Marsha Van Dinther Mike Brumm

Pigs sleeping happily, piled one and a half deep, is one of the most certain signs that all is well in the barn, says one of three experts called to address production troubleshooting at the 2015 Banff Pork Seminar.
Minnesota-based production consultant Michael Brumm joined Ontario producer Ryan Martin and Ontario veterinarian Marsha Van Dinther for a session discussing the methods they use to identify and address problems that affect production.
Brumm has made it his business to help producers figure out why their numbers are not where they should be, looking at their production systems from the outside in to see where changes and improvements are needed.
He starts outside of the barn, on the premise that upkeep and attention to details on the exterior are an indication of what’s going on inside.
Weeds, broken fan blades and torn curtains are all signs of maintenance that has fallen behind, and that similar issues will be found inside as well.
“Carcass disposal is a real issue, too, at some sites,” said Brumm. If the dead animals are piling up outside and “spare parts” can be found in the yard, that’s a good indication that animals inside are not being properly managed, he said.
Inside the barn, Brumm said he likes to listen to a room from outside and peek through a window if possible before entering and disturbing the animals inside.
Dirty pigs, pigs squealing and fighting or pigs crowding into one area and avoiding one another are all signs of problems, including plugged feeders, broken drinkers and ventilation issues.
“You can’t fix stupid on some of these kinds of things,” said Brumm.
He has found many situations where barn staff have lived with an expensive problem rather than spend a few dollars to fix the source.
For example, he offered producers a simple test to determine if their vent fans are functioning properly.
“The target of correct inlet adjustment is 800 to 1,000 feet per minute velocity out of the inlet – 45 metres per second.”
Most people don’t carry a tester with them to ensure that those inlets are functioning at that velocity, he said.
“The real world is, it’s the Brumm ‘bald forehead’ rule. If you’ve got an eight-foot ceiling in your hog barn, your inlets are correctly adjusted if you can stand 14 to 15 feet back and (the draught) hits you here,” he said, pointing to his forehead. Taller men should feel it in the chest.
He encouraged producers to teach their employees the method and use it every day.
“That’s the quickest way you’ll resolve many of your ventilation and adjustment issues and the conflicts that happen in barns,” said Brumm.
Barn workers don’t need to know how to fix it, they just need to know when it’s broken so they can alert the producer and have the problem resolved, he said.
Contented woofing at about 2 p.m. or a one-and-a-half deep pile of sleeping pigs are the best signs that all is well in the barn, said Brumm.
Martin identified the people working with him as the richest resource in his barns. His production company, RFW Farms Ltd., is based at Grimsby, Ont. and supports about 35 families, largely barn operators raising hogs under contract.
Keeping people motivated is a key driver to production consistency, said Martin.
“I believe one of the things that really helps with on-farm motivation is to share with producers their historical on-farm performance. It’s surprising how, when you go to different farms, they can become an island onto themselves,” he said.
“I am really on a mission to make sure that farms don’t become an island onto themselves. I like to regularly show them their performance reports over time. It’s a good opportunity to talk about what’s been happening, and what can you do about it.”
Even though the producers in Martin’s barns don’t own the pigs, he likes to see those people take ownership of the animals in their care.
“I have learned, when I go to the farm and I interact with these people, I have learned to really depend on their gut feel. When somebody’s in the barn day after day after day, they can be finely tuned to little things that are a little bit off.”
He described how one of his producers noticed a slight drop in feed intake. They added some aspirin in the water and the pigs returned to normal. Whether the aspirin helped or not, a small problem was not allowed to develop because the producer was allowed to rely on his own insight into the behaviour of the animals in his care, said Martin.
“Twice a year, we have a nursery and a finisher meeting, where we get together . . . and we bring in speakers (from within the organization). It’s a chance when they can talk, when they can ask questions, and they’re getting some answers. It’s a great idea to hear what they have to say.”
Nursery and finisher operators also meet quarterly with sow producers to talk about numbers and issues.
“We do it on a barn level as well. I try to get into each sow barn every month for a staff meeting. I think that’s important, is hearing their ideas and using them to better your company,” said Martin.
Based in Lukan, ON, Van Dinther spoke about management as a critical component in running a successful sow production system.
Staffing in Ontario has been so difficult, that barns are at the point of hiring anyone who has “two legs and a heartbeat,” she said.
Producers are therefore challenged to find and train people who will understand and appreciate the need to comply with standards of practice and operating protocols.
Problems flow from the top down, she said, laying the blame for production issues squarely at the feet of managers who do not set a clear example and clear goals for their workers.
“If management doesn’t see it as important, neither will the staff. At the end of the day, you walk into the barn and the coveralls that you’re going to be going into are (filthy), it has that mentality of, you know, it just isn’t that important, and this trickles down the line.
“I see it every day, walking on farm and the staff say, ‘If the owners don’t care, what do I care?’”
Van Dinther said she looks for a variety of issues when she is asked to perform on-farm audit, from incorrect data recording to failure to feed sows on weekends.
“It’s unbelievable where people will cut corners,” she said.
Issues she sees are staffing concerns, seasonal effects, breeding techniques, conception issues and any combination of the above.
Overall, optimum production is driven by well-trained and motivated staff, said Van Dinther.
It’s up to management to connect with their workers and ensure that operating procedures and record keeping are on track.
“When you go on farm, what do the farrowing rooms look like, what do the pigs look like, what are the pigs telling you?”
One of the key strategies for management is to work with producers to identify and resolve issues within their systems to create an environment where people and pigs can excel, said Van Dinther.  •
— By Brenda Kossowan