A Day In the Life

Thousands of miles separate swine producers across the world. As you travel from country to country, you notice differences of geography, languages and customs, but what about swine production practices? We thought it would be interesting to hear from several swine producers pertaining to: What’s a typical day like, setting goals, motivation, etc. Read their stories and hear about “A Day in the Life”.

Russia FlagRussia

Valentina BussValentina Buss, Head Technologist at Commodities Pig Farm in the Kormilovsky district of Russia. “The farm consists of 10,000 sows, divided into 5 areas; 2 areas are in the Altai region and 3 areas are in Omsk region. Valentina has been in the swine industry for 18 years.

Each day, she focuses on questions concerning vital activities in the barns. “When looking precisely at visits to the barns, I mainly pay attention to the general appearance of the section/premises: sanitary condition, animal health, availability and quality of fodder, livestock activity, a healthy glitter in the eyes, and the work of operators and their interest in it. My ultimate goal at the end of the day is to smoothly accomplish all of the tasks assigned with the highest efficiency.”

One thing that motivates Valentina every day is obtaining information from the barns about the current quality of a particular group of animals and furthering them along the process of production. She enjoys being able to develop monthly and annual work plans for the operation and achievement of their operations’ projected indicators within 100 - 105%. She says it keeps the job interesting and gives her something to work towards. “Our team of specialists, with the help of the PigCHAMP program, have achieved and sustained high indicators of productivity, both for the sows and for the herd as a whole. This is something we are extremely proud of,” says Valentina.

Vytautas Grebliunas, Head of the Rassvet Plus Yug complex has been in the swine industry since 2011 with extensive veterinary experience and Elena Meshkova, Chief Livestock Specialist has been in the industry since 2006. They work with a great team, consisting of veterinarians, livestock technicians, and, most importantly, operators and inseminators. The operation is in the Kaluzhskaya region. It is a major farm consisting of 1,300 sows and a 30,000 head grow-finish operation that produces pork that is extremely lean and flavorful. It is recognized throughout the area and all of Russia.

Vytautas says it is impossible to describe his working day precisely, “something new happens every day that requires a quick reaction. Every day of the week includes a variety of operations, starting with the collection and preparation of semen, insemination, weaning, and veterinary treatments. The entire production process is united and reflected in the PigCHAMP program, and thus a weekly analysis of the entire production is carried out, tracking successes and failures, and coordinates our future activities.”

He says it is difficult to set a daily goal, because they set fairly global tasks. “We increase indicators: maternal for the sows, fattening for the finishers, and strive to get facility repairs that increase performance, such as livestock genetic improvement from Europe, feed stuff formulation development, housing conditions and microclimate improvement.”

In addition to his salary, Vytautas says he is motivated by “the satisfaction from the work done and from the results obtained. And this is impossible without the coordinated well-arranged work of the entire team of the pig complex.”

Spain FlagSpain

AnaAna works on a farm called Paulin Farm in Sevilla, Spain. She is originally from Hungary, but she has lived in Spain for 10 years working in the swine industry. Ana oversees a farm with 1,500 sows and lives next to the farm with her husband and her son who also work with her.

Ana says she starts each day at 8 a.m. and finishes at 5 p.m. “Each day we have a working meeting in the farm office, talking about the job that each worker has to do. If anyone has any questions about the task, I talk with them one-on-one after the meeting and guide them in their work or help them if necessary.”

I have always worked in the swine industry and I love it.

After the meeting, Ana feeds the animals, then checks to see if everything on the farm is working properly. She continues her day with heat detection and the artificial insemination of sows. “After that, the days tend to differ. I could be weighing animals, collecting data in all of the barns, and helping coworkers. At the end of the morning I send our data to PigCHAMP Pro Europa, because they manage my data in their office, and then continue on with various tasks.”

When asked about her goals, Ana says “My main goal is to ensure our farm is producing at an adequate level, our workers are happy and comfortable, and my boss is proud of the work I am doing. Since I started to work here, I had focused on improving the production and have seen great improvements. Now, I have been directing my attention to improving the equipment that we have.”

Ana says that she loves working with the animals, collecting data, and the relationship with her coworkers. She is pleased that her boss and the vet she works with are very satisfied with the work she does, “it makes me feel very proud of my achievements and motivates me to continue to improve every day. I have always worked in the swine industry and I love it. I have also learned a lot about pigs, I have improved at my job and have seen improvements on farms and I want to continue improving as I grow in my career.”

Fernando Iturri lives in a small city called Ejea de los Caballeros in Spain where he manages a big swine farm for Cotaja. He says he begins each day in a manager’s meeting with managers from different areas of the farm (gestation, maternity, nursery etc.). They have a short meeting to review the key tasks for the day. “With this meeting we get information about our priorities, important facts to consider in our farm, and many other things. It’s only a 10-minute meeting, but it’s a very helpful and an important start to the day.”

Fernando’s main target is to have the tasks from the morning meeting completed by the end of the day, “but as we all know, all kind of surprises suddenly appear on the farm.” He says he works to ensure the main tasks are completed, and any additional tasks at least started.

“Improving our production is a huge motivation for me,” says Fernando. “In our office, we have a board where we write key points of our production every month, such as repeat and farrowing rate, prolific values, etc. We hope that our staff will see these key points on the board and get extra motivation to continue to work efficiently. I have two main motivations when I wake up in the morning, the first one is to do my best at work, and the second is to motivate my team!”

It’s essential to have a good, motivated and trustworthy team. All the successes and defeats are shared by the whole team, making a collaborative atmosphere and a great opportunity to build friendships.

Fernando says he has spent his entire life working in the livestock sector. “When I was a child, my brother and I used to see how my parents were working on our farm with dairy cattle and sows. Finally, the farm began to work only with sows. In the late 90s, I started to work on big farms in our area. I enjoy my work so much. I like the continuous activity and being able to work with the animals. Additionally, I love to work with my team. It’s essential to have a good, motivated and trustworthy team. All the successes and defeats are shared by the whole team, making a collaborative atmosphere and a great opportunity to build friendships.”

South Africa FlagSouth Africa

Michael Ras started as assistant farm manager on a cattle ranch in Zululand. After 23 years in the cattle and wild life industry, he made a transition to the pork industry in 2009. There he accepted a position as Farm Manager at PIC RSA Springtop Piggery nucleus herd in Magaliesburg, Gauteng, South Africa which is currently an 800-sow unit.

Springtop Piggery follows a 3-week batch farrowing system, therefore, Michael says the major event for the week will determine his routine on the farm. “Due to biosecurity, I start my day at the office by showering in. Thereafter, I enter the piggery and discuss goals and targets for the day with the staff and then I proceed to the farrowing houses where I observe if the sows are content, fed, and have adequate water available. I observe the piglet health and behavior and encourage the staff to meet their daily targets. I then proceed in the same manner to the weaning houses, followed by the gilt pool and thereafter, I continue to the dry sows and the grower section ensuring all pigs are fed, healthy, and content with their environment inside each house.”

Being part of the continuous improvement of quality pigs makes me feel proud to be part of a bigger picture. The industry is very dynamic which always keeps me at the top of my game.

Springtop is a Nucleus herd, where all the sire-lines for PIC RSA, including the PIC337, PIC410, PIC408, PIC380 and Line 19s are bred and raised. Michael’s daily goals include breeding the best boars and improving the genetics that they provide to PIC customers.

Michael says he is motivated by seeing genetic improvement and quality animals which encourages him daily to keep on improving. “I find great joy in producing high quality, good looking, breeding boars. PIC is the leading genetic company in the world and being part of the continuous improvement of quality pigs makes me feel proud to be part of a bigger picture. The industry is very dynamic which always keeps me at the top of my game.”

Nico Louw, manager and co-owner of Keibees Piggery, a 1200-sow farrow to finish operation located in Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa. Nico starts his day at 6 a.m. feeding sows and pigs comes first and then they load the pigs for the market. Mondays is mainly their breeding day and they try to start that as early as possible. They have 10 boars that walk-in front of the sows to maximize heat stimulation. All sows are inseminated artificially, and they only use PIC genetics. Keibees Piggery does its own dam line breeding and started to import frozen semen at the beginning of 2018. Keibees Piggery currently produce 28 pigs per sow marketed. They load for the market every day and they load 650-750 pigs per week at an average of 75 kg.

Wednesday they mainly focus on weaning, they follow an all-in all-out system. Keibees Piggery makes regular use of a vet to visit the farm and do monthly abattoir visits to check their pig’s health status. The rest of the week they do the usual processing of pigs and pregnancy check sows and do backfat P2 measurements. Great care is taken to insure no feed is wasted, feeder management in all departments is vital.

Always improve, never get complacent and enjoy what you do. Your team is the key to successful production.

“It is a big priority for us to measure and compare all the time,” says Nico. “Birth weights, weaning weights, back fat of sows and weight of gilts before first insemination, because to measure is to know. Record keeping is vital and breeding of replacement sows is probably the single most important part of our production management. We only breed the best 5% of our sows with dam line semen. The sows weaning weight and piglets weaned per sow is the selection criteria, we only select sows that can produce 100kg litters. We trust PIC to supply us with best possible boars through fresh semen that is delivered twice a week. Our goal is to make sure we supply top quality meat at affordable prices.”

Nico concludes by saying, “I love what I do, and in my opinion, I have the best job one can have. And that keeps me motivated every day. Working on farm and interacting with my staff and challenging my team and myself to become the best production unit in South Africa is one of the best parts of being a part of the industry. Always improve, never get complacent and enjoy what you do. Your team is the key to successful production. Invest in a good team and the rest will follow.”

Kevin Venton is the farm manager and a shareholder of Grassland Pigs PTY LTD, located in Rustenburg, in the North West Province of South Africa. Kevin started in the pig industry in 2013. He starts his day off with a staff meeting before they head out to the barns. This gives his staff some guidelines on what they should be accomplishing throughout the day. Grassland Pigs is on a 3-week batch system, farrow to finish, so every day is different. “A typical day will start off by loading the pigs that are ready for market. After that, I go through all the grower houses with one of my staff members. We start at the youngest aged pigs and move to the oldest ones, where we check on feeders, water leaks, broken pens or slats, and look for sick pigs. Then it’s off to the farrowing houses to check if everything is going well.” Kevin says once these tasks are complete, each day can look a little different depending on what week it is. If it is mating week, there will be heat checks and artificial insemination. If it is farrowing week, he will be checking on the sows that farrow and piglets needing milk. If it is weaning week, he will be moving pigs to grower houses, overseeing the washing and disinfecting of weaner houses, and then weaning and weighing of piglets. Throughout the day Kevin also oversees and manages the feed-mill on the farm, as well as admin work, like orders and data entry to be done.

“My goal at the end of the day is to finish all the work that I planned on doing, allowing me to start the next day fresh, because every day has its own challenges,” says Kevin. “The swine industry is kind of competitive and everyone wants to be on top and that makes things very interesting. I am a very competitive person and that drives me to do my best every day. What motivates me every day is knowing that I’m doing what I love - farming.”

Berno HambrockBerno Hambrock, Managing Director of Pinecone Forestry & Piggery, a 600-sow unit situated in the Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Berno is a German Speaking South African who is passionate about genetics, animal breeding, and animal husbandry.

Charlie says every day is different, “Data day is Monday, pregnancy testing are Tuesday and Wednesday, weaning day is Thursday, and brandy is Fridays!

Berna says when he enters the piggery, his daily procedure begins with counting everything he can, to get a quick overview of the piggery, asking himself many questions: How many sows are starting to cycle? How many have been served? How many piglets were born alive and dead? How many sows still have to farrow? How many milkable teats are there compared to the number of piglets? How many piglets will we be able to wean? How many pigs are ready to be marketed? How many sick pigs are there?

Second, he starts analyzing the figures to see where Pinecone Forestry & Piggery can improve on their efficiencies, like the FCR (feed conversion ration) and makes improvements or adjustments.

Third, Berno makes sure that all the systems are running as they are supposed to. Every employee has to give a full report on all the activities they are managing. Every activity in a piggery must happen on a specific date. Berno needs to ensure that the correct activity has happened on the correct date.

“My goal is to be efficient,” says Berno. “I want to give the pigs everything they need and to maximize their production without compromising their welfare. Health-wise, less medication versus more supplements (acids, probiotics and Production-wise), quality water, feed, housing, management equals optimum results. The pig’s behavior and body condition will tell ‘at one glance’ if something is not right.”

Says Berno, “Genetics, breeding pigs and analyzing the figures are what keeps me motivated every day, aside from my craving for bacon, spareribs and pork schnitzel! Progress in a piggery can be measured and monitored over a fairly short period of time compared to other animals. This is very exciting and it keeps me entertained.”

Berno says that he loves many things about the industry, but especially how quickly the technology is changing and improving. He says many things have been simplified due to the improved application of technology. “Pigs are growing faster; feed conversion rations keep improving, and sow performance is gradually increasing. Technological improvements have been achieved in all areas of pork production: housing, vaccines, medication, biosecurity, health, automation of ventilation, feeding, and waste water management.” Berno shares these fascinating pig facts:

  1. A pig can produce the most kilograms of meat per year of all farm animals (1 sow = 2.4 litter x 11 weaned, sold at 85kg carcass = 2,244kg meat per sow per year).
  2. The breeding cycle of a pig is 20 or 21 weeks, so your progress is very fast.
  3. There are so many different products/dishes that you can make with pork meat.

Charlie FournieCharlie Fournie is the Managing Director of a family owned farm, called GTG Fourie’s Piggery located in Potchefstroom in the North West province of sunny South Africa. Potchefstroom is a small, university town with a large mining sector. According to Charlie, Brandy and Coke is the staple diet in the community, with rugby keeping townspeople entertained. “My grandfather started this business as a side business to chicken farming, and now the farm has been in business for 68 odd years.”

The pink little animals we get to work with each day are definitely a perk to being in a part of the industry!

First thing in the mornings, it’s coffee time for Charlie. Then a quick look at finances, including payments and plans for the day. The gilt farrowing house is always the first place he starts his day. From there, it’s off to check heat detection at the gilt breading unit. Charlie continuously pushes his staff to reach their targets for the week. Once these checks are done, it’s off to Unit B to meet their new piglets in their controlled environment housing. Weaners are next on the list, and finally finishing off with a meeting with the latest PIC genetics in our mating house at 10 a.m. After this, Charlie says every day is different, “Data day is Monday, pregnancy testing are Tuesday and Wednesday, weaning day is Thursday, and brandy is Fridays!”

“My goal is to have better results than the previous day. This would be more enjoyable if results could happen just a little faster!” Charlie says he stays motivated by seeing results in the barns and wanting to be on top of the PigCHAMP performance list.

“The pink little animals we get to work with each day are definitely a perk to being in a part of the industry! I enjoy witnessing the passion and drive the people in the pork industry have, especially Alzu. It seems they have created this hype in the South African industry and the positivity shows through each and every person that works for this business. Positive ethos pushes people like me to drive our industry to greater heights. I wish to thank Alzu PIC for continuously pushing our industry forward.”

United States FlagUnited States

Dave Moody is 56 years old and manages H&K Enterprise in Nevada, Iowa. H&K Enterprise is a 320-sow batch farrowing farm that farrow 96 litters every 7 weeks. A farrow to finish operation that is all on one site. Dave is the only fulltime employee, but has some additional help from college students, as H & K is very close to Iowa State University.

There are always sows to take care of but Dave says the time of the flow dictates if there may or may not be pigs in the farrowing house or nursery. In the 7-week cycle there is one week of farrowing and processing litters, one week of breeding sows, one week of moving pigs out of the nursery and cleaning, and then one week of cleaning the farrowing house. “The other 3-weeks are less structured,” says Dave, “but as we all know there is always maintenance to do in a swine barn. Every day starts by feeding the pigs, taking care of their needs, doing multiple daily activities and then ends with feeding pigs again.”

“My top priority and goal are to take care of the pigs and keep them comfortable and healthy. I love working with pigs and that is what motivates me. I also enjoy working beside people in the swine industry.”

Tim BrandtTim Brandt is 51 years old and owner of Brandt Swine Farms LLC. “I started raising pigs when I was 10 years old and have never stopped loving it! When I was 10, I dreamed about the operation we run today. I could talk about all the struggles and tears it took to build our operation to where it is today, but I want to focus on all the positive things instead. I’m so humbled to have my oldest son, Joe, come join us in the operation. I am hoping my other two boys join the family operation also, because family is so important to me. My wife understands the work it takes to run a successful farm and I thank her and all my kids for being there when needed. Amy and I have 6 children; Joey, Josie, Allison, Allie, Matthew and little Adam. We now have 5 grandchildren and another one on the way. I use the word “Husbandry” a lot and feel this is something the younger generation may have lost. My day always begins to make sure all the animals are comfortable and happy. Care is the most important part of raising animals, I believe. If the animals are not happy, things will not work.”

Tim’s daily goals are to make sure everyone is doing their jobs correctly and to improve one thing every day. Right now, his goals are not to get bigger but to do better with what they have. Brandt Swine Farms is concentrating on better production records to know where they are at every day. Tim says that it take a lot of effort from everyone to make it work. “PigCHAMP has really helped us and my son said, ‘Dad, it’s the most amazing company ever!’ I am just not saying that, I really mean it, but now it’s our job to make it work.”

Tim says he is motivated by the new technology. “It just blows my mind how different we are doing things today. My favorite part is coming out in the morning and walking into the farrowing rooms and to see several big litters of pigs. It’s just a great feeling watching the pigs grow. I also love seeing my sons get excited about the industry. The best part though, is producing a great product for consumers to enjoy. I’ve always said lots of people don’t understand the hard work it takes to produce a great pork chop.”

Illinois State UniversityIllinois State University-Dr. Drew Lugar
Illinois State University has a 120 sow, farrow to finish farm that is used for teaching and research. The farm uses a batch farrowing system, where roughly 35 sows farrow every 5 weeks. Sows are housed in turn-around gestation stalls throughout gestation and farrow in standard farrowing crates. Piglets are weaned from sows around 24 days of age and then enter the nursery. Sows are moved to a breeding barn where they are eventually re-bred for the next cycle. Piglets in the farm remain in the nursery for a period of 4 weeks, before being moved into one of our grow-finish barns. They will remain in this barn until they are taken to market. Daily tasks at the Illinois State University farm include feeding the livestock, treating animals, breeding, farrowing, neonatal piglet management, daily health checks and of course routine cleaning. The Illinois State University farm utilizes PigCHAMP to monitor and track sow performance and breeding information. Farrowing data such as number born alive, stillborn and cross fostering, are routinely kept on the farm and entered into the program. This allows the farm to track individual sow and boar performance and compare animals in the herd. “We have been able to use this program to illustrate our top and bottom producing sows and it has illuminated changes in herd structure that needed addressing,” says Dr. Drew Lugar. Dr Lugar says the data entry for this program is primarily done by undergraduate students that work in the main office. He says the students have been able to quickly learn the program, which has taught them about animal record keeping and data entry skills. “We will continue to utilize the PigCHAMP program, with the potential to track sow performance over multiple parities.”

“As an educator, I am motivated by the lack of knowledge of agriculture in today’s society. Our students are becoming further and further removed from agriculture and I very much enjoy educating them on what the swine industry is today. I am passionate about the swine industry and try to encourage a similar passion in my students. I am an animal scientist, so of course I love animals and in particular pigs. Their personalities and curiosity make them fun to work with, but the great people in the swine industry really make what is by far my favorite part of the industry.”

So, despite the distance and differences between global producers, there are similarities making it evident that “It’s a Small World” and we all love working with pigs as well as working towards the same goal – producing a high-quality economical protein source to help feed the world.