we won’t know, and if folks don’t tell us the small things, they’re not going to tell us the big things.”
Tosh Farms has changed its approach to on-boarding or training new employees. Rather than a one-time training session, the emphasis is on frequent check-ins, follow-up training and making sure workers are getting what they need to do their jobs effectively.
Provide clear, concise information and simple directions. “Help them, guide them,” Krantz said. “And, give them goals they can actually achieve.”
Tosh Farms has seen results from a renewed commitment to workers and its impact on pre-wean mortality rates. “I’d say in the last 5 to 6 years, every year we’ve seen a steady decrease in our pre-wean mortality,” Krantz said. Systemwide, the company now averages about 9%. “We’ve seen farms consistently in the 12% to 15% range come down under 10% over time.”
Of course, there’s always opportunity for improvement. “We have some health advantages that are important in that,” he noted. “But having people who care about pigs helps you get through disease events, helps you through challenging times.”
Finally, acknowledging that sow farms can be repetitious and mundane, you need to help workers find purpose and meaning. Strive for a meaningful goal and build an understanding of “why are we here?”
Tosh Farms has implemented a program in the past few years to develop internal leaders. There may not always be an opportunity to take on a management position, but workers who have had a range of work experiences or have a certain drive are identified and exposed to the broader picture of pig production.
For example, Tosh Farms identified sow-farm workers and arranged with their packer a tour of the harvest process. “That’s a different perspective that folks on sow farms don’t always get to see,” Krantz said. “So, helping broaden that perspective and seeing what an important role they play even at the sow farm is unique and something we should always be striving to do.”
His final message is that pork production is “about more than cost and efficiency. It’s about doing important work and letting our people do important work.”
Posted on February 2, 2022