Conventional targets could leave pig farmers missing out

Pig farmers could be losing out on thousands of pounds worth of money a year by not reaching potential sale outputs, which is something Scottish pig producer, Patrick Stephen found out.

Farming 570 sows on his unit in Conglass, Inverurie, it was only after investing in a new software system, Mr Stephen discovered he had been missing out on the potential of making an extra £100,000 of income a year.

“We had always been good at meeting targets and our primary focus was always on meeting targets like pigs weaned a sow a year. However, when we invested in Checkmate, which is a physical and financial monitoring program specifically for pigs, we got a shock at how much income we could be making.”

Investment in the system was initially made because of its simplicity, claims Mr Stephen. “Normally I would keep all my figures in a book, but when I saw this system presenting all data on one screen, I thought I would try it out.”

But, Checkmate is not like any other software program, he says. “It has totally changed my way of thinking and now what matters are kilos through the door.”

And his mindset was changed when Checkmate’s founder Paul Wright visited the farm to assess whether sales outputs were being met from the size of unit.

“After looking around the unit, Mr Wright found the major limitation was with numbers being weaned a week, which was under what it should be. He pointed out for the size of unit, we should have been weaning 240 pigs a week or 10 pigs from 24 sows.

“The problem was, one week we may be weaning from 16 sows and the next week 26, so weaned pigs a week would range vastly from about 160 pigs to sometimes 260 pigs.”

This meant on many weeks they were weaning 30-40 pigs short of the 240 pig target. “Being under target by 30-40 pigs a week meant we were missing out on about £100,000 of income a year. Small numbers can soon multiply up to a huge figure.”

But Mr Stephen hasn’t made any drastic changes to meet his target. “By looking at our figures we could see we needed to serve 27 sows to meet a target of 24 sows farrowing, because we would usually get about three sows dropping out because they were not pregnant.”

And it is simple changes like this that can make a big difference, says Mr Wright. “When I go on to a farm I look at what the potential is of that facility and calculate what the potential in terms of what output should be. Once you have got an agreed output target you can work on the efficiencies of reaching it.

“Pigs a sow a year is almost meaningless in a business, and when you don’t have the right numbers sold it becomes an expensive hobby.” he says.

Mr Wright illustrated how expensive only filling 29 out of 30 crates in a farrowing building could be.

“When there are 30 crates in a room, but only 29 are filled every week that is a total of 52 crates not filled a year. When we take an average of 10 pigs a litter, that 520 piglets a year. When they finished at 80kg deadweight that means the farm is missing out on producing 41,600kg a year. And at a price of 140p/kg that’s amounts to £58,000 a year or £1120 a week that could have been made by filling that extra one pig space,” says Mr Wright.

Mr Stephen provides Mr Wright with data every month, and a report is then processed putting the figures supplied against the facilities targets, which allows him to keep on track.

These monthly figures have also boosted staff morale on Mr Stephen’s unit. “All weekly figures are put up on a board in the changing room. When they are meeting targets it is in black, when red then the target hasn’t been met. This also acts as a visual tool to see why targets haven’t been met.”

It also shows how each part of the production system affects the whole business. “They are all cogs in a wheel and they all have to do well to meet the targets,” says Mr Stephen.