14 May 1999


Offering stockmen the right

working environment will

help safeguard sow

performance when labour

cuts increase the workload.

Sue Rider reports

MAINTAINING sow performance targets when labour is under pressure depends on re-thinking husbandry routines to best use available resources.

Reducing labour will be a trend forced on the industry to save costs, says Newark-based Signet pig consultant Dan Morgan. Under this scenario, he believes that the economic optimum output might not be maximum output.

Output per person hour is becoming a more important criterion relative to output per sow, he says, and changing husbandry techniques could help achieve that goal.

"Its particularly relevant on outdoor units, where labour costs are a higher proportion of total fixed costs to consider output per person hour," says Mr Morgan. Many producers who are doing so, even an indoor producer, have switched to dynamic service groups as an easily managed system.

Another example of how to improve productivity per person hour is to use sows with a good temperament, he says. "Breeding companies must pay more attention to temperament so that sow do well in labour-saving systems.

Better temperament

"Companies which have loose-housed sows for a long time tend to have sows with a better temperament – which includes some smaller breeding companies."

Benefits of working to well-planned and efficient husbandry routines to lift output per person hour were highlighted recently at a MAFF-sponsored, ADAS run workshop on stockmanship.

ADAS senior consultant Anne Martins, who presented the stockmanship workshops as part of a series on Managing and Handling the Pig, stresses the importance of good husbandry routines to boost efficiency and productivity, provided the routine:

&#8226 Is well planned.

&#8226 Makes use of the skills of the people involved.

&#8226 Provides sufficient time to do the job properly.

"The efficiency and performance of the unit depends on providing staff with an environment where they can show their best potential," maintains Ms Martins.

She acknowledges there is pressure on time availability on many pig units, but suggests that despite this and the fact that units evolve – for example through investing in a new building or introducing a new sow feeding system and in doing so change the balance of the work environment. Few producers take time out to review whether changes to the husbandry routine would be beneficial.

"Those producers who have done so have found that there really is a benefit. When theres less labour available, its impossible to do everything to the same standard as before. Prioritise the workload so that available labour is used to best effect."

When examining the husbandry routine, Ms Martins suggests assessing current staff skills. "When you lose one member of staff and a new person takes over the others routine, they might not have the right skills for that job," she cautions. "Is there a different mix of work routines they could do better?

Ms Martins also advises assessing the ability of staff to work without supervision, and the number of staff needed to carry out a job. "When one can do the job, great. But, on occasions, total time taken may be less when two people are available to do the work."

Establishing the standard to which the job must be done is also important, as is how often it needs doing.

But Ms Martins emphasises that any review of husbandry routines should involve the staff in all the decision-making processes. "Using their expertise will help you to identify the best way forward," she explains. "Theyll be more motivated when theyre part of decision making, and as such will be more committed to it."

Dr Pauline Lee, acting research manager at ADAS Terrington, Kings Lynn, suggests that many units are still working to a routine thats been followed for years, but perhaps theyre now relying on two rather than three people.

"Are people spending a lot to time walking to and from different buildings because they have always done so? Can you re-think that routine so tasks can be carried out in a different order, and take up less time?" she asks.

But there are dangers that spreading staff too thinly can severely hit performance targets.

"One of the first areas which might be hit would be the farrowing house. When theres less time to keep popping in and out, more piglets might be overlain.

"Less time spent with new litters could reduce numbers weaned. You dont notice the weak piglets which you would have otherwise taken out and given extra feed."

Induced farrowings

One way of easing the situation when labour is reduced could be to induce farrowings. "Producers who induce believe the cost is outweighed because farrowing over a shorter period requires less supervision and they can save more piglets."

Performance in the service area could also be hit by labour cuts and poor husbandry routines.

"Ideally, someone should be present to ensure the service is successful. When time is too short to supervise it, theres no way of knowing whether the boar dismounted before hed finished until three weeks later when the sow returns. The result is more empty days per sow," explains Dr Lee.

She is also concerned that pressure on labour means less time to observe individual sows. "Group housing systems are more labour intensive and its important to take time watching sows. Feeding in five to ten minutes may save time on one hand, but its still important to get back to the sows to check the behavioural signals.

"Its easy to assume that reducing labour is a good saving. But remember that labour isnt just there to feed and clean out pigs."n

See more