Future of Swine Record Keeping is Here. Now.

Those who don't adapt will be left behind.

By Bob Brcka

When the PigCHAMP Care 3000 software program was introduced in 2007, it quietly marked an important turning point in commercial pork production. PigCHAMP had taken the combined knowledge of nearly 30 years of working with producers, consultants, veterinarians and allied industry to create the standard in reproductive record keeping and analysis for the next 30 years. Within six months, the new PigCHAMP became the most widely used swine program in North America. The establishment of this as the premier tool for efficiency and profitability continued over the past year with strong acceptance of the program in places like China, Russia and Africa to name a few.

PigCHAMP's next endeavor was to take on the problem of getting data from the barns into the program accurately and at a lower cost. The PigCHAMP Mobile system seems to have hit that nail squarely on the head. This system allows producers to enter data in the barn on a handheld computer and synchronize it electronically to the PigCHAMP application. There is no need to enter data again.

The handheld also performs data validation so mistakes in writing something down or mistaking a "7" for a "1" in data entry are eliminated. The handhelds provide handy action-list reports and complete sow histories. This system has been equally appealing to large operations that can eliminate tens of thousands of dollars in data entry expenses, to the smallto- medium family operations. These producers have better things to do when they come in from a long day in the field than entering sow data.

And now, grow-finish

Our most exciting accomplishment is our most recent...the PigCHAMP Grow-Finish program. If you have not seen it yet, it's time to have a look; you will be pleasantly surprised. Reporting strategies that you thought weren't possible, or only possible with a convoluted system of spreadsheets and databases that never quite worked are now available with the click of a button. All-in-all-out or continuous flow...it's covered. Bring in weaned pigs from the farrowing barn or purchase pigs from the outside...no problem. The PigCHAMP Grow-Finish program deals with split groups and accurately provides feed efficiency and average daily gain, manages feed budgets and provides profit and loss information on a specific group, barn or location. There are too many additional features to mention here, but PigCHAMP Grow-Finish is that last component of the foundation that will keep PigCHAMP the market leader for many years to come.

So what's next?

Commercial swine record-keeping systems have focused on detailed activities of what goes on in the barn. Is the sow open or bred, how many pigs were born/weaned, what's the farrowing rate, conception rate, pre-weaning mortality, etc.? On the finishing side you have death loss, average daily gain, feed efficiency and profit/loss information. A good recordkeeping and reporting program should be providing everything you need in these areas.

In the future, it will be important to connect this data with other information sources that can be used to make better decisions faster. For example, monitoring and managing equipment like automated feeding stations, feed bins and watering equipment will be a priority. The ability to record temperature and humidity and see the impact of changes on performance also will be important. Having this information available together and controlled through a single system interface that can be accessed from anywhere will be necessary.

The age of "JUST-IN-TIME"

We tend to cringe when we hear the phrase, "factory farming," but there are lessons to be learned from other industrial settings that provide direction for what opportunities are available and possible in the swine industry. The ability to use information from throughout the production chain to help drive efficiencies, better decision making, and ultimately, profitability for all stakeholders in the pork production industry is becoming a reality.

Many industries bring inputs into their factories using Just- In-Time (JIT) production techniques. One of the principles of JIT is that any excess inventory of parts is wasteful and profit robbing. As a result, manufacturers share production information with parts suppliers and demand that parts arrive "just-in-time" to be used in the assembly line. Ideally, parts would come off a truck and directly to the assembly floor to be used. This avoids the need for storage and warehousing, therefore lowering production costs as well as the administrative costs of placing orders and managing inventory. The right parts are delivered at the right time without having to place individual orders or make frantic phone calls to fix an inventory outage.

How would our industry change if the right feed just showed up at the right bin when it was needed? What about animal health products or replacement gilts? outrageous? Not necessarily. PigCHAMP is working with "upstream" suppliers to pork producers, including the feed industry, genetics companies and others to provide efficiencies in the supply chain to explore JIT opportunities for pork producers.

On the "output" side, there is a huge opportunity for producers and packers to each gain value if certain information is more openly available. If packers could have real-time information on the potential supply from producers several weeks in advance, they could do a much better job managing their inputs (pigs) in a Just-In-Time manner and developing delivery schedules that best meet their production schedule and optimize producer profitability.

Packers could provide individual carcass data back to producers in a way that would help them understand the degree of variability in groups of hogs from different locations and help determine the reasons for this variability in ways that can be addressed. A really good grow-finish program should be able to accommodate this.

Connectivity equals value

These are examples of extending the connectivity of information needed to create new value in products throughout an extended value chain that can be shared by multiple stakeholders. Other industries have been doing this for years. This isn't a dream of what might happen someday; it can't be if we want to stay competitive. This is what PigCHAMP is working on. Now.

Thanks to all the producers, allied industry and other experts who have been helping us think about these opportunities. If you have ideas about what the future should look like, we would love to hear from you.