In the mid-1990s, when cell phones were still the size of a brick and computers dominated desktops, handheld data collection was a fledgling but promising innovation for the pork industry. Pigtales, then owned by PIC, first developed a commercial handheld mobile device in 1994, but it never really took off amongst producers – the technology was still in its infancy; internet and wireless connectivity was not yet widely adopted; and the paper and pen had not yet been replaced by touchscreen and Ipads. When PigCHAMP and Farms.com purchased the Pigtales program in 2001, they saw tremendous opportunity in the burgeoning handheld technology trend, and set out to create a mobile platform that would work seamlessly with their PigCHAMP Reproductive software.
In 2010, PigCHAMP Mobile was launched, and promised to save producers time and money in the barn and the office. In the four years that have followed, more than 50 PigCHAMP customers have added PigCHAMP Mobile handheld units, with reports of marked improvement in data accuracy, reduced staff time spent collecting and inputting data, and access to real-time data. It was these factors that led Randy Krueger, manager of technology solutions at Cargill Pork LLC and 27-year pork industry veteran, to introduce PigCHAMP Mobile to its live pork production facilities.
Cargill Pork LLC, founded in 1971, is the 4th largest pork producer and processor in the United States, processing 10 million market hogs each year. As a vertically integrated company, Cargill Pork operates several company-owned farms and has contract farms throughout the Midwestern United States.
Cargill Pork expressed an interest in the mobile technology soon after its launch. The company had been a PigCHAMP customer for many years, and had established its own data-entry bureau in Arkansas. Hand-written data was collected on the geographically dispersed farms, and then would be faxed to the Arkansas location to be entered into the PigCHAMP database. The system in place presented a number of challenges for Cargill staff at multiple levels – in the barns, in the accounting system, and at the processing plants. “It would take two weeks for information to come back to us, and then we’d have to find and fix errors,” says Brienne Heinrichs, controller of Cargill Pork. “The process just took too long and there were too many errors.”
“By using PigCHAMP Mobile, we could catch any errors up front, and not have to deal with them after the fact.”
In 2012, Cargill implemented a trial of PigCHAMP Mobile at their Sow Innovation Center, a 2000-sow research farm in Kentucky, hoping to find solutions to these issues. They started with 3 handheld units and immediately started to see the benefits, primarily due to PigCHAMP Mobile’s built-in system of data validation. This feature eliminated human error on the farm and, as a result, in data entry at the bureau – that in the past would need to be fixed weeks or months down the road. “This had a large ripple effect throughout the organization,” says Heinrichs. “We could catch any errors up front, and not have to deal with them after the fact.” Information was available in realtime, and staff time was reduced because the information was automatically synced with the PigCHAMP database. This allows Cargill staff more time to spend on other important tasks.
After a successful trial period at their small research farm, Krueger decided to roll-out PigCHAMP Mobile to its newly acquired facility in Dalhart, Texas. There were a number of challenges that needed to be addressed – with the capacity for 50,000 sows, the farm was much larger than the research farm, and the multiple barns were spread out over 30 square miles. “Just getting information to and from the various barns from the office was a challenge,” says Krueger. When the Dalhart location was fully operational, it would employ more than 300 people – many of whom had no previous experience in livestock handling or production. Not only would they have to learn how to use the handhelds and enter data, but they would have to learn the life cycle of a pig and the terminology of pork production.
To roll-out 50 handheld units to staff at the Dalhart location, Cargill took a “train the trainer” approach. The key to the success, Krueger says, was the on-site support that they received from PigCHAMP staff Jayne Jackson and Teresa Naughton, who spent a week in Texas assisting with the implementation and training of staff. Staff from each of the Dalhart farm’s barns were trained how to use the handheld units, who then went back to their worksite to train their colleagues.
“The learning curve was phenomenally small – this is by far the easiest thing I’ve ever implemented.”
Krueger also credits the ease-of-use and intuitive nature of the handheld systems to the short learning curve his staff experienced. “It was very easy to teach the staff,” he says. “The units are very easy to use, the software is easy to get around. It’s easy to check for errors and validate data.” The multilingual option eliminated any language barriers that existed amongst its staff, 80% of whom were Spanishspeaking.
The ongoing support that Krueger and his staff receive from the PigCHAMP customer support team is another factor in the successful roll-out of PigCHAMP Mobile. Inevitably, with any technology, there will be issues, and with Cargill’s farms geographically dispersed across the country, Krueger is not always available to assist right away. “PigCHAMP will take calls and emails from the farms and help them immediately.”
Overall, Krueger has been very happy with the decision to use PigCHAMP Mobile on Cargill’s research and Dalhart farms, with plans to roll-out the units to additional corporate farms over the course of 2015. Going into the project, he knew that there would be challenges and a steep learning curve – “…but it wasn’t as much as I thought it would be. The learning curve was phenomenally small – this is by far the easiest thing I’ve ever implemented.” The next step in rolling out the hand held technology is to engage Cargill’s contract farms in the process. “We immediately had two contract growers come to us, wanting to use the technology,” says Krueger, which points to the demand to simplify and automate record keeping. With multiple sites across several states, and a large variance in consistency, collection and analysis of data, Krueger is eager to implement PigCHAMP Mobile to as many of their farms as possible.